To be honest, I’m not a morning person, which puts me at odds not only with much of America, but with my chosen community of Washington, where waking up early is practically a competitive sport to see who can read the most email newsletters, overnight stories and policy papers by 7 a.m. I’m lucky to knock the sleep out of my eyes by 8 a.m. If I have any functional thoughts in my head — and recent reader feedback suggests I don’t — they won’t make an appearance before 10 a.m., well after that potent drug known as caffeine has entered my bloodstream.
My wake-to-sleep-and-take-my-waking-slow routine has a number of drawbacks, but for the purposes of this discussion, it means I usually miss any breakfast menu that has a hard stop at, say, 10:30 a.m. Few things will get me out the door in the early morning, and a breakfast platter is not one of them. Fortunately, kitchens have grown merciful over the years. They will serve breakfast late in the morning and, sometimes, even well into the afternoon. Breakfast for lunch is a policy I can endorse.
By and large, I favor breakfast sandwiches because they make no demands on your person. They’re laid back. They’ll go anywhere you want. They don’t care where you eat them — on a sidewalk, in a car, at your desk, in a TSA line trying to gobble one down before an agent makes you toss the leftovers in the garbage.
But every once in a while, I encounter a breakfast sandwich that makes me stop and smell the syrup. One that makes me want to sit down, right on the spot, and enjoy it with my senses fully attuned.
I’m thinking specifically about the beautiful monstrosity called, with knuckle-dragging literalness, the “pancake burger.” Chef Nathan Anda created this McGriddle-esque marvel six years ago for the late Red Apron Burger Bar, right around the time Donald Trump was trying to convince everyone that his inaugural crowd was the largest gathering of bipeds in one place since life emerged from the primordial soup. Folks were passing out joints for the inauguration, and Anda thought his sticky new construction would be the perfect after-party.
So, to answer the obvious: Yes, the pancake burger was designed as stoner food.
The pancake burger ($13) can now be found on the menu at Red Apron inside the Roost food hall (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-661-0142; theroostsedc.com), and it’s available till 3 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends. Technically, it’s a breakfast sandwich, by which I mean you can eat it with your hands, but you’ll need a stack of napkins nearby. And be prepared for the flapjack bun to lose its form as the sandwich’s collective liquids (meat juices, egg yolk and maple syrup) do what nature intended them to do: break down the vulnerable.
Anda prefers to eat his creation with a knife and fork because he has facial hair that could attract flies after direct contact with the bun. (My interpretation, not his.) I prefer to use utensils because I’m the kind of dude who eats with a cellphone at his elbow. I’m pretty sure I could stick that phone to a wall after devouring this.
I’ve called the pancake burger Anda’s version of a McGriddle, but that’s not technically true. “I’ve never shied away from reinventing fast food or anything like that. I love to do that stuff,” said Anda, who has made his own version of an Arby’s Beef ’n Cheddar sandwich. “I just thought this would be a kind of fun thing to eat.”
The pancake burger also doesn’t invite the kind of uncomfortable, unanswerable questions that a McGriddle can, such as: How on earth did they create a bun that oozes maple syrup? Every ingredient of Anda’s breakfast sandwich is easily identifiable, down to the housemade pancakes whose height and airiness can be traced to whipped egg whites folded into the batter. Between those syrup-drizzled buns, Anda presses slices of Red Apron bacon; a 3½-ounce patty, ground twice and smashed; white American cheese; and a fried egg, its yolk still wobbly.
This is the kind of sandwich that inspires the sensitive to feel guilty and the angry to shame others over their choices. It inspires me, however, to sit down and savor every bite, because I won’t be eating another one for many, many weeks.
Over at Heat Da Spot Cafe (3213 Georgia Ave. NW, 202-836-4719; heatdaspot.com), owners and twin sisters Semret and Timnit Goitom have a menu posted next to their cash register that encourages you to build your own American-style breakfast sandwich, combining your choice of bread and fillings into a bite that will start your day just right.
But it’s not the DIY breakfast option that I prefer here. My choice is a platter you’ll find advertised on a clipboard affixed to the wall, one of many that adorn this homey corner cafe. The dish is called, simply, the Ethiopia breakfast combo ($17.99), and it’s available any time the cafe’s doors are open. The combo can trace its origins back to the Goitom family home in Addis Ababa, where the sisters would gather with their extended clan after church every Sunday and feast on a buffet that would include many of the same ingredients.
The combo features three main elements — scrambled eggs, firfir (torn pieces of injera mixed with berbere sauce) and kinche (boiled cracked wheat finished with Ethiopian butter) — paired with the usual rolls of injera. It’s not a sandwich sandwich, clearly. But every bite becomes sandwich-esque when you take a length of injera, scoop up portions of each ingredient and slather it with the housemade “secret sauce,” a jalapeno-heavy concoction that makes everything taste better.
Bread, filling, eggs, condiment. It’s a breakfast sandwich in my book, and one of my favorites in town. Part of my affection for the dish is what it makes me do: relax into the environment of Heat Da Spot, where the sisters have created a funky, irresistible space that mixes giant beverage coolers with Louis XVI (or Louis XV or XIV, whatever, I’m no expert on period furniture) gilded armchairs and a display of coffee mugs from around the globe. Even the name is inviting.
The “h” in Heat Da Spot stands for home, Semret tells me. “But when you eliminate the ‘h,’ it says ‘eat,’ right?” she continues. “It says, ‘This is your home. Come and eat at da spot.’”
You’d be wise to accept that invitation, especially in the morning when you can close your laptop, order an Ethiopian breakfast combo and stop acting like such a Washingtonian.