Walk into R.J. Riches and you feel minutely as if you’re in the opening scene of “Reservoir Dogs.” Surrounded by scenery as dirty as the men involved, Eliot and I started our recovery from a … shall we say, inelegant night of partying (at least on my part) at this veteran New Brighton diner. The gem was the taste of breakfast, and two large men got killed by gigantic pancakes.
The Basics: A search on The Goog 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. Here is a link to their Urbanspoon page instead. How we are the first bloggers to blog about Riches on Urbanspoon only speaks to the buzz-chasing trying-too-hard nature of this area's food critics.
Riches rests on the corner of 35W and County 10 - NOT to be confused with Highway 10, a lesson I learned the hard way. 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 hot 20-something chick working the register; the hostess, the lone blonde, who might've been the adopted cousin; and the perpetually grumpy (but hospitable enough), portly 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, bacon (what else?!) 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 like the contents of a 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 cost a little over a buck extra, but if you've ever seen me pass up a chocolate-chip pancake ... you haven't, because it's never happened. I would have 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 … well, look at them.
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. If we had a real estate agent present when we swapped the large tracts of our pancake territories, we surely would have needed 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 the chocolate chip, and finally turned to a piece of bacon. Yes, the cake was so good that I gave it priority over 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 go to dinner with my wife at 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 two over-easy 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. A few bites of egg-soaked cake, the rest of the bacon, and I chased it all with the remainder of my orange juice (with sufficient pulp to prove that it was either home-squeezed or at least 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 had eaten a sad amount of my pancake. The remaining balance was cut into sections, like a damn dinner table, and stacked in a Styrofoam container. It took my until Wednesday to finish it. Just know that entire pizzas came and went at our house during this pancake's lifetime. This thing lasted longer than Petoria.
The legend of R.J. Riches explains itself on one plate. If you want to sit in a restaurant with light color consistency and clean tables, if you don’t want a waitress with a studded biker top and an outgrown manicure, go someplace else. Riches has everything they need in that pancake batter, and they’ll draw a crowd no matter how shitty their ceiling looks.
When you can serve up something like nobody else in your market can - in a good way, I'm not talking a menu centered on meatballs or a $14 plate full of crumbs - you can hang signs behind your register like “No Whining” and “Stop Complaining” and mean it. This family restaurant keeps a unique spirit alive; and, as long as they can zip you the biggest pancake you’ll ever see in person, their legend will only grow.
You can either be a part of it, or you can stand on the outside looking in.