In a perfect world, pancakes would always be made from scratch. They'd be rushed from griddle to table piping hot, so butter would instantly melt over the top and down the sides. So light and clean-tasting would they be that maple syrup -- 100 percent pure, of course -- would be an option, not a requirement.
Finding such hot cakes can be a challenge. Too many eateries turn to commercial mixes that taste of artificial additives. Other places send out leaden, doughy creations. Or overcooked hubcaps that call for the use of steak knives.
Despair not; great pancakes are out there. We've found them at diners and luncheonettes, where they can cost as little as $6, and at fancy full-fledged restaurants where they can go for as much as $15. Most fall into the area in between.
Know that you may not always find pure maple syrup, and when you do, you may have to pay extra for it. To stretch your pancake dollar, it's smart to order a full rather than a short stack. Leftovers can always be packaged to go, making for a festive breakfast at home the next day.
We've ventured far afield, eating our way through many a stack to come up with this list of griddle cakes worthy of your appetite.
Here are some of Long Island's best pancakes as chosen by Newsday's food staff.
Hatch, Huntington: Pineapple upside-down pancakes are topped with house-made vanilla rum creme anglaise, caramelized pineapple and cinnamon butter.
Flour Shoppe Cafe
Flour Shoppe Cafe, Rockville Centre: Banana crumb pancakes with dulce de leche sauce is just the order for a leisurely weekend brunch.
Relish, Kings Park: Chef and co-owner Steve Cardello keeps the breakfast crowd coming back for more with such pancake favorites as his fluffy "lighter than air" ricotta pancakes topped with strawberries (pictured), as well as tender, autumnal sweet potato pancakes crowned with maple-walnut butter. Simple buttermilk pancakes work, too. Three to an order.
Toast Coffeehouse, Patchogue: This spot offers pancakes for every craving, from cinnamon swirl to blueberry and walnut. Read the menu's fine print for add-ons: a side of bacon or the swap to real maple syrup can make for a stellar breakfast. Two to an order.
Empress Diner, East Meadow: Not all diners are alike. This one is a pancake specialist, using a from-scratch recipe that produces fluffy pancakes made with a hint of vanilla. Choose from a roster of 17 varieties that include strawberry-banana-blueberry cakes and Elvis pancakes made with peanut butter, banana and cinnamon (pictured). Three to an order.
Cookroom, Middle Island: The "oaty oat" pancakes (pictured) at this vintage diner are moist and tender, studded with apples and nuts.
Plainview Diner, Plainview: This Plainview diner (where some booths have computer screens that allow you to summon your server) offers flapjacks that are light and clean-tasting. Seasonal variants, such as pumpkin, are also featured, and house-made raspberry syrup is a free option.
Eastport Luncheonette, Eastport: This old-fashioned luncheonette's pancakes are far more delicate than most. Cut one open, and it's white and airy-textured inside. Order yours made with whatever fruit is seasonal. (Pictured: A stack of blueberry pancakes topped with strawberries and blueberries and banana chocolate chip pancakes.)
Morning Rose Cafe
Morning Rose Cafe, Bellmore: It's the culinary skill of chef Roberto Baez that has people lining up at the door of this charming breakfast and lunch cafe. A major attraction: fluffy lemon-poppy "voodoo berry" pancakes served with a bright berry compote (pictured). Two large pancakes to an order.
Premier Diner, Commack: This Commack favorite offers a seasonally changing roster of creative pancakes. Angel food pancakes, despite a touch of Splenda, have a fresh, clean flavor. This fall, in addition to the plain pumpkin pancakes, you'll find pumpkin-pecan (pictured) as well as apple-caramel cakes. Rolled Swedish pancakes are made with a sourdough batter and served with raspberry butter.
Park Avenue Grill
Park Avenue Grill, Amityville: A standout at this friendly spot are lemon ricotta pancakes studded with fresh blueberries (pictured). They're thin, light, lemony and quite elegant. Three to an order.
Hendrick's Tavern, Roslyn: The restored 1740 estate of Hendrick Onderdonk is adorned with portraits of George Washington, a long-ago visitor. He would have been happy to be served such cloudlike lemon ricotta pancakes (pictured), which come with pure maple syrup, whipped cream and mixed berries. Three to an order. Weekend brunch only.
IHOP, Multiple locations: Crowded parking lots and lines out the door attest to the popularity of this chain, a long-standing destination for families. Here, it's best to order as simply as possible, avoiding artificial-tasting whipped toppings, fruit compotes and the like. Pancake varieties include original buttermilk, chocolate chip and "harvest grain 'n' nut," all three to an order. Kids can order silver-dollar pancakes, funny-face pancakes and create-a-face cakes, using a tube of low-fat strawberry yogurt to add their own artistic touches.