Several years ago I traveled to Japan with my family. It was a culinary adventure as much as a cultural adventure. In Kyoto our friends took us to one of their favorite restaurants which served okonomiyaki, Japanese style savory pancakes made right at your table. While I can't say I loved the funky array of flavors in my okonomiyaki, I did really enjoy the experience of making it myself.
Slappy Cakes (4246 Southeast Belmont Street) takes all the interworkings of the the okonomiyaki – batter served at your table, mixed with ingredients and cooked on an in-table flat griddle – and puts a distinctly Portland spin on it. Instead of savory Japanese pancakes, Slappy Cakes offers traditional pancakes with a wide array of mix-ins, from uber sweet chocolate chips to savory bacon and blue cheese.
Diners are offered a choice of batters including traditional buttermilk, buckwheat, vegan, peanut butter, and gluten-free. To this they can select from a large list of mix-in ingredients including blueberries, lavender honey, lemon curd, chocolate chips, cherries, bananas, bacon, blue cheese, fresh herbs and more. The pancake batter is delivered in a squeeze bottle which makes getting it onto the griddle extremely easy, and toppings come in little gravy boats.
The center griddle at each table does get very hot, but there's enough space from the edge of the table to the griddle that I felt comfortable having my three year old sit at the table and not worry about her getting burned. When the restaurant is packed (which is often) and all the griddles are going, the restaurant can get pretty hot.
Making Slappy Cakes is a pretty easy process and something my kids really enjoy. My middle child who is 8 (pictured above) was successful in making his own pancakes and enjoyed the fact that he was able to do it. We did find that both the peanut butter and buckwheat pancake batters have a tendency to stick to the griddle, so for kids buttermilk is probably the best option.
Surprisingly, make-your-own pancakes are just one small dimension of Slappy Cakes. Beyond their signature dish, Slappy Cakes has an extensive breakfast and lunch menu that's just as worthy of exploring. Filled with local and fresh ingredients, the menu includes classics like eggs, toast, potatoes and bacon while also venturing into more interesting and exotic breakfast options.
If you do order the prepared pancakes off the menu (in the event that you don't want to make them yourself), be prepared for enormous pancakes. A short stack of pecan pancakes is two plate-sized behemoths which are almost impossible to finish. My favorite item from the menu (beyond pancakes) is the Toad in A Hole, two eggs fried into slices of bread. It's a tasty treat but a little spendy at $9.
You also might not expect a breakfast place to have an extensive cocktail menu, but Slappy Cakes has a notable collection of cocktails including Bloody Marys served by the pitcher. There are a lot of interesting cocktails but I haven't had the opportunity to try them as all my trips to Slappy Cakes have been for brunch. Also, with Slappy Cakes closing at 5pm every day, the cocktail list feels a little out of place.
The only significant issue that Slappy Cakes faces is managing the flow of customers. Often woefully understaffed lines can quickly form even on off-days with open tables that simply need to be wiped down to have people seated. While there are some really good servers at Slappy Cakes, they often seem to be overwhelmed, often needing to take up the slack from some of the less than stellar servers. Perhaps the biggest problem at Slappy Cakes is that food is plated on the bar and sits waiting to be served without any sort of heat lamps to ensure they keep warm. This works fine if the food is quickly picked up and delivered, but it's a train wreck when you get a poor server and food can quickly get cold.
The service issues could be easily addressed and if you don't go on the weekends during a rush, the service issues are mitigated (except for one of their servers who may very well be the worst waiter in Portland).
Slappy Cakes is a fun and inventive restaurant who could have simply rested on the DIY pancakes, but they've gone the extra mile with an extensive menu and local seasonal offerings that elevate it to something more than a gimmick restaurant. Service issues aside, I still think Slappy Cakes is a restaurant worth visiting and it's a place I actually enjoy going with my whole family.
Slappy Cakes is at 4246 Southeast Belmont Street, open 8am-5pm everyday.