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Circuit Court Sacramento

Pancake Circus
Corner of 21st and Broadway,
Sacramento, CA
Open daily, 6AM - 10:15PM

5/13/02

Big ol' signThe Pancake Circus! You gotta love it for the name alone.

I've had my eye on the Pancake Circus for months. The look of it -- old-school coffee shop just off the freeway -- spoke to me. I wondered about its history -- how long had it been here? Was it thriving or barely hanging on? It's impossible to tell anything from outside, because the windows are lined with a reflective material (decorated with seasonal messages such as "Father's Day!") in an effort to keep out the penetrating rays of the brutal Sacramento sun. Of course, it also serves to keep out the penetrating looks of would-be patrons. The only way to know was to go. "Breakfast served all day." Well, OK then!

If you are one of those people unnerved by clown decor, you might want to pop a Paxil to get yourself through the door and seated. Once you order and get your food (allow a good 5 to 7 minutes for all that), the coma-inducing carbohydrate loading will serve to sedate you. Most of the clown-themed art is near the cash register, where the owner hangs out. He's had the place since 1970. He says his regulars often bring him clowns, and that he has many more pieces at home. I have noticed this phenomenon elsewhere: Known clown lovers tend to get inundated with clown-themed items. No one really believes you if you say you like clowns. If you insist that, really, you DO, they immediately unload an unwanted treasure on you (Circus-Circus ashtray, embroidered "sad clown" pillow) in grateful relief. Personally, I love the little fellas. It wasn't always that way, though. I underwent a bit of a conversion around 1993 triggered by repeated viewings of Bobcat Goldthwait's masterpiece, "Shakes the Clown." So now clowns make me happy. They can make you happy, too -- you'll see.

Welcome ClownI've walked into many a restaurant because of an alluring aroma, but the Pancake Circus serves up a true sense-memory blast: I'd say it's equal parts Bunn-o-matic coffee and butter-flavored syrup, with just a dash of grammar school cafeteria. It's a medley of smells, all of them from some sepia-toned childhood that I'm not even sure was mine. It's not necessarily a smell to make your mouth water ñ it's more subtle than that. It works on the level of the subconscious, in concert with the time-capsule quality of the whole place, and to plunk yourself down in the womb-like vinyl booth only enhances the effect. Oh, comforting booth! Nothing will harm you here. Order and eat in peace and security. Feel benevolent and a little sleepy.

You are seated and served coffee (it's not great, but for me, that just adds to the authentic charm) within minutes. The menu presents many, many options. There are numbered specials, like the one MKP ordered (#6: chicken fried steak and eggs and four pancakes), and there are specials written on a dry erase board by the door. There is a sub-menu which kids and persons over 60 may choose from (smaller appetites? fewer teeth?). There are "Circus Specials." And then there is the substantial regular menu. The waitress will be back in less than 30 seconds to take your order, but you can ask for more time. They aren't trying to rush you, just give you the best possible service, and many a harried parent has been grateful for this speediness, I'm sure. Little Billy wants his waffle NOW!

Pretty much everything comes with four pancakes, a delightful feature. The menu says that you may have toast instead if you please, but, to my mind, this confers a somewhat lowly status on the cakes, like they are just some utilitarian breakfast accessory used for swabbing up yolks. No! These pancakes are the main event. The best I've ever had, I can say it with confidence. And, mind you, I'm particular about my pancakes -- there is a long list of things I don't want them to be: too thick, too cakey, too brittle, too pale, floury feeling in my mouth, not cooked in the middle, paltry in size. I like a straightforward pancake with exquisite texture. And I have found it.

Apple Pancakes!I ordered Apple Pancakes, wherein several cups of apple pie filling and half a can of whipped cream are loaded onto a four-cake stack. Of course it was great, but the sugar quotient was a bit high even for me. I will order the plain cakes next time (which will be soon) so I can dwell further in that salty-sweet netherland of butter + syrup. MKP's chicken fried steak was delish, although no west coast chix frix stex will ever compare to anything they serve in the South. I've been to Texas, I know what a chicken fried steak can be. Another appealing item on the menu we didn't have room for: four pieces of honey dipped fried chicken with bread, potato, soup/salad, vegetable and dessert (Jell-O is available). Or, you can get the Pork Chop: a 1/2 lb boneless pork loin with all of the above. It's all very inexpensive ($15.35 for us). The service, as I've mentioned, is speedy and friendly, and the advertisements decorating the table top served as interesting distractions during the 90 seconds we were waiting for our food, and also provide insight into the Pancake Circus clientele: chiropractor, Tony "the tiger" bail bonds, van conversions, Neptune society, discount appliances, barber shop.

I moved to Sacramento a year ago, but I've only just found my home.

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Contact Magistrate Louise at lasqueeze777@yahoo.com

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