In a city of 8 million people, queues at peak times are not unexpected. But at mid-morning mid-week? This is normally a quiet time where diners can be almost guaranteed a table the minute they walk in.
At 10.30am on Wednesday, it was almost impossible to get in the door of Clinton St Baking Company for the amount of people milling around waiting for a table. A waitress quickly took our name and told us there would be a 30-minute wait. This suited as, we could visit Cafe Pedlar for coffee (situated in the same street at no 17) or the nearby Thompson Park, which apparently featured in Die Hard 2.
When we returned for our table, the crowd had not lessened and hopefuls were still putting their names down for a table. Clinton St Baking Company does not take reservations for brunch, and seats just 32, so this is the only way to get a table. I can't imagine what the queues are like on weekends!
If you do queue, don't despair as the wait is definitely worth it. Clinton St Baking Company has won a slew of awards and recognition, including "Best breakfast or brunch" by Time Out NY and "Best Pancakes" by New York Magazine, as well as being nominated for "Top 10 brunches" by the New York Observer.
The inside of the cafe is light and airy, with sunlight streaming in from the large windows looking streetside. It is busy and the place is buzzing with satisfied diners. Waitstaff whisk past with plate after plate loaded with meals and turnover is quick. As enticing as the brunch/breakfast menu sounded - buttermilk biscuit sandwich, truffle fried eggs and asparagus, southern breakfast or Spanish scramble, anyone? - pancakes was always going to be our choice.
But first up, to get us in the mood, was a decadently rich classic extra thick chocolate milkshake, made with ice-cream from The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
It was a short wait for our plate of heaven: three pancakes drizzled with Wild Maine blueberries or banana and walnuts, with a dish of warm maple syrup butter on the side. The pancakes, almost the size of the serving plate, are paradoxically fluffy yet substantial: the texture is delicately light but it will be a very hungry diner who will be able to finish all three. The thick warm maple syrup butter has a dulce du leche flavour and is just as good being dipped into as it is drizzled over the pancakes.
So popular are the pancakes that they're on the menu all day - dinner is also served here. The cake display cabinet and dessert menu is also loaded with treasures that we unfortunately did not have the appetite to sample: an impressive-looking black and white layer cake, blueberry cheesecake, sour cherry lattice pie and classic hot fudge sundae.
In good news for New York visitors like me, who can't pop down for a regular fix of the best pancakes I've ever tasted, Clinton St Baking Company is scheduled to publish its own cookbook in November 2010.
Clinton St Baking Company
4 Clinton St (between East Houston and Stanton Streets)