Walk into R.J. Riches and you feel minutely as if you’re in the opening scene of “Reservoir Dogs.” You could picture the gang talking crime at one of these tables, under the stained fiber ceiling tiles, ostensibly unchanged from the smoking indoor days. Mr. Pink doesn’t believe in tipping, and a sign above the RJ Riches kitchen window reads “No Complaining.”
My buddy Eliot and I, on a morning most certainly not fit for Hollywood, dumped ourselves into a booth for a good ol’ breakfast of shame. The night before was … inelegant, let’s say, but we’ll skim over those details (read: I don’t remember them).
It was time to show Eliot the pancake. You’ve seen the pancake, right?
The Basics: Riches rests on the corner of 35W and County 10 – NOT to be confused with Highway 10, a lesson I learned the hard way. A search on The Google did not produce a website for R.J. Riches. You can certainly find a lot of images of bodybuilder Rob Riches, but no website for R.J. Riches.
Eliot was actually “in it” at the restaurant, so I’m letting him tell you about the feel inside:
ELIOT: The family-owned restaurant was 1970’s answer to the 1950’s all-stainless steel breakfast diners like Denny’s: Wood-grain laminate accents and decades-old glass lamp covers – none of which matched in color with the others – met us. The people working there could all have been family indeed: from the graceful 20-something working the register; the hostess, the lone blonde, perhaps an adopted cousin; and the perpetually grumpy (but hospitable enough) aunt who served us. In the kitchen, visible through an old-fashioned brick pass-through, the father and the uncle of this family worked the grills.
Frank had foretold epic prophecy about Riches’ pancakes. “The size of your plate,” he said, and a glance at the table next to us confirmed. The menus might as well have been 3 blank pages and a section titled Pancakes. The only option we had to consider was if we wanted the Pancake Feast – a cake, choice of meat, and eggs – or the Riches Challenge, all the above plus a choice of potato. I figured I didn’t need any extraneous carbs getting in the way of my cake, so I ordered the blueberry pancake with bacon and eggs, over-easy to break the yolks into my pancake.
ME: For the first time in my life, I sucked down a whole pot of coffee. It tasted cruddy, I’m talking right out of the rain gutter, but you don’t aim for a Wolfgang Puck face at a family restaurant. I pooh-poohed the bacon for a slice of ham in my Pancake Feast. The “premium” pancake blends run a little over a buck extra, but if you’ve ever seen me pass up a chocolate-chip pancake … you haven’t. It’s never happened. I would’ve given the tip of my pinky for chocolate chips on my pancake.
Somewhere between my third and fourth cup of coffee, the plates arrived. The ham and eggs looked like everyone else’s ham and eggs, but the pancakes …
ELIOT: Before we dug in, we made good on our pre-breakfast deal of flavor-swapping. Carving out a chunk of this was like trying to dissect a blue whale with an X-acto knife. Had a real estate agent been present for this, we surely would have had to pay closing costs.
The first bite I took was of the chocolate chip, sans syrup. Let me tell you, it couldn’t have tasted any better if served to me in a picnic on the fields of Elysium. I made short work of it, and turned to a piece of bacon. Yes, it’s good enough to eat before bacon.
At this point, we were able to start forming words again, and started discussing what would become this piece. It was interesting to hear that, while I was chewing in reverent silence, brainstorming just the words I’d say about these enormous cakes, Frank admitted he did the same thing. In fact, he said it was nice to just to eat rather than worry about keep up conversation.
ME: That’s true. When I take my wife to a restaurant I plan to review, it’s like a first-date nightmare except she’s already married to the guy.
ELIOT: Now, to my blueberry. I carefully cradled the eggs and placed them on the two-thirds left of my cake. They looked comically inadequate; and, once broken, the yolk barely lubricated the fluffy cake. I supplemented it with some maple syrup and started in. The blueberries were warm, unbroken, and juicy, meaning the cake had been stirred with care. After a few bites of egg-soaked cake came the rest of the bacon, then I chased it all with the remainder of my orange juice (with sufficient pulp — it was either home-squeezed, or the expensive store-bought kind that mimics home-squeezed). My hunger was satiated, tummy straining at its limits, and as I sat back in the booth and relaxed, I realized that a full half of my monster cake remained.
I looked up at Frank, who hadn’t made it even as far as I.
“The wife will appreciate this, at least,” he stated as we asked for our to-go boxes.
ME: Yeah, I’d performed sadly. The remaining balance was cut into sections, like a damn dinner table, and stacked in a Styrofoam container. It took until Wednesday to finish it. Just know that entire pizzas came and went at our house during this pancake’s lifespan. The damn thing lasted longer than Petoria. Oh, did I mention these meals were less than $15 apiece?
It all fits together: The worn tabletops, our waitress’ outgrown manicure, the light color discrepancies, everything. It’s a unique spirit, y’know? There’s something classic about it, something that takes a couple of small-town boys back to the homeland. Also, they’ve got the pancake.
I’d say there aren’t enough of these old greasy spoons anymore, but hell: When you’ve got one like this, one is all you need.