Flapjack Fever

Photo by Jeanne RiceTucked among children's boutiques and salons, Haute Cakes Caffe has earned a reputation for great pancakes. But if you're looking for boysenberry syrup and chocolate chips, IHOP is down the street. Haute Cakes serves up its namesake in naked splendor: three large golden buttermilk cakes with butter and maple syrup on the side. For a long time, only the plain (albeit delicious) cakes were available.

So why call it Haute Cakes? Owner Paul Taddeo created the name to combine his background in the garment-manufacturing industry with his new bakery venture. The transition from haute couture to hotcakes made for a cute play on words. Almost a decade later, Haute Cakes is known equally for its salads and burritos. To bring back the relevance of the name, Taddeo plans to add two new kinds of pancakes to the menu. Look for incredibly moist cottage-cheese-based cakes with flavors like strawberry lemon and caramelized apple.

Taddeo gives his wife, Tania, credit for creative energy. Indeed, the former Quiksilver employee has redone the place in vibrant shades of key-lime green and chartreuse, colors that go well with a three-latte buzz. Moms with Kate Spade diaper bags park Peg Perego strollers the size of Volkswagens on the patio. A cute girl wearing low-riding pants displays a beguiling tattoo in a place that gives a sexy new meaning to the term plumber's crack. Throw in a few bodybuilders and seniors, and you've got an average Haute Cakes crowd.

When Haute Cakes opened in 1991, counter service in Orange County meant mall food or takeout pizza. But Haute Cakes helped make it popular for bistros to join the trend. Anastasia and Madison Square N Garden Caf, two recently opened restaurants, have followed suit. Though it can be chaotic, the absence of full table service offers the benefit of better food at better prices in a casual environment. Once you get used to it, the system works; I much prefer it to trying to get an apathetic server to anticipate my needs by resorting to displays of passive aggression.

Zov's Bistro used to offer something called breakfast bruschetta. She replaced it, but Haute Cakes came to the rescue with a similar fruit bruschetta. Country French bakery bread is browned and spread with creamy mascarpone cheese; it's then dotted with fresh raspberries and drizzled with honey to create a sort of deconstructed toast and jam.

A sign for the daily soup said, “Carrot-curry-ginger soup—no coconut milk,” but the beta-carotene-rich pure definitely needed it or some other fat to carry the clean-living flavor. Everyone's favorite salad combines romaine with crumbled Maytag blue cheese, thinly sliced apples and candied pecans in a champagne vinaigrette—yummy. Haute Cakes also does Mexican and vegetarian dishes; a chicken quesadilla with mango salsa was a great special last week.

Carbohydrates are out with the current diet gurus. But for me, a low-carb life just isn't worth the agony. Let the Adkins devotees and Zone freaks waste away on egg-white scrambles. I'll be basking in my corpulence with a plate of steaming hotcakes in front of me—with extra syrup, please.

Haute Cakes Caffe, located at 1807 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, is open Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (949) 642-4114. Beer and wine. Lunch for two, $16, food only. Visa and MC accepted.

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