Review: Exclusive Items at IHOP Express
Last November, IHOP opened a new fast-casual concept in downtown San Diego, dubbed IHOP Express. The location is a testing ground for the new IHOP concept, which has a smaller footprint, and was designed to make the brand more accessible for people who are “on the go,” including university students and military personnel, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
While one part of me was sad to see a ho-hum chain move into the Gaslamp Quarter, I did immediately concede that it’s a boon for tourists, and a really smart idea. My original plan was to visit the location and try out the new Lorax breakfast items (sprinkle pancakes, anyone?) but the Express location has a limited menu, and none of them were available. Luckily, my initial disappointment faded when I the Express location has exclusive items you can’t find in regular IHOPs, including a few that sounded even more exciting than the Lorax offerings. I tried three things: Dough Bites, Corn Cake Tacos, and the Cup o’ Pancakes.
If you’re anything like me, the idea of a cup of pancakes made your eyebrow shoot skyward, so I’ll start there. I tried the Double Blueberry Cup ‘o Pancakes ($2.29) which is also available in a combo meal deal where you get a cup of coffee and a cup of pancakes for $3.99. It looks exactly as described. Pancake batter and fruit topping are cooked in a paper cup (presumably in the microwave) and topped with whipped cream. Once you get past the weirdness of eating pancakes with a spoon, this item is actually pretty tasty. The texture of the pancakes is a bit mushy, and gets more rubbery the further down you dig, but it’s so immersed in blueberry sauce and whipped cream that it doesn’t really matter. Eating pancakes in this form is like eating a sundae, and not using a fork and knife really drives home the fact that you’re eating dessert for breakfast. Personally, I am totally at peace with that.
My dining companion totally nailed it when she said the Dough Bites were “like a pancake had gone to hell and back again.” Crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside, and striped with chocolate syrup and marshmallow sauce, the S’mores Dough Bites ($2.49) were a little bit evil, but so tasty. Think of them as a crude, more simplistic beignet. I thought the portion size was a bit stingy, but as an alternative to a pricey restaurant dessert, these would totally hit the spot. And, because the Express location is open 24 hours on Thurs-Sat, you can get them whenever the craving strikes.
I definitely set my expectations too high for the Corn Cake Tacos ($5.49), which were really just cornmeal pancakes with grade D meat on top. The “steak” tasted over-processed and had an artificial meat seasoning flavor to it. It was fatty, chewy, and not at all worth eating. A telling moment happened when my friend asked “What kind of meat is this again? Pork?” For all I know, it could have been. I also have to take issue with this item being called a taco. When I tried picking it up to eat it like a taco, the entire pancake ripped in half, spilling the beef all over the plate. That being said, the cornmeal pancakes were really tasty. Slap some butter and blueberries on them and you’d really have something.
Pros: Cheap, fun-to-eat items that give you your daily dose of sugar, convenient for tourists and anyone who needs a quick bite on the go (seating also available).
Cons: Some items need to be re-worked (like the Corn Cake Tacos), nutritional value is suspect
Taste: 8.25/10 (Dough Bites) | 7.75/10 (Cup O' Pancakes) | 4.50/10 (Corn Cake Tacos)
Grubbing on-the-go: 8.00/10 (Cup O' Pancakes and Dough Bites) | 4.00/10 (Corn Cake Tacos)
Price: $2.29 (Cup O' Pancakes) | $2.49 (Dough Bites) | $5.49 (Corn Cake Tacos)
Overall GrubGrade: 7.50/10 (Cup O' Pancakes and Dough Bites) | 4.00/10 (Corn Cake Tacos)
More Info: IHOP.com