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Pedal to the Griddle

OCs Hottest Cakes

When I first got pregnant, I predicted that my much-altered state would enhance my appetite; outfitted in the latest one-size-fits-all maternity underwear, I'd be way ahead of the gourmet game. Five months later, I understand that eating for two isn't all it's cracked up to be. I had it good. I did not become a fount of vomit, but a vague malaise told me most things were better left uneaten. There were a few exceptions, but none remarkable—I could go on about the virtues of tomato soup and saltines or the top five places to get a rockin' bowl of Cream of Wheat.

There was one item I craved universally: pancakes. IHOP has its place, but a foodstuff that engages everyone—from the sweet of tooth to the hungover to the sticky-fingered toddler—deserves some sort of culinary elevation. These fine places do just that:

With a name like Haute Cakes Caffe, is it too much to ask that they feature at least one specialty pancake on their menu per day besides the ubiquitous buttermilk cakes? If I wanted plain pancakes, I would have stayed home and broken out the Bisquick. To their credit, Haute Cakes is too busy turning out other yummy goods (like the ever-popular Haute Scramble) to bother whipping up too much specialty batter. But when they do, theirs are the best cakes in OC. Consider the ricotta orange pancakes: a golden crust gives way to a velvety-smooth, custard-like inside perfumed with delicate essences and zest of oranges; it's served with maple syrup, butter and fresh fruit. 1807 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 642-4114. Open Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Lunch for two, $15, food only. Beer and wine only. MC and Visa accepted.

Landscape architect and plant physiologist Jon Madison restored the Craftsman bungalow that houses his Madison Square and Garden Café to perfection and turned the garden surrounding it into a sylvan vision. Counter service and a limited menu keep it cost-effective and consistent. The luscious, Frisbee-sized, ricotta-based ginger and lemon-scented flapjacks are crowned with a gelato-sized scoop of raspberry-infused butter and served with maple syrup and thick-cut bacon. 320 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0137. Open daily, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Lunch for two, $14, food only. No alcohol. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.

All college French classes have a few things in common. There's the sneering professeur, the field trips to such heart-wrenchingly depressing movies as Camille Claudelle, and the realization that you'll probably never live anywhere near France—just visit every once in a while to be spat upon by the locals for your infernal grammar. If you can live with this, hop into your '72 Peugeot and head to the polar opposite of France: a behemoth, Pepto-pink strip mall in Irvine. The nonpareil crêpes served at Metro Express French Café and Crêperie are more delicate than the lining of a cloud hovering over the Provence countryside. My picks: the No. 2 wrapped around scrambled eggs, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese for breakfast; it's served with fruit, and the Nutella-filled Van Gogh for dessert. 13246 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 544-0546; also in Fashion Island Atrium Court, Newport Beach. Open daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Lunch for two, $12, food only. No alcohol. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.

 
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