Sugar, we’re goin’ down

Sampling the kamikaze pancakes at Egg and I

You can tell the first-timers by the look of amazement bordering on terror that crosses their faces when a waitress — who’s tried to warn them — sets down their orders: two cakes. Two kamikaze pancakes represent a death wish, while a single signifies nirvana on a plate (actually, overflowing it and threatening to take over the table).

Critter of habit that I am, it’s the only thing I’ve ever ordered at the Egg and I. No matter how light the eggs, how crisp the bacon and healthful the fruit, forget it. Otherwise fellow diners would bear witness to a big, blubbery case of buyer’s remorse.

The kamikazes come in four options. I’ve stuck with multigrain, which masquerades as healthful. But you can also order them crafted from buckwheat, sourdough starter, or the original buttermilk version

Into this heavenly batter goes a plentiful mix of walnuts, blueberries and banana slices, which, after tanning on the griddle, you’re free to paint with table syrup or, for a few pennies more, baptize with the pure maple version made by proprietor Eric Grutbeck’s brother in Wisconsin.

The kamikaze’s suicidal descriptor is a mystery to Eric, who was a kid in junior high when his mom, who worked as a waitress at the Black Forest Inn, opened her own breakfast spot back in 1980. She invited the Black’s cook to join her kitchen, and he’s the one who invented this masterpiece of carbs. As a single mother, she knew that launching her own enterprise represented a huge risk. Counselors at the St. Thomas School of Business advised her that “maybe” it might work, so she put up her house as security for a bank loan. Three Lyndale locations (small, larger, largest) later — and, since 1989, a branch in St. Paul’s Midway District — business is still bouncing to the tune of a thousand breakfasts a week.

How many of those are kamikazes? Well, just cast your eyes around the Formica-topped tables, crowded with a demographic that defies a pigeonhole: students, business folks, retirees, musicians, construction workers … and cops, like the ones that educated the nouveau owner on her first morning, “Cathy, it’s not safe to make change from an ice cream bucket on the counter.”

The original buttermilk version that’s starred on the menu ever since opening day back in 1980, a million cooks later hasn’t changed one iota. Why mess with perfection? In fact, it’s likely that there’s a city ordinance forbidding tampering with its tried-and-true recipe. Many of the same waitresses have been around for 25 years, and they’d rat on you if you dared. So would the cadre of regular customers who claim similar seniority. As the fading billboard in the parking lot proclaims, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll come often.” And order the kamikaze if you’re smart. One’s enough.

Egg and I
2828 Lyndale Ave. S.