Best of SA 2005 - Food - Staff picks Flapjacks to chicken scratch

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A little something for everyone - even the birds

Munchener Apfel Pfannekuchen (aka Munich Apple Pancake), a Magnolia Pancake Haus specialty, is made to order and comes topped with a generous helping of whipped cream.  (Photo by Laura McKenzie)

Among breakfast foods, there's no sight cheerier than a stack of pancakes. Down-to-earth tasty, pancakes somehow seem wholesome, and yet, especially in this age of carb-avoidance, decadent. My vote for the best pancake in San Antonio goes to Magnolia Pancake Haus, 13444 West Avenue, where I like the apfel pfannekuchen - a giant, slightly eggy pancake baked with cinnamon apple slices and served with a dollop of real whipped cream - but I adore the plain old buttermilk pancake. Blueberries, apfels, and pumpkin make a flapjack even more festive, but they also conceal its true nature; if you want to know the pancake, you have to start at its dressed-down roots.

Moist and not too sweet, Magnolia's Old World Buttermilk Pancakes taste delicious without any dressing at all, but their light, fluffy consistency makes them a perfect sponge for maple syrup. I fall into the eyes-bigger-than-stomach category when it comes to pancakes and, generally, grow weary halfway down a short stack. I'm not too proud to admit I made it through my Old World cakes, and a goodly portion of my husband's, before realizing I was in that uncomfortable stage of fullness that comes just after pleasant sufficiency.

Best of SA 2005

Readers' picks - Best Food
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Not that food should be judged on gorgeability. After all, our readers voted Subway best sandwich, which I can only think must be based on price point and its famous Jared S. Fogle two-subs-a-day diet. Those are valid qualities, but if the votes were based on taste, surely at least one of our local sandwich purveyors would have made it on the list.

I can't poke too much fun, because my vote for best sandwich goes to the panini at local grocery chain Central Market, 4821 Broadway. I like a sandwich with a thin enough bread that you can taste the innards, an interesting filling in a quantity you can get your mouth around, and enough mayonnaise to cohere, but not so much that it squeezes out the sides and gets on your cheek.

"Mmmm... I like cookies... very much!"

The CM panini comes with a choice of meat (turkey, ham, or mortadella) and cheese, and all the sandwich works. The one I brave the CM lunch-hour circus for consists of the long, skinny roll, sparsely filled with just a dab of chipotle mayonnaise, a few leaves of lettuce, and a very thin layer of salami, toasted flat in the Pane Bella sandwich press. It may only be an inch thick, but each bite is a perfect balance of moist, spicey, salty, soft, and crisp.

On the simple is good note, the next category up is best family restaurant. Now, it's true that Blue Cactus Café offers LEGOs and a dollhouse, and the Cove has a tire swing, a sandbox, and a basketball hoop to occupy kids while their parents play in the various suds. But, we like Piatti, 255 E Basse, not for the kiddy menu, requisite at most family restaurants, but for the pizza dough.

Once the kids are settled into their seats, the waiter delivers a small wudge of fresh pizza dough nestled in flour. The dough is cool and soft, and just as malleable as clay. It can be stretched, wadded, folded, and curled into endless forms - if the dough gets too tacky, a little flour will make it kneadable again. We made a stick figure, a flower, and a snail, before settling on a traditional pretzel form, which the waiter then carried off to the oven. Ten minutes later it was back, as an edible treat, baked golden brown on the outside, delightfully soft on the inside. Take that Play-Doh!

From front: Bandera Special: three cheese enchiladas, each topped with different sauces, salsa roja, salsa verde, and poblano cream and served with refried beans and rice. Gorditas y guacamole: thick potato and corn masa patties, fried crisp and served with guacamole, with a traditional margarita and cranberry lemonade, shown on the patio at La Fonda on Main. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Maybe voters were thinking of the kids when they named the Cove best outdoor dining, or maybe there really are 30 people who are never more happy than when they are listening to the honk and rattle of trucks barreling down West Cyprus to San Pedro, watching folks wash their cars, and sucking down cleaning solution fumes with their fish tacos. Come on people: The Cove's funky patio may be a fine place to drink a beer, but is it the best?

We prefer sitting in the courtyard at La Fonda, 2415 N. Main, in the peace of its gurgling water fountain and century-old Live Oak. During the day, sunlight filters through its leaves, casting patterns on Texas Star banana trees, fern palms, and tile-mosaic planters and tables. At night, the large-bulb party lights strung through its branches provide an air of mellow festivity. It's a pleasant spot in all weather: Heating lamps keep diners warm in the winter, fans keep them balmy in the summer, pushing the mosquitoes away with the hot air. And, if it's quiet enough, you can hear a breeze rustling through the bamboo.

If you need to rustle up a little chinchilla dust or something nourishing for your polecat, consider Alamo Feed, 2230 Blanco, herewith voted best speciality grocery for beast and fowl. Though you may be ignored by the official greeter - Ozzie the shop cat, who rarely leaves her post in front of the fish food bin, as though expecting a school of tetra to come a-grazin' any minute - the farm-fresh smell of baled hay will meet you at the door.

A friendly face at Alamo Feed and Pet Supply. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)

Take a look around; you're not in big-box land anymore. After 40 or so years of service, the red tile has peeled up from the floor in places, revealing the concrete slab below, and the vintage-green walls have that distressed look shabby-chic is always trying mimic. That same paint also covers, in places, a row of wooden hoppers filled with every kind of seed and grain known to animal kind: oat groats, vetch, chicken scratch, milo, millet, Canadian peas, and popcorn are just a sampling. Grab a paper bag and scoop: There's an old Toledo scale promising 'no springs - honest weight!'

Mares eat oats, and does it oats, but cats and dogs eat Kibble, and Alamo Feed carries that, too. Not to mention collars, crates, cattle protein blocks, pig ears, finch nests, ranch rope, and paint thinner. Say what? Yes, the feed store doubles as a light hardware store, carrying everything from dap and meat thermometers to toilet valves and individual washers sold for just 4 cents a piece. Not to mention 50-pound bags of peanuts, in case all that pigeon grain - which looks like a fortified muesli - makes your stomach growl.

By Susan Pagani

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