The best pancakes in New York City

  • While there are many famous breakfast spots in New York City, there are a handful that specialize in pancakes.
  • Insider's Herrine Ro and friend Erin Kommor visited three of the most famous restaurants: Clinton St. Baking Company, Sunday in Brooklyn, and Taiyaki NYC to find the best.
  • After trying all three, the two co-hosts declare Clinton St. Baking Company as the best in town.

Following is a full transcript of the video.

- [jazzy music]

Herrine Ro: Thousands of breakfast and brunch places are strewn throughout New York City. But only a few are famous for their pancakes.
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We visited Clinton St. Baking Company, Sunday in Brooklyn, and Taiyaki NYC to find the best pancakes in town.

We started filming in March, and it's been six months. We were kinda put on a setback because of the pandemic. We've already eaten at all three places. At each place, we will be looking at three qualities. One, we're looking at texture. The pancake should be fluffy and cooked all the way through and not too dry.

Erin Kommor: Two, we're looking for color. We're looking for a golden-brown pancake that ensures a slight crispiness on the exterior of the pancake. Herrine: And finally, three, toppings. We're looking at toppings that will accompany the pancakes but not steal the spotlight. Erin: All right, let's roll the rest.
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Herrine: So, we're going to Clinton St. Baking Company. This place is probably the most famous place we're going to be going to for pancakes.

Erin: Yes. I've been trying to get in here for, like, three years. There's always a line. I can never get in. Herrine: This place honestly has won so many awards for their blueberry pancakes, and that's what we're gonna be trying.
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Erin: I am so excited, Herrine.

Herrine: Let's go.

Erin: Let's go!
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Neil Kleinberg: I don't think our pancakes are the best; I know they are. They're just, like, the perfect balance of sweet, savory, luxurious deliciousness. The recipe is not secret. It's more of the technique and the procedure of the way it's put together that makes them so special, plus great ingredients. Basically, a pancake is a cake batter. So when you flip it, all the active ingredients, like the salt and the sugar and the baking powder and all of that, it's a chemical reaction. When you flipped it, that's when it rose, and those active ingredients are making a cake rise, and that's the less scientific explanation for it. Are you guys learning anything here?

Videographer: We're learning so much!

Neil: We do a sprinkling of fresh wild Maine blueberries. Wild Maine blueberries are the key to our blueberry pancakes. They only grow in Maine for a month, and then they're harvested. They are an intense blueberry flavor packed in a tiny little berry. The ring on the pancake is like the "Lord of the Rings." It's gotta be there. It's the butter that creates that crispy ring that makes the texture of eating what you're eating so delicious. And it's also a look. We eat with our eyes, so as soon as you see them, you see that beautiful, perfect sphere. We put a spoon of our homemade blueberry sauce on the top, which is a beautiful complement to the fresh blueberries in the pancake. We have this amazing maple butter. It has a lot of essence of butterscotch, caramel, brown sugar. It takes all those nuances on, and it's really the perfect accompaniment to our pancakes.
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Herrine: I really wanna know what's so special about these pancakes.

Erin: I know.

Herrine: So, color-wise, it's everything and more that we wanted. A beautiful golden brown.
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Erin: Perfectly cooked. Like, this is my ideal-looking pancake.

Herrine: I know. I didn't know this, but the ring actually is something that you should look for, because it signifies that there's, like, a crispness to it. Erin: [laughing] Oh, my God!
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Herrine: Topping game, they won?

Erin: I have tears in my eyes, that's --

Herrine: You actually do! That was, like, instantaneous.
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Erin: I feel like I'm gonna cry. I'm not even kidding.

Herrine: Oh, my God, you just got really emotional.

Erin: I know, no, I'm not even kidding. This is one of the best things I've ever eaten this season.
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Herrine: You only tried the topping!

Erin: I know.

Herrine: Shall we?
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[Erin sighs]

Erin: Dip. Herrine: Wow. It's astonishing how pancakes can be this good. It's a maple butter sauce. And it has, like, a caramelly taste to it.
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Erin: I'd die for that. Because I thought it was gonna be, like, super buttery and heavy, but it has the maple, and that makes it a little lighter.

Herrine: Yeah, and it's a little nutty.

Erin: Yes! That's the word I was looking for. Can I talk to you about this sauce?
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Herrine: You may talk to me about this sauce.

Erin: There's lemon in it. And that's what the game changer is.

Herrine: It has that nice burst of acidity and freshness to it.
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Erin: You know I'm a sweet kind of gal, and every element of this pancake is done so perfectly. I'm trying to be like, "Oh, let's work on this." I can't think of anything to work on.

Herrine: If you would pick apart each part of the pancake, there's not much to critique.

