If you've stopped by Denny's for an early morning (or very late-night) pancake run, you may have noticed some of the new Red, White and Blueplate Specials like the Red, White and Blue Pancake Puppies, Apple Pie French Toast, and three milkshakes (strawberry, lemon, and blueberry) spun up with cheesecake. Driven partly by my sworn duty to report on new desserts at chain restaurants (but more so by my inner 12-year-old) I stopped in to check out a few of the most promising items.
The location I visited didn't list the Pancake Puppies plate on the menu (six pancake balls with strawberry, blueberry and white chocolate chips, served with cream cheese icing as a dip), but I did spot something even better: a Pancake Puppies Sundae. For $2, you get three deep-fried pancake batter balls, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped topping, and strawberry sauce. It's all the fun of eating a random deep-fried item at the fair, without being surrounded by 742 screaming children and the pervasive odor of farm animals.
The pancake balls are a bit like an Old Fashioned doughnut collided with a Funfetti cake. They're a crusty on the outside, but the inside is warm and cakey. I liked the sweetness of the strawberry and blueberry bits, but I think the original flavor (rolled in cinnamon) might be even better. If you're getting Puppies, definitely go with the sundae preparation over a plain ol' plate. The scoop of ice cream provided a tasty temperature and texture contrast, and besides., you can save the last few bites for your Apple Pie French Toast ($5.99, with two eggs cooked to order and bacon or sausage links).
The Apple Pie French Toast struck me as a pretty fantastic idea, but I wasn't sure that Denny's could pull it off. On top of a thick-cut slice of French toast, there's a large spoonful of apple crisp (baked apple slices topped with a brown sugar and butter-heavy crumble), a drizzle of caramel sauce, and some powdered sugar. You get syrup on the side, but dispatching any of it to the toast would be overkill. If you're going to add anything, make it the last few bites of ice cream from your deep-fried pancake ball sundae.
I wasn't expecting to like the Apple Pie French Toast at all, but I have to say, Denny's nailed it. The sweet, eggy bread is nicely griddled, making it crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Combined with the apple crisp (which is really quite delicious) and caramel sauce, it's a lot like eating bread pudding, and because there is only one slice, it feels like a reasonable indulgence, even though it really isn't. The meal, including the eggs and bacon, clocks in at 1,310 calories (almost double the pancake puppies sundae). Take away the sausage links, eggs, and syrup, and you're left with 800 calories for the French toast alone (according to my calculations using the nutritional info). It's something you should know going in, but it shouldn't necessarily stop you. I was content with half a slice and thought the toast was so flippin' delicious that it was worth it.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax