President flips over Pamela's flapjacks

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After six days of fretting over the president's pancakes, co-owner Gail Klingensmith and Pamela Cohen, co-owners of Pamela's P&G Diners were positively flattened with exhaustion.

"We had sleepless nights ... it was very intimidating, very overwhelming when we would actually think about what we were doing and for whom we were going to do it and where we were going to do it," Ms. Klingensmith said in a phone interview from her hotel room in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

Ms. Klingensmith and Ms. Cohen were summoned from Pittsburgh to President Barack Obama's kitchen in the White House this weekend to make their famous, savory, crepe-thin pancakes for a Memorial Day breakfast for the president, First Lady Michelle Obama and 80 veterans.

Mr. Obama was introduced to the legendary flapjacks when he dropped in to the diner's Strip District location in April 2008 during the presidential Democratic primary race.

Ms. Klingensmith and Ms. Cohen arrived at the White House Sunday afternoon to start their pre-breakfast prep in the kitchen. They prepared the batter and then for their signature blintz-style pancake roll-ups, they prepared the sour cream filling and strawberry topping.

Their biggest concern was adapting their massive pancakes, which require large 3-by-6-foot stainless steel grills, to the kitchen's considerably smaller (about 2 feet-by-2 feet) and grittier grill space.

But they had help from the best: White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford spent close to an hour scrubbing the grill smooth on Sunday so the pancakes could slide off and flip easily, Ms. Klingensmith said.

They were back in the White House kitchen by 5:45 Monday morning.

As other line chefs prepared biscuits and orange juice, the women started pouring, flipping and assembling the pancakes, half of which were served plain and the other half served rolled up with a sour cream filling and then topped with a brown sugar and strawberry mixture.

Churning out 200 pancakes on the small grill was a feat only Ms. Cohen is capable of, said her co-owner.

"They were not exactly what we're used to but because Pam is Pam ... she made it happen somehow," Ms. Klingensmith.

Ms. Klingensmith said she was surprised at the modest size of the White House kitchen and estimated it to be not much larger than the kitchen at their Shadyside location. Even more shocking, she said, was the fact that the small space was the main production venue for hundreds of meals at a time during state dinners.

All in all, the two women went through about five pounds of batter, a pound or two of sour cream, two flats of strawberries and three pounds of brown sugar to make around 200 pancakes.

Ms. Klingensmith said neither she nor Ms. Cohen are very politically involved (though they appreciate the president's pro-pancake stance), but they are "very patriotic," and regarded it as a high honor to cook breakfast for Mr. Obama.

"Both of us think very highly of President Obama," she said. "Who in their wildest dreams would dream this that the president would say, 'Hey I really like those pancakes'? Never in a million years."


Moriah Balingit can be reached at mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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