Five Questions: Running Pannenkoeken a Piece of (Pan)Cake for Gabe Wilkins

By Stephanie Sack | Monday, June 18, 2012

Gabe Wilkins at home at the Pannenkoeken Cafe. Credit: Stephanie Sack

Running the entire front-of-house at a popular neighborhood breakfast joint can’t be easy, but Gabe Wilkins makes it look like a piece of (pan)cake. As the host, server and manager at Pannenkoeken Cafe, 4757 N. Western Ave., Wilkins ensures all the patrons enjoy their dining experience at this cozy and friendly restaurant. When he’s not serving up decadent waffles, seasonally flavored French toast or freshly squeezed orange juice, you can catch Wilkins exploring Lincoln Square with his daughter, Cyan, or pondering the cable television landscape thanks to his BFA in Television Writing and Producing from Columbia. For a fun and funky brunch, stop by Pannenkoeken to see Gabe, and be sure to have caught up on all your Mad Men episodes.

Center Square Journal: How long have you worked at Pannenkoeken and what do you do there?

Wilkins: I just celebrated my one year anniversary at Pannenkoeken last month. It’s been a really great year. When I initially started, I was just a run-of-the-mill server, but things have since graduated to me being a more important part of the day-to-day running of things. Due to our extremely small size (I often refer to us as “novelty-sized”), I’m able to keep things on the front-of-house side of the restaurant going smoothly all by my lonesome, which I like because I feel like I’m an important part of people enjoying their experience there. But honestly I can only take about 10 percent credit. The phenomenal food our chef prepares does most of the work for me.

What are the absolutely can’t miss dishes, and what are the neighborhood staples?

Hands down the best item on the menu is the Apple Raisin Cheese Pannenkoeken. I’m a big supporter of the blending of sweet and savory, and with the natural sweetness of Granny Smith apples, the mild saltiness of Danish havarti cheese, and the right-in-between buffer of golden raisins all joining forces in a traditional Dutch pancake, that’s a coalition I can get behind. Drizzle a little Dutch molasses syrup on top and you’ve got yourself a party. A “havarti party,” if you will.

If people are looking for more of a summer flavor, though, look no further than our new cranberry walnut challah French toast special. I love the texture that the walnuts add to the challah, and when it’s topped with Chef Linda’s homemade lemon curd and cranberry sauce, you can’t go wrong.

Those are the two big ones that the hedonist inside me can’t resist. However, when I’m trying to be good, a veggie omelet with feta cheese, fresh fruit on the side and whole wheat toast is always a good way to start the day… particularly if you don’t want to spend your day feeling guilt-ridden.

You have a BFA from Columbia in Television Writing and Producing, so what current TV shows are your favorites and why?

Mad Men is the greatest show of all time. I’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into that statement, and have only recently reached that conclusion. I previously agreed with the rest of the critical community in declaring that The Wire was unequivocally the greatest show of all time, but I recently found myself staring into the television screen at the brilliance and the depth of setting and character that [series creator] Matthew Weiner has given [Mad Men], and I am in never-ending awe. True brilliance.

I’m also looking forward to the return of two cable shows this summer: Breaking Bad on AMC and Louie on FX. I think that shows a lot of range in my tastes, because these two shows could not be more different from one another.

And since I’ve always considered myself a comedy writer, I would give a special shout-out to NBC’s 30 Rock. In terms of sheer joke writing, no one has done better than Tina Fey and her writing staff the past six years, and I can’t wait to see what they do with their seventh and final season next fall.

As a young father, what are your favorite things to do in Lincoln Square with Cyan, your little girl?

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening than taking Cyan out to a nice dinner at any one of Lincoln Square’s awesome restaurants, then doing some window shopping at the eclectic collection of little shops, and then winding things down by taking in a nice family-friendly film at the Davis Theater. And who knows? If she is well behaved, we might even end the night with a nice frozen yogurt. That’s my idea of a good time.

What’s the wackiest, wildest and/or weirdest thing you’ve seen at the corner of Western and Lawrence?

Hmmm … where to begin? Perhaps I should just simplify by saying that the wackiest, wildest and/or weirdest thing to see at the corner of Western and Lawrence is when nothing wacky, wild and/or weird is happening at the corner of Western and Lawrence. Does that make sense?

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