While for us Brits, Pancake Day is the next best thing to a national holiday, if you ask most Americans about it, you are likely to get some highly blank looks. But, ask them about Mardi Gras, and you’ll get an enthusiastic response, along with a unique array of special sweet treats that goes well beyond just pancakes.
That’s because the two events are one and the same and, while most Americans don’t recognise Pancake Day, the same is largely true for UK visitors to the US with Mardi Gras.
But, when you realise that Mardi Gras is just French for Fat Tuesday, it quickly becomes obvious that ‘Shrove’ and ‘Fat’ amount to the same thing – the day before Lent starts.
As a quick history recap, in true Christian circles, Lent is the 40-day period of fasting, or penitence, that commemorates the period Jesus spent in the desert enduring the temptations of Satan. As the final day before Lent, Christians are allowed to stock up on many of the high-fat “treats” they are required to give up as part of their Lenten sacrifice.
Traditionally, this meant using up the likes of butter, eggs and fat, hence this became a custom in the Middle Ages of making pancakes to empty the pantry of all those temptations. For Britain, Ireland and most Commonwealth countries, this led to Shrove Tuesday being nicknamed Pancake Day. But, in French-influenced parts of the world, including the USA in the 19th century, it is known by the alternative of Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras).
Now, the essential modern day info is that US traditions for this day are rather different from our own. If anyone has been to Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras Celebration or the Busch Gardens version (or if you have read about them in our recent blog), they will know Mardi Gras is observed with a much wider variety of dishes.
These include the delicious King Cake, traditional beignets, shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, and jambalaya. Ironically, there IS a National Pancake Day in America, but it’s in September. Go figure. So, if that’s the US style, how do we Brits go about creating our own pancake-eating traditions in Orlando?
The obvious solution might be to head for one of the typical pancake-serving chain restaurants you’ll find throughout Florida, such as IHOP, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Perkins or Cracker Barrel, but that is not really the answer.
As many regular visitors will know, the typical American pancake (which can also be confusingly known as a flapjack or hotcake) tends to be a good deal thicker than the British version, an extra thickness that stems from using baking powder in the batter, which otherwise is the usual mixture of milk, flour, butter (or oil), eggs and salt. However, the US recipe may use buttermilk instead of regular milk, which also changes the consistency.
And, while our traditional method is just to top the pancake with lemon and sugar, the US version can make it an all-out topping frenzy with different kinds of syrup, fruit, nuts, whipped cream and even chocolate chips. In the typical chain restaurants mentioned above, you’ll also quickly discover that pancakes are served in a stack, covered in syrup and/or butter, as opposed to Britain’s more reserved one-at-a-time approach.
Obviously, if you’re staying in a vacation villa, there’s nothing to stop you making your own pancakes for tea on Shrove Tuesday, as all villas have superbly equipped kitchens and the nearest supermarket is never far away.
But, if the local restaurant version appeals to you, here are a few quick observations:
IHOP actually has its own National Pancake Day, and this IS on Shrove Tuesday (Feb 13), with a FREE short stack of buttermilk pancakes per guest from 7am-7pm, but they also use it to raise money to support local children’s hospitals and other charities.
Two other breakfast/brunch restaurants to look out for are our local favourites of First Watch and Keke’s Breakfast Café, where the fare is a bit more upscale and varied, but they usually close at 2.30pm each day, so they are not a tea-time or dinner option.
They will be found in multiple locations throughout the main tourist areas, as well as in places like Champions Gate and close to Posner Park for villa guests.
A notable one-off choice on International Drive is Hash House A Go-Go, a hugely eclectic diner that likes to serve up BIG helpings of everything, including massive buttermilk pancakes (which they call flapjacks). Monday to Thursday, they are only open from 8am to 2pm, but from Friday to Sunday it is 8am-3pm (if you like an early tea).
But, if none of the above are your particular cup of Pancake Day tea, and you prefer the more British style (i.e thin) pancake, then there are still a few options that will appeal to you.
First, head for Walt Disney World’s Epcot park. Yes, seriously. Go to the rear of the France pavilion in World Showcase and seek out La Creperie de Paris. This lovely French bistro features an array of decadent crepes that really hit the spot for authenticity and flavour, and they are available both inside the restaurant and from the take-away window. We highly recommend the Hazelnut & Chocolate Spread Crepe ($10.95), by the way!
Alternatively, you can seek out Amorette’s Patisserie at Disney Springs and try the various crepes on their menu, which are equally tasty, and include a truly decadent strawberry-and-Chantilly-cream version for $7 each.
Finally, back on I-Drive, if you stop at ICON Park you should try iCafe de Paris, where the crepes are exceedingly generous and suitably delicious, with a choice of 10 varieties ($13.45-$16,95). With it being open from 9am to midnight (8.30am-1am Fri and Sat), you will also have plenty of opportunity to make your Pancake Day last a LONG time!