When you visit Stacks Pancake House, visit before 10 a.m., before Dana Point wakes up to tackle the day. It'll be busy, sure, but manageable—some empty outside tables, maybe an inside booth if you're lucky, and definitely the counter next to the door. But after that magic hour, it becomes as crowded as the OCTA Main Street Santa Ana line. Old and young, surfers and society ladies stand patiently from the cash register all the way to PCH, the line constantly replenishing through lunch. The whole town is here to eat, to dive into fluffy, massive pancakes and emerge 5 pounds heavier but as happy as a surfer dreaming of bringing back Big Dana.
Stacks has been open a little bit more than a year, yet it has been rightfully hailed as a godsend for Dana Point, where good eating is hard to find outside the resorts and the Cal-Mex restaurants. It first made its name with gimmicky yet delicious pancakes and French toast varieties. The Captain Crunch Peanut Butter French Toast, for instance, is exactly what it sounds like: thick slices of Hawaiian sweet bread coated with fried Captain Crunch and enveloping warm, creamy peanut butter, as gooey and crunchy and sugar-laden as advertised. The Oreo pancake, meanwhile, is the cookie made fluffy, sharp, chocolate-y and creamy. But Stacks could just stick to regular ol' pancakes, and it'd still be a revelation. The "short stack" comes with three flapjacks almost a foot in diameter and as thick as the pre-Great Recession fall issue of Vogue—despite its girth, Stacks' pancake is beautifully moist and full of buttermilk, so much so that butter really isn't necessary. (I've never ordered a regular stack, but three people could comfortably share it.) And whether you order the pancakes or French toast, make sure to drown it all in coconut-spiked syrup, which adds a refreshing sweetness you never knew you needed for breakfast.
Whoever is running the kitchen has ambitions for bigger, better things than Stacks' current tiny storefront because specials sneak into the menu seemingly every couple of weeks. The kalbi and eggs is obviously a nod to the Kogi craze, but much better are the linguiça and eggs, the Portuguese sausage cut into pretty medallions. The Hawaiian lunch specials sit light on the stomach; the sandwiches do please. And the kitchen is as dexterous around eggs as Bach was with the harpsichord, whether in a scramble, as an omelet, or as a perfect pair of sunny-side-up bliss. Just get there early, m'kay?
Stacks Pancake House, 34255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 110, Dana Point, (949) 429-2222; www.stackspancakehouse.com.
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This column appeared in print as "Hooray for Pancake Stacks!"