MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. — These pancakes are the breakfast equivalent of a hug. As thick as steaks and as fluffy as bunnies, these pancakes offer absolution. Even after all the butter and all the syrup, there’s still plenty of sponge left for your tears.
These pancakes offer absolution.
The waitress, a golden-hearted woman, said little about the pancakes, served on plastic plates over an ad-covered table. If you’re in Morehead City, N.C., and you need a dentist, call Jack T. Winchester.
The waitress confirmed that the recipe is at least as old as Cox’s Family Restaurant, the diner responsible for the pancakes since 1976, and that the recipe belongs to the restaurant. She said the pancakes are made there, presumably (and this is just a theory) on a well-seasoned griddle in a cubicle of a kitchen as hot as a Venusian summer.
The waitress refused to say anything else about the pancakes because, she claims, she doesn’t know anything else about the pancakes. I say she does. She may have forgotten the biscuits and brought a third coffee instead of an unsweet tea, but damn it, this woman knows about those pancakes and why they taste like pasteurized sunshine and oven-warmed rainbows.
But it’s cool.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of mystery, although it would be interesting to know how those pancakes — airy and ever-loving — got that unique taste, which starts in the final chews.
It’s a flavor, kind of sweet and kind of savory, that rolls up slowly and spreads out evenly. If there is such a thing as a pancake finish, this is it. And if there wasn’t such a thing before, there has been since 1976. Or whenever whoever devised the recipe, devised the recipe.
It is safe to assume these pancakes were well-practiced before Cox’s opening. Maybe they’re historical pancakes, heirlooms from a motherland that existed before World War I rearranged Europe. And now, it’s all the Coxes have left of that great, great aunt who yelled at them in vaguely Germanic languages and made menacing gestures with a wooden spatula.
Cox’s is like Waffle House, or, maybe more accurately, Waffle House is like Cox’s. Waffle House came first by 21 years, but it seems like a stripped-down version of Cox’s. Cox’s has all the people-watching of the Waffle House — sometimes, seeing the humans of Waffle House is as comforting as eating pancakes (Are you ever too old to wear an AC/DC T-shirt to breakfast? Are yoga pants really for everyone? What is the appropriate subject matter for a breast tattoo?) — but Cox’s has a larger menu and better food. The soul of the restaurants is equal.
The low point is the Pepsi. Get Coke. There’s no excuse. It’s 2014. Beyonce only endorses Pepsi because she needs the money.
It’s nice to get what you’re expecting. Cox’s cheeseburger tastes exactly like you think it should. It is the essential diner burger, atop an unmelted yellow Kraft single, and in a white-bread bun. The other food — the omelettes, the biscuits, the grits, the home fries, the hashbrowns — is as essential as the cheeseburger, but not as essential as those pancakes.
Those pancakes are where I’d go if my dog got hit by a truck, aliens invaded, or if she ever left me for Jack T. Winchester.