BENNINGTON — Snugged in the third booth on the right hand side of Papa Pete’s Restaurant Friday morning sits Eric Boyd.
The Nassau, N.Y., resident made the trip of just over an hour with his wife, Missy, to the breakfast joint for one reason and one reason only: giant pancakes.
They’ve certainly come to the right place. Pancakes are a source of pride inside these walls. Papa Pete’s spin on the popular breakfast staple is unlike anything you’ve seen. Instead of arriving on a typical dinner plate, they make their way out of the back kitchen overflowing on a pizza pan.
Somehow, “giant” seems to underplay the enormity of these sweet, thick, fluffy cakes. "Colossal" and "mammoth" come to mind. They measure 14 inches in diameter and each one takes 15 minutes to fully cook. Think pancakes on steroids.
“They’re a panned-cake, not a pancake — they’re thick, they’re heavy,” owner Kathy Portolano explains. “They’re like a sweet, dense pound cake.”
Boyd is the latest brave soul to attempt Papa Pete’s food challenge of eating three in one sitting. Hundreds have tried since the restaurant’s opening in 2009, Portolano estimates, but only 12 hungry men have succeeded, and none since the summer of 2016.
Their reward? A Papa Pete’s T-shirt, a complimentary breakfast and a full stomach to boot. No woman has ever finished all three.
How many calories does this hefty breakfast include?
“God only knows,” Portolano chuckles.
As Boyd takes his seat, Portolano brings out the pizza pan (the restaurant had to prepare them ahead of time, as each pancake occupies an entire griddle). Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” softly plays over the restaurant’s speakers as Boyd takes his first bite at 8:13 a.m. There’s no going back now. He’s chosen blueberries as a filling and layers his food in maple syrup. He’s washing them down with a cup of water and a Pepsi.
Boyd maintains a steady pace throughout the first 30 minutes, eliminating about 3 inches of the pan. While there’s technically no time limit on this challenge, he must finish before Papa Pete’s closes at noon. He has just over three hours remaining and roughly 11 more inches of three layers of pancakes left to eat.
There’s a certain buzz inside the restaurant as Boyd chases pancake glory. Portolano proudly highlights the challenge to each customer that walks in the door looking for something to eat.
“This is our pancake challenge,” she exclaims.
Some customers look confused. Others flash a smile and cheer on the challenger. There are also a couple horrified glances at the sheer amount of food on the table in front of Boyd.
The challenge is the brainchild of Portolano’s husband Lee Cappello, who died in 2017. She hadn’t advertised it since his passing, but there's a gleam in Portolano's eyes as Boyd continues the legacy.
Wade Hansen was the last to conquer it, doing so the same year he signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, it took a giant of a man to defeat the giant pancakes.
Food challenges are new to Boyd. He’d never attempted one, and didn’t think he would until he stepped into Papa Pete’s about a month prior and ordered one giant pancake. He finished it and felt there was plenty of room in his stomach for more; that’s when he decided he’d give it a go.
“I just love pancakes,” he says matter of factly.
Boyd begins to slow down as the clock strikes 8:50 a.m. He takes his sweatshirt off and does a quick stretch. The fullness is beginning to set in.
Portolano takes the opportunity to update a loyal following on Facebook who are anxiously waiting for updates. She snaps a picture of Boyd with his fists up, signaling he’s up for the fight.
Not soon after, though, the pancakes fight back. As Boyd’s pace drastically declines, he announces “break time” at 9:06 a.m. He escapes to the bathroom for a few minutes before sitting back down in the booth, the optimism he walked in with wiped off his face.
He waits a few more minutes before officially surrendering at 9:40 a.m. After 87 minutes and roughly a third of the way through the challenge, “the house of giant pancakes” wins again.
“I feel like 20 pounds of (stuff) in a 2 pound bag,” Boyd said afterward. “But it’s well worth it, because they’re good.”
He described the buttermilk pancakes as “light and fluffy” despite being heavy in weight.
“It’s mouthwatering,” he said. “They’re real, real good.”
Boyd said he would have continued on with the challenge if not for the fact that he’s a diabetic.
“That’s why I stopped,” he said. “Before, even when I was a pre-diabetic, stuffed or not I would have kept going. With the way I’m feeling right now, I don’t want to mess around. I don’t want to end up passing out on [Portolano’s] dime.”
Still, Boyd said he’ll be back for another try. Stuffed to the brim, his unwavering love for pancakes remained as strong as ever. When asked the next time he’ll eat a pancake, Boyd didn’t hesitate.
“Tomorrow," he said.