One big flap, Jack
You learn something new every day. Like, pancakes have their own holiday. It's true. In olden days, Catholics weren't allowed to eat eggs and butter (or fat) during the Lenten season, so they'd clear out their cupboards by cooking plenty of pancakes before Ash Wednesday. The day became known as Fat Tuesday; the French term is mardi gras. In other circles, Shrove Tuesday became known as ''pancake day." I gobbled hotcakes on Fat Tuesday a few weeks ago after my roommate told me the tale, but for those who missed their flapjack fix, we suggest the following.
The Neighborhood Restaurant& Bakery
25 Bow St., Union Square
With restaurants such as Johnny D's, Sound Bites, and the Rosebud Diner, Somerville is a hotcake hotbed. But for a healthy pancake, I headed to Union Square, where The Neighborhood Restaurant serves a whole-wheat variety. ''You go with what the customers like. Everybody's trying to be healthier," says co-owner and cook Sheila Borges. I ordered plain wheat pancakes -- served with a fruit cup, home fries, toast, and muffin for a reasonable $6.99 -- because that's all I could find on the menu. But Borges says customers can spruce up their wheat cakes with berries, bananas, walnuts, and even strawberries and whipped cream. ''You ask for it, you get it," Borges says. ''We're easy."
1105 Mass. Ave., Cambridge
Zoe's sweet potato pancakes were supposed to be a fall-only special, but they've been so popular that owner Theophilos Vallas dared not take them off the menu. ''You see a lot of pumpkin or sweet potato pancakes for a month or two in the fall, but in the spring you kind of miss them," he reasons. ''I keep them year-round. I like to be different." Zoe's used to be Johnny's Luncheonette, which was known for serving light and tasty pancakes. Vallas's sweet potato pancakes live up to that reputation, and then some.
154 Chestnut Hill Ave., Brighton
617-254-8114 If you've got a sweet tooth, Moogy's has the pancake for you: a buttermilk flapjack brimming with blueberries, bananas, and dark chocolate chips sold under the funky name ''The Rude Awakening." ''It's kind of like a sweet, mushy thing," says co-owner Scott Shaffer, trying to describe his most popular pancake dish, served on a paper plate.
335 Harvard St.Coolidge Corner, Brookline
I've loved potato pancakes ever since David Goldberg's mother made latkes for my third-grade class, so I had to order Zaftigs's version. Deep fried to a rusty brown color, they're served three to a plate with applesauce and sour cream ($6.75). While not quite as traditional as Mrs. Goldberg's -- she used matzo meal as an ingredient -- they're addictive nevertheless. Zaftigs -- the name is Yiddish for ''pleasingly plump" -- has the feel of a bustling New York City delicatessen, albeit with a modern flair.
44 Charles St., Beacon Hill
Line cooks Henry Gomez and Luis Perez put on a show behind Paramount's grill every Saturday and Sunday morning, pumping out omelets, pancakes, fruit bowls, and the like at the rate of 100 orders per hour. The waiting line usually extends out the door, but no one seems to mind. Great meals are the other reason people flock here, and I'll attest that my apple cinnamon pancakes were simply divine. I watched as Gomez sprinkled bits of granny-smith apples with the skins still on into circles of batter bubbling on the grill. Light, with just enough cinnamon, they might supplant blueberry as my pancake of choice ($4.95).
Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe
429 Columbus Ave., South End
The stories pour out of Arthur Manjourides like coffee from a pot. There was the time a live turkey flew across the restaurant. How the lost-and-found bin was filled with guns from the cops and criminals who dined together. Gas explosions, exotic fish tanks, famous patrons. Charlie's, a South End institution since 1927, has shed much of its eccentricity over the years. But the food is as solid as ever, including co-owner Manjourides's griddle cakes. My fresh raspberry cakes were thick and full of berries -- more than I could eat. ''In the early 1930s we used to cook pancakes in a frying pan in the window. People could walk by and see them being made," Manjourides said.