Located in the historic Jordaan District, just a block or two down from Westerkerk and the Anne Frank House, the entrance to The Pancake Bakery sits tucked away in a basement-like alcove. You might miss it if you don’t know what you’re looking for or can’t smell the intoxicating aroma of frying pancake batter and bacon.
Watch your head as you duck into the cozy dining area. You can watch the chefs hard at work behind the red brick kitchen. Once you enter this place, you instantly know: there are not just pancakes here, there’s history too.
Co-owner and manager, Bastiaan Schaafsma, might have pancake batter running through his veins. Back in 1980, his parents, a kindergarten teacher and history teacher respectively lived on one of the floors above the restaurant and bought the establishment from a local entrepreneur, who had started the business in 1973.
Bastiaan’s parents quickly turned The Pancake Bakery into a flourishing family business and since then, not much has changed. The interior is nearly the same as it was 32 years ago. Bastiaan told us the tables and chairs were the same ones used since he was a toddler. The decorative schoolbook printing plates that don the walls come from Bastiaan’s grandfather who was a schoolbook salesman in the 50s and 60s. There used to be sand on the floor, but that bit of nostalgia is no longer allowed due to health codes.
The Pancake Bakery is the quintessential family business. In 2001, when his father retired from the world of pancakes, he passed the wooden spoon onto his son, who runs it with the same love and attention as his parents. “Twelve years ago and I’m still here.” His father remains a co-owner, but he lets Bastiaan do his own thing. “I love the restaurant. You don’t want to know how busy it can be here!”
The Pancake Bakery has since become a sort of Amsterdam icon among pancake restaurants, capturing the charm of a brown bar (did we mention you can buy a beer to accompany your pancake?) with the deliciousness of home cooking.
Bastiaan’s family members are true pancake enthusiasts, so at The Pancake Bakery, you can guess what it’s all about. In the mid 90s, Bastiaan’s uncle, a professor of food research, helped perfect a better batter. Up until the early 90s, they made the batter by hand, but with the new and improved recipe, the chefs now only need to add water, so the quality is very consistent and perfect every time.
The 1990s also brought changes to the menu. Traditional Dutch pancakes contain bacon and apples or ham, cheese, and mushroom. In an effort to diversify the menu, Bastiaan’s father made up the different kinds of combinations both savory and sweet. One of the things that make a Dutch pancake so remarkable is that the same batter can be used for many different flavor combinations. For instance, the same batter can be used for a sweet or savory pancake. Bacon and bananas. Cherries and cream. Tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese. “It’s amazing what you can do with a pancake,” says Bastiaan. “It takes on the taste of the different ingredients you use.” Most of the ingredients used in the restaurant are locally grown or produced in the Netherlands.
Before you stumble in with a large group, they do take reservations on the website (which is of course www.pancake.nl) to avoid a wait. But believe us, it’s worth it! In Bastiaan’s words, “If you really want to have a good impression of traditional Dutch food, come over and try a pancake. I dare say, we are the oldest pancake house in Amsterdam. I also dare say, we have the best pancakes in town. We know what we do. We try to do the best we can.”