Sixth in a series on James Beard
Foundation America’s Classics Eateries
SUGAR HILL — Never underestimate the appeal of pancakes. When we arrived at Polly’s Pancake Parlor late one weekend morning, the cheerful woman at reception gave us a beeper and told us it would be about a one-hour wait. Next time, she said, we could call ahead a half-hour before arriving to get on the list. We didn’t have the heart to mention that when we thought to call, we couldn’t get a signal in the cleft of Franconia Notch.
North Country folk tend to divide the world by that geographic formation, and Polly’s definitely belongs to the high-altitude, high-latitude land “above the notch,” where winters are fierce and summers are short and intensely sweet. Pitched on a hillside looking across to the Presidential Range, Polly’s is surrounded by steep pastures filled with lupines in June.
The “Pancake Parlor” itself is a testament to north country ingenuity. During the Depression, Pauline “Polly” and Wilfred “Sugar Bill” Dexter converted their farm’s former carriage shed-woodshed into a tea room to drum up business for their maple products. Their daughter Nancy and her husband, Roger Aldrich, took over in 1949, and now their daughter Kathie and her husband, Dennis Coté, run the day-to-day operations. Polly’s joined the ranks of the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics in 2006. The dining room has been expanded three times since it opened in 1938, allowing Polly’s to serve around 50,000 people per season.
“We look at it as serving 25,000 people twice,” says Coté, “because if people come early enough in their vacation, they’ll come back again.”
Our beeper went off 58 minutes after we had checked in, and we were seated at a family-style table for 12 right by the open kitchen. Some folks were already digging into their plates of pancakes while others flipped through the menu and ultimately decided on pancakes. Of course, choosing pancakes only began to narrow the choices.
For starters, there are six batters: whole wheat, buckwheat, and cornmeal that the restaurant stone-grinds from organic grain, as well as plain, oatmeal-buttermilk, and gluten-free. The same choices are available for waffles, but pancakes have more potential add-ins, including blueberries, chocolate chips, walnuts, and coconut. But waffle eaters can choose to add toppings: ice cream and frozen yogurt, fresh fruit, whipped cream, or “maple hurricane sauce,” apples cooked in butter and maple syrup.
Children tend to choose plain batter, says Coté, but adults often go for the “pancake sampler” of six . Orders are served three pancakes at a time so they will stay warm. Our favorite batter was the cornmeal, which has a sweet, almost toasted quality.
Once the pancakes land on the table, diners are faced with yet another set of choices. Condiment trays contain pitchers of pure maple syrup as well as jars of granulated maple sugar and intensely sweet maple spread. Wilfred Dexter invented the techniques and some of the machinery to make the spread and sugar.
No wonder he was “Sugar Bill” from Sugar Hill.
Polly’s Pancake Parlor
672 Route 117, 603-823-5575, pollyspan
cakeparlor.com. Mother’s Day weekend to
Oct. 21 daily 7 a.m.-
3 p.m., St. Patrick’s Day weekend to weekend
before Mother’s Day
and Oct. 27 to weekend after Thanksgiving Sat-Sun 7-2, $7.99-$11.99.