This post about what’s gluten-free at The Original Pancake House is sponsored by Nima Sensor and contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures for details on how I work with brands. Additionally, remember to test your own food for gluten. My results may not be congruent with your results as gluten-free safe practices vary from restaurant to restaurant and dish to dish.
When you’re looking for a good brunch restaurant, one of the first places that might come to mind is The Original Pancake House.
The pancake chain has been around forever, and it boasts more than 100 locations in 28 states, so chances are you live near one.
It’s important to note that each restaurant is independently operated and therefore not all Pancake House restaurants serve up gluten-free fare nor have the same gluten-free safe procedures in place.
The Original Pancake House lists all of its locations in this PDF, and only the ones highlighted in BLUE offer gluten-free options.
Should You Even Eat at the Pancake House?
I had heard good things about the gluten-free pancakes at the Original Pancake House, but have always been a little wary of eating there myself.
In full disclosure, many years ago I went to The Original Pancake House restaurant in St. Louis when visiting a friend. I remember asking my waitress all sorts of questions and ultimately feeling comfortable with the process.
While I was a little nervous to eat something like pancakes while on vacation, I did it and felt good afterwards (well, except for the fact that I ate a belly bomb of a pancake!).
Fast forward a few years. You may have seen me around town testing different restaurants (all restaurants with gluten-free options) using my trusty Nima Sensor. The Nima Sensor gives me an extra level of transparency, a peek inside my food as it allows me the opportunity to test a piece of my food for gluten before eating my meal.
Back in Denver (where I live), I headed over to The Original Pancake House in the Belleview Promenade shopping center in Greenwood Village. The line for this brunch joint is always out the door, so I had never bothered going there before.
However, my kids had a day off from school on a random Friday, and it wasn’t crowded at all, so we headed over there to test the restaurant’s gluten-free options.
What to Order at the Pancake House
One of my recommendations when it comes to eating out safely is choosing foods off a menu that are the least likely to be cross contaminated with gluten.
This is why, when I eat out, I almost always avoid ordering pancakes, pizza, pasta and toast. These items are notoriously cross contaminated.
Pizza, for example, is typically cooked in the same ovens with regular pizza and flour is everywhere.
Gluten-free bread is almost always toasted in a toaster full of gluten bits.
And pancakes, well, they’re almost always cooked on a shared griddle.
For all these reasons, I rarely order pancakes unless I feel really good about the processes in place. (Instead, I make my own fluffy pancakes at home.)
I asked the general manager a bit more about the gluten-free processes they employ at The Original Pancake House in Greenwood Village.
She told me that they have a separate gluten-free pancake batter. They use a gluten-free pancake mix from Bob’s Red Mill mixed with some of Bob’s Red Mill’s corn flour – all gluten free.
She said that while they cook the pancakes on a shared griddle, they wipe it down and clean it well, then use a clean spatula to cook the gluten-free pancakes.
I must admit, I usually would not order the pancakes when I hear the word “shared griddle.” I felt, however, reassured by the the fact that they had a good system in place, they were extremely knowledgeable about gluten-free protocols, and that they cleaned the griddle and used clean utensils. This is a lot and I felt like they were trying hard to accommodate me.
Most of the time, given this information, I would simply order eggs and potatoes and call it a day. But with the reassurances in place, I ordered pancakes with my meal.
Plus, I had my Nima Sensor, a portable gluten-detecting device, with me too. After expressing the seriousness of my “allergy“, along with the reassurance there were good processes in place to minimize the risk of gluten contamination, I decided to move forward with my order of a side of pancakes.
Remember, this staff was trained in safe gluten-free preparation, but not all staff are trained so well. It is EXTREMELY important to have a conversation with your waitstaff and feel confident in the answers before ordering any gluten-free items.
Putting the Pancake House to the Nima Test
I first tested my husband’s omelet for hidden gluten. I was nervous because it was so fluffy. I wondered if they might have added some sort of batter to the mix?
I learned that they bake their omelets and that is what makes them ultra-fluffy. (IHOP, on the other hand, adds pancake batter to its omelets, beware!). As you can see, Nima displayed a smiley face – no gluten found.
Next, I tested the pancakes. I ordered the gluten-free pancakes with blueberries, an Original Pancake House speciality. I must say, those blueberries were plump and juicy. I don’t know how they do it!
Before testing the pancakes, I was reassured that these were indeed the gluten-free pancakes. I asked the general manager how her staff knows these are the gluten-free pancakes, and she said first of all, they look different, and second of all, the toothpick is an indication that the pancakes are gluten free.
I love when restaurants offer visual clues to help me decode if the dish delivered to my table was indeed the gluten-free order I placed.
I took a small piece of the pancake and rubbed it along the griddle marks before putting it inside the Nima Sensor test capsule. I wanted to pick up any potential gluten cross contamination.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised that my Nima Sensor was all smiles! These pancakes are gluten-free safe.
You can watch me test the Original Pancake House for hidden gluten in this video:
Did I Eat ‘Em?
I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to eat the gluten-free pancakes. I asked a ton of questions, ordered with a high level of seriousness, got a sense that there were solid processes and procedures in place to keep gluten-free foods safe… but I was still bothered by the shared griddle.
However, in the end, after Nima smiled at me, so I decided that I would eat the pancakes, and might I add, they were delicious!
I may not be perfect, but I felt that these pancakes were prepared safely by knowledgeable staff. There is always a risk when you eat out and entrust someone else to make your food.
However if they clean their hands, surfaces and use gluten-free ingredients, I’m typically willing to eat at someone’s house or at a restaurant. I can’t expect the world to be perfect, nor myself to be perfect, but I felt with a great level of certainty that I would be a-okay eating these pancakes. (And I was right, I felt fine. If it contained gluten, I would have bloated up like a balloon!)
For any of you judging my decision to eat these pancakes, well, let me tell you a few things.
First, my blog is a no judgement zone. We all are just doing the best we can with the tools we’ve been given.
Second, I like to eat out and don’t plan on giving up that fun part of my social life anytime soon. I enjoy food. I enjoy time with my family and friends. Food is a big part of my life. If you take eating out from my life, you will definitely take a piece of my happiness away.
I’ve always felt that eating out brings me great joy as it brings me closer to family and friends. It also helps me feel normal and relieved that celiac didn’t take away that part of my life!
I also believe eating out offers many social benefits that have helped me heal emotionally from this crazy disorder. I’m happy, healthy, and above all else, willing to weigh the risk of eating out with logic. I’m very intune with my body (and trust my gut), all which I look to to help me figure out how to move forward with my decisions.
Am I perfect? Far from it. I’m a human being after all. Life is too short, so I ate the pancakes.
Please consider reading my ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out Gluten Free if eating out is a source of angst for you. I’ll teach you how to do it as successfully as possible.
You can also get my book, Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You, for more information about following a gluten-free lifestyle, including tons of information about eating out and traveling while gluten free.
I encourage you to invest in a gluten-detecting device. A few to research include Nima Sensor, ALLIS Sensor and The Allergy Amulet. Not all of these companies have gluten-detecting devices available at the time this article was last updated.
I also encourage you to visit my Eating Out Library to see how other restaurants fared when tested for hidden gluten.
Finally, you might enjoy this article, 5 Things I Wish Restaurants Knew About Gluten Free. I offer advice to restaurants on how they can step up their gluten-free game!