Breakfasts of New York: IHOP, Commack, Long Island
2159 Jericho Turnpike
+1 631 499 7265
by Malcolm Eggs
I finished reading The Great Gatsby just in time to look out of a plane window and see Long Island, to which I was headed, from above: a surprisingly thin sausage of green, brown and sandy yellow surrounded by flawless blue sea. Somewhere down there was the town of Great Neck, F. Scott Fitzgerald's home for a couple of years in the 1920s and his model for the fictional town of West Egg, where, not long before returning to the Midwest, Nick calls out a final "goodbye" to his friend followed by those immortal words: "I enjoyed breakfast, Gatsby". (Like most worthwhile novels, The Great Gatsby is ultimately about breakfast).
We landed at JFK and drove out to Commack on the North Shore. During the next week or so I had reason to visit the following: a friendly pizza parlour, a hair salon with a fine selection of New York magazines, a liquor store that sold gift bottles presented in pink replica shoes, the office (in Great Neck) of a commercial realty company for which the door was broken and so had to be entered via a side door, a beach with a boardwalk, an old town hall, the foyer of a medical centre, a drive-in Dunkin' Donuts, a vet. Long Island is not a place where anyone walks anywhere, so most of these locations were in malls, either of the cluster-with-parking variety known as a 'strip mall' or of the large indoor kind (heartbreakingly the Walt Whitman Mall did not have "I Contain Multitudes" engraved above the entrance).
As a Londoner I tend to pair the word 'mall' with 'soulless', but the people in these outlets were friendlier and more anxious about my well-being than on any South East English high street. A perfect example of this solicitude occurred at the Commack branch of the International House of Pancakes. Sure, the restaurant's interior – a neat grid of banquette seating, windowed partitions, walls with abstract canvas prints on them depicting coffee, strawberries etc – was almost identical to the transitional places you find at the side of any British 'A' road. But this impression vanished the moment that our waitress, Joni, came over and enquired as to our thoughts on several matters (her daughter's college choices; the egg style I would prefer in my Pick-A-Pancake Combo) as if we were two of her oldest friends.
When my breakfast came it was divided between two plates. The one on the right held a pair of large, fluffy buttermilk pancakes topped with a nob of half-melted butter, and to accompany them a selection of their famous on-table flavoured syrups. The one on the left supported two rashers of crisp bacon, a hash brown and an immaculate pair of over-easy eggs. It was not the largest breakfast I have eaten but the stereo nature of its presentation made it one of the only honest breakfasts I have ever known. It showed how either plate of food was perfectly ample in its own right.
That night, back on the plane, I looked out of the window once more and watched the lights of the North Shore scroll down below us, followed by the pure darkness that signified the sea's current, then the green glow of Connecticut. Minute by minute, my IHOP breakfast receded before me --
"Goodbye," I whispered. "I enjoyed my Pick-A-Pancake Combo, Joni."