Erin: No.
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Herrine: And also, it's not as sweet as I was expecting it to be. We totally completely forgot about the fact that there are not just blueberries on top, there are blueberries inside.

Erin: That's essential. Herrine: And it does give that extra texture. Like, it bursts with juice and flavor. It's delicious.
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Erin: They taste like amped up childhood pancakes. What is your favorite element, if you had to choose one?

Herrine: I honestly think the texture and color is like, it can't be beat. So, we're going to Sunday in Brooklyn next.

Erin: I have heard of this place.
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Herrine: Really?

Erin: Yes. They're the ones on Instagram with the sauce everywhere. And the pancakes look so dark and amazing.

Herrine: That's exactly it. This place is famous for its malted Sunday Pancakes. They're even trademarked.
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Erin: Really? I am so excited. Let's try them.

Jaime Young: I wanted them to look kind of crazy and almost cartoonlike, like the ones you see on "Looney Tunes," you know? Like, big pat of butter, crazy-looking maple syrup, but we wanted to take a different kind of approach to it to separate ourselves from every other restaurant. We added malt powder to the pancakes to give it a little bit of sweetness and some caramelization. The malt powder gives the pancakes a bit of nuttiness and sweetness to it, helps it kind of brown a little bit more evenly. It gives it more of, like, a caramelized flavor. We don't overmix them; we even keep them kind of lumpy. By not mixing too much and letting the batter rest on its own, you get more of a fluffier texture. To cook the pancakes, we have a 6-inch nonstick pan that we spray with a little bit of Pam spray. We heat it over medium heat. About 8-ounce-ladle worth of pancake batter, just slowly cook it until it almost sets on one side. Once we flip it, we put it in the oven for about three to four minutes, till it sets. For us, the pan helps solidify the form of the pancake. If you do it on the griddle, it has the tendency to kind of spread out, and that's fine as well. We just prefer that using a pan with tall sides helps give it more height and structure. Instead of using syrup, I mixed hazelnut butter into the syrup with a little bit of water and some salt to make it kind of salty-sweet, and, you know, it really kind of came out unique in its way. It's a little bit more rich and thick, kind of coats the pancake a little bit better. It's got more of a salty-sweet flavor, as opposed to just maple syrup. And we always add a pat of brown butter to it, to kind of give it some more richness to it. We torch the butter mostly because I find that it's frustrating when you get cold butter on a pancake and you can't spread it.

Herrine: It looks cartoonish.
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Erin: It doesn't look like a real thing. It looks mythical. Can we eat them, Herrine?

Herrine: Yes, let's do it. Erin: Look at the bounce when you cut it, and look how golden. This is like a full-on cake.
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Herrine: It's more cake than pancake.

Erin: Truly. It's... I'm....

Herrine: It's a little big for me.
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Erin: That's not big for me!

Herrine: OK.

Erin: Beep. I've never tasted anything like that sauce. It's so much saltier than I thought it would be.
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Herrine: It is a combination of sweet and savory. You get little bits of the hazelnut that's, like, blended in, so you get a little bit of that texture.

Erin: It's like a nut butter, but smoother.

Herrine: It honestly, they compare it to Nutella, but I think it tastes more like a saltier Ferrero Rocher. It's everything that you would want in a normal pancake, right? Like, it's fluffy, it has the golden-brown exterior, it has, the maple syrup is actually mixed into the sauce.
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Erin: I like that.

Herrine: And the butter isn't just a regular butter. Erin: It's brown butter.
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Herrine: Brown butter.

Erin: Which we love. And we learned, I learned today that is... it's caramelized brown sugar in the butter.

Herrine: Yes.
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Erin: God, yes!

Herrine: So it's everything you want in a pancake, but just...

Erin: Better.
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Herrine: Yeah.

Erin: So, here's the thing, Herrine. Should we taste a bite without the sauce on it? Like, to just judge the pancake?

Herrine: Mm-hmm.
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Herrine: Oh, you already tried it.

Erin: Oh, yeah, sorry. [laughing] Herrine: OK.
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Erin: The actual pancake is so fluffy.

Herrine: And I got a little crispy outside.

Erin: And that's important for us. We love that. It is more cakey, though, than any pancake I've ever had.
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Herrine: The signature fluffiness is from malted barley and buttermilk. So that gives it that fluffy texture, but it's also giving it that nice, like, fattiness from the buttermilk.

Erin: I love the golden brown of the actual pancake. The only thing I would say is, probably a lot of people disagree with me, but, like, the sauce is very overpowering.

Herrine: The sauce that serves as a topping is delicious, but kind of overwhelming.
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Erin: It's still amazing. I'm still eating it.

Herrine: And, like, does kind of mask the overall pancake.

