You can thank Bobby Flay for the lines. At least partially.
In 2009 Flay challenged the good proprietors of Clinton Street Baking Company to a pancake match on his ridiculous/wonderful show Throwdown, and a legend was born. 35 minutes of continuous high-definition blueberry pancake porn must deaden the reasoning centers in the brain. Why else would New Yorkers and tourists alike eagerly wait two hours in line for a table.
I’m normally not a fan of “as seen on TV” restaurants, but in New York you can halve your options in a hurry with that kind of snobbery. Besides, CSBC is worth it. The pancakes really are that good. Sure, I could prattle on about the airiness and the maple butter – they have that, it turns out – but I’d rather rate them by describing what I’d be willing to do for them. Two-hour wait on a hot day? Done. While I’m being beat repeatedly with a rubber hose? How big a hose?
There are several stages of waiting. When you first arrive, you fight your way to the front of the crowd, and past a gauntlet of impatient diners, to drop your name with the maitre’d. Then, you’re relegated to the outside. When you get back inside, you’ve only got 45 minutes to go. When you finally get a seat, the first thing that jumps out at you is how small the place is. Fewer than ten tables, by all appearances, with a small amount of usable real estate at the counter.
Photo By Takahiro Nagao
As long as you’re here for breakfast/brunch – and face it, if you’ve braved the lines it’s not so you can have a hamburger – get the pancakes. Try also the Spanish Scramble, a self-confident blend of eggs, chorizo, caramelized onions, and Monterey Jack cheese, or the Southern Breakfast with eggs, sugar-cured bacon, and cheese grits.
Why are we including Clinton Street Baking Company in the Best Restaurants in NYC series? Most of our other picks are aimed at avoiding the false trap between bad and popular. (There are enough great places where you can still get a table, if you know where to look.) Sometimes, though, it’s worth waiting in line. If the food is good enough, it’s not just a meal, but an experience. If you’re visiting the city for the first time, set aside a morning and experience the best brunch in lower Manhattan.
Oh, and come at 5:45am on a Wednesday, if possible.