I recently found myself wandering the streets of Groningen in The Netherlands on a cold December day when I came upon The Pancake Ship. Yes, The Pancake Ship. The Dutch pannenkoeken are far from the typical Bisquik pancakes and maple syrup we Gen-Xers grew up on; rather, they are as big as a charger plate and just a bit thicker than a French crèpe, and the Dutch top them with everything, smoked fish included. The extensive menu at The Pancake Ship cuts across sweet and savory, but if you go for the savory – with meat or cheese or both – be forewarned that the fries and salad are served not on the side, but on top of the pancake. This is a purely logistical presentation as the pancake is so enormous that it hangs off the edge of the plate. The savory pannenkoeken here are a triple layered concoction of heartiness that are best eaten with a pint, or maybe a half pint, of the local beer. If you go for one of the sweet versions, know that the sugar level is high, but oh so worth it. And get a beer with the sweet ones as well. In fact, always get a beer.
Once the pancake extravaganza was over, one of the owners asked me where I was from – an innocuous question I’m often asked when traveling. I told her that I live in DC, but I grew up in Florida. And then the most unexpected thing of the day happened. She began to reminisce about living in Daytona Beach, Florida, when she was in her teens. She talked of crusin’ the main drag and on the beach in a convertible with the radio blaring. I myself have done the same thing, so the bonus part of The Pancake Ship turned out to be a bit of nostalgic chatting about old Florida.
Fancy a fab cup ‘o’ joe on quirky furniture that spans decades of styles? Welcome to the “Best Little Coffeehouse in Utrecht” — The Village Coffee & Music. Grab a hand-crafted cup of coffee or a decadent hot chocolate, relax on vintage comfy chairs, and check out the art-lined walls. This is a great joint for relaxing…and listening to The Cure & The Smiths. They may look like hipsters here, but I do believe there’s more than a bit of Gen-X going on.
Cocktails in Amsterdam? Of course! But there’s a new way to do it – the Urban Cocktail High Tea at Vesper. After a morning of shopping in the trendy Noordermarkt (foodies will love it on Saturdays while procurers of kitsch should browse on Mondays), stop by Vesper and spend a boozy afternoon with friends. The expert bartenders will serve cocktails (from a teapot, no less) in tea cups that come complete with stems as a play on traditional martini glasses. In between raspberry mimosas or cucumber martinis, you can nosh on a variety of petite sandwiches and pastries from local restaurants, food markets, & patisseries.
I love Vesper because of juxtaposition of cool sleek design and kitsch, which even extends to the names of the drinks themselves. Try the pisco-infused “Art of War” or the “Local Old Fashioned,” a Jenever-based cocktail served, in the Dutch tradition, with a slice of rye bread wrapped in bacon. And then there’s the “Beyond the Piñas”…a concoction that is gloriously high-octane, but just this side of heaven in taste. Starting with an absinthe-coated glass, the bartender adds Mezcal, orange sherbet, freshly squeezed lime juice, pineapple, and a few drops of key lime bitters. Who knew shopping and high tea could be so fun? Only in Amsterdam!!
If, like me, you’re from the South, you understand that “fried” is a food group. Yes, we will fry just about anything down here – pickles, oreos, twinkies, you name it. So as a connoisseur of fried foods, I’m always looking for all things fried when I’m traveling. Enter bitterballen, the little balls of fried goodness that I discovered on a boozy afternoon in Amsterdam. They come in meat and vegetarian varieties and are almost always served with the spiciest of mustards.
So why are they called “bitterballen?” Traditionally, they were served with bitters…and that brings us to the most important part – Jenever. This “Dutch national liquor” is potent and akin to moonshine. It’s served in tulip-shaped glasses that are filled to the rim, and there is a very particular way of drinking it – the Kopstoot. Bend forward, and without using your hands, take a sip. Then chase it with a beer back. Only then can you pick up the little glass and finish the Jenever. I recommend three bitterballen for every shot of Jenever. Trust me on this one…I speak from experience!