Erin: Yeah. It has been six months since I last saw Herrine and we ate at the first two locations.
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Herrine: We are going to be meeting at Taiyaki. It's a Japanese-inspired dessert shop known for its soufflé pancakes. They're supposed to be the fluffiest in town.

Tom Yang: So we're mostly known for our Japanese ice cream with the fish-shaped cone. But when we launched the soufflé pancakes, it became an instant hit. And we got the inspiration from Japan, so a lot of people wanted to try it. For our version, it's more light, it's very cloudy, it's very soft, and it almost melts in your mouth. That's what we're going for. We want it to be little light, little sweet, not too sweet. So, the first thing we do is make our base. We use that with eggs, our secret flour, and some milk. Well, the flour is super secret, we don't tell anybody that, but the second secret we're willing to share, which is technique. So, the secret behind the soufflé pancakes is the the merengue, right? So we basically whip up some egg whites, make it nice and airy, and then we fold it into our base. The batter becomes very light, very airy, and we try to cook it as soon as possible, because the longer it sits, the more the air escapes from the batter. We actually premake parchment-paper molds. And that's just to, again, keep the quality consistent, right? It's easier to have them and to keep the pancakes at a certain size and a certain shape. So, we offer two different types of pancakes.
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First, we have the classic soufflé pancake, which is basically a Japanese twist on the classic American pancake. And then the second variation is our matcha soufflé pancake, which we actually add our own homemade matcha cream sauce. It also comes with whipped cream, powdered sugar, a baby taiyaki with red bean inside, which is our trademark, and we also have whipped butter on top.

Herrine: I thought that the Sunday in Brooklyn pancakes were, like, the fluffiest.

Erin: Oh, so did I.
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Herrine: And this just doesn't compare.

Erin: This is No. 1 fluffy.

Herrine: No. 1 fluffy.
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Erin: No. 1 fluff.

Herrine: I'm gonna try this little taiyaki topping first.

Erin: To me, that tastes more like a waffle. It has the crunchy exterior and the soft, plush interior.
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Herrine: It does have some give to it.

Erin: Yeah, it stays. Oh, God. Herrine: It's like the most delicate sponge cake. That is unlike anything I've ever had.
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Erin: Not like any of the pancakes we've had. It's fluffier than the other two by far.

Herrine: Oh, it's like a cloud in your mouth. It absolutely disintegrates in your mouth. I feel like if there was a spectrum where Clinton St. was, like, the crunchiest pancake, and this is, like, the softest.

Erin: They'd be at opposite ends.
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Herrine: The toppings, I wanna give it a fair run. This is the basic version. We tried the matcha one.

Erin: Yeah.

Herrine: Unreal.
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Erin: Unreal.

Herrine: Like, if we were to loop in the matcha topping, I think equally as good as Clinton St.

Erin: I've never eaten anything like this. I can say that with confidence. Never.
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Herrine: But do you like it?

Erin: I really, really, really like it, but we've had so many good pancakes, I... [sighs] Herrine: 'Cause I feel like I had my winner, I try this, and I'm like, I don't know.
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Erin: I know, I know. I know.

Herrine: If I'm being completely honest, we had to look back at a lot of the clips. We've come to a conclusion, right?

Erin: I'm ready.
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Herrine: I am too.

Erin: OK.

Herrine: My intuition is telling me we're gonna have a shared opinion.
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Erin: I have a good feeling about this one.

Both: three, two, one.

Erin: Yay!
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Herrine: Yes! This is the first time since the first episode that we agree.

Herrine: How we have come full circle. Erin: What did you love about Clinton St.?
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Herrine: Pretty much everything. I mean, I feel like the technique and that golden ring really ensured that the texture was perfect. And the toppings, I mean, that blueberry topping was unlike anything else. Super bright, refreshing. And the maple butter was alone the best topping we had.

Erin: Oh, my God.

Herrine: What about you? Why did you like Clinton St.?
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Erin: The texture for me was like Goldilocks. It was the perfect combination of crispy and plush in the middle. The golden brown was, they really got it to a science. They flipped it at the exact right time to make it perfect. And the toppings truly made me cry. The brightness of the blueberries and the lemon and the maple syrup. Oh, it was insane.

Herrine: I've never seen you cry over food. I've never seen anyone cry over food.

Erin: I've never had a spiritual feeling like that.
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Herrine: I feel like since we both agree right up front is a testament in and of itself that these pancakes are in fact best in town. So, what do you guys think? Do you agree with us? Do you agree that Clinton St. Baking Company has the best pancakes in New York City?

Erin: Let us know in the comments.

Herrine: Stay safe.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Half of this episode was filmed in March 2020.

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