Santa Maria Sun / Eats
BY WENDY THIES SELL
For years I have taken out-of-town visitors and local friends alike to Solvang for breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House, which is known for some of the best pancakes and waffles around.
Paula and Charles Greenwald found success serving their customers crepes and waffles at The Belgian Café in Solvang, so in 1986 they opened a nearby pancake place with a menu designed around Danish pancakes.
Paula’s Pancake House, called “Solvang’s Original Pancake House,” hasn’t changed much in 27 years, and that’s how the Greenwalds want it. And their customers wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Greenwalds’ son, Daniel, has taken over all of the family’s restaurants so his parents can enjoy retirement. They still own The Belgian Café, and they also run The Burger Barn.
“I have continued the legacy,” Daniel said. “We just keep it simple and we really don’t change anything. That’s what’s made us successful, because we have guests that came in as children 25 to 30 years ago and now are bringing their children in, and they’re getting the exact same meal. The recipes haven’t changed.”
Daniel shared a few secrets from some of Paula’s most popular dishes, starting with the “world-famous Danish pancakes”—delectably thin, delicious crepe-like pancakes. He invited me back into the kitchen to watch his expert cooks flip them on the griddle. And these guys know what they’re doing!
“We have cooks that have been with us for 25 to 30 years,” Daniel said proudly.
The cooks spoon the thin batter—made with whole milk instead of the usual buttermilk—onto a hot, greased griddle.
Working from the inside out, they make a circular motion with the back of a spoon, spreading it across the griddle. About five to 10 seconds later they flip it, and it’s done 15 seconds later.
“The cooking process is what makes it so unique. As simple as it is, that’s what makes it such a delicate pancake. It’s not sitting on a hot griddle for a minute or two minutes like a normal pancake would,” Daniel explained.
The Danish-style pancakes are served a variety of ways, topped with fresh fruit, or filled, topped, or served with sausage or ham.
The secret to the light, airy Belgian-style waffles is the mix. It’s the same one the family has used for three decades.
“Our waffle mix is made up of flour blended with barley malt. Malt provides several benefits. It is a natural sweetener,” Greenwald said. “This allows us to not have to add any sweetener to our recipe. Malt also contributes to our waffle’s light and fluffy texture. This is why our waffle is so darn delicious.”
Paula’s fresh-baked waffles come with warm maple syrup and butter, or topped with a choice of warm cinnamon apples, fresh strawberries, blueberries, or sliced banana and fresh whipped cream.
One of the most popular waffle variations is Paula’s pecan waffle.
“We oven roast our own pecans, chop them up, and then we bake them inside, dust with powdered sugar, and top with more pecans. Oh, it’s to die for,” Daniel raved.
The restaurant serves eggs Benedict four different ways: “The Classic” with premium smoked ham; eggs Florentine with sautéed spinach; eggs Hemingway with smoked salmon; and the Irish Benedict, which is made with corned beef hash.
The eggs Benedict is the No. 1 selling egg dish at Paula’s.
“We haven’t changed that recipe one bit since the opening day,” Daniel said. “The hollandaise sauce is very simple. Not too lemony, not too rich; it’s the perfect balance of a sauce. And our eggs are perfect, too, because the guy that makes our eggs has been making them for 30 years. He can make a poached egg perfect! We serve anywhere between 100 and 120 eggs Benedicts a day, and every single one of them will be served perfect.”
He credits fresh food and consistency with his family’s success in the restaurant business.
“It’s about serving a product that’s cooked perfectly, that’s the exact same way that you’ve had it the last 10 times,” he said.
The breakfast menu also features Solvang Danish-style pork sausage, 10 different omelets, French toast, buttermilk or whole wheat and honey pancakes, and more than a dozen other egg dishes, including rib-eye steak and eggs and chicken-fried steak and eggs.
And the perfect drink to pair with breakfast is the fresh-squeezed orange juice. Paula’s has a machine in the front of the restaurant squeezing oranges all day long.
“Any day we can do between three and six cases of oranges,” Daniel said, summing it up in a few words: “fresh, old-school quality.”
Paula’s lunch menu—served after 11 a.m. every day except on Sundays, when lunch begins at noon—offers a large variety of sandwiches, hamburgers, and salads.
I always like to sit outside on the patio surrounded by flowers, at one of 11 umbrella-shaded tables, enjoying Solvang’s wonderful weather and watching all the tourists walk by.
“We have one of the nicest spots in Solvang, a great view of Mission Drive,” Daniel said. “It’s a very positive environment. Coming into Solvang, you see a business like we have, it sort of makes people excited to be in Solvang and to come into our restaurant.”
Paula’s Pancake House is at 1531 Mission Drive in Solvang, open daily from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.
Sun food and wine writer Wendy Thies Sell enjoys every visit to “Sunny Fields.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.