At Chace's, a family operation in Bellevue since 1958, the cooks know the regulars' orders and the pancakes are always golden.
In the Seattle area, shiny new restaurants have been opening at the rate of nearly one per day, and most of the attention goes their way. In this series, we honor the timeless classics — showing love for the places we’re lucky to still have before we lose them, instead of after. The previous entries: Voula’s Offshore Cafe and Tai Tung. Now, to the Eastside.
Chace’s Pancake Corral: 1606 Bellevue Way S.E., Bellevue; 425-454-8888, facebook.com/Pancake-Corral; Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
CHACE’S PANCAKE CORRAL has been rounding up platefuls of its namesake breakfast favorite in Bellevue since Bill Chace opened the place in 1958. The Western theme is carried out by an impressive wagon-wheel chandelier and friendly tableside sconces that look like old-timey oil lamps. The rest of the cozy roadside rambler is vintage diner: brown-vinyl booths, tables with worn faux wood-grain, a wallpaper frieze with a coffee theme. Prior to opening the Pancake Corral, Chace ran a local chain called the Coffee Corrals: a number of “teeny places,” current owner Jane Zakskorn relates, with “just a couple seats and booths in each, kind of like the olden-days Starbucks.”
Chace was Zakskorn’s stepfather, but she calls him her dad — she started working at Chace’s as a hostess when she was 10 years old, she says, “when he found out I could make change!” She wore a cowgirl outfit. The Western thing is just because it was “kind of cool” back then, according to Zakskorn. Her dad’s true love, which he passed along to her like the restaurant, was golf, which you’ll see reflected in the décor here and there.
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Chace’s interior also features birdhouses, a model parrot on a perch, a large coffee urn labeled “HOT SYRUP,” an abstract artwork celebrating toast and a sign reading “Friends Gather Here.” Also, lots of photos, including a big black-and-white one of the airline pilot who was the very first customer and, nearby, one of a couple who got married here. There’s also a plaque celebrating yet another couple who met at Chace’s one Valentine’s Day — Bill Chace would sometimes seat singles together, and these two ended up going out that night. “My dad and I danced at their wedding,” Zakskorn says.
If you’re seated in the front, you’re privy to the action at the grill and the register. “Here comes the oatmeal guy,” Zakskorn might say. The cooks also keep an eye out for regulars, sometimes starting their orders before they even walk in the door.
The oatmeal guy, an older gentleman, likes raisins and butter, but no brown sugar. At the next table over, a businessman taps on a laptop. Nearby, a woman who may have had a late night rests her forehead on the edge of her table, a pair of Advil waiting alongside her sunglasses, next to her fork. She sits up and takes heart when her buttermilk pancakes come, three big ones, golden with restorative promise. Here, they’re fresh-tasting and perfectly, lightly spongy, served with hot syrup in a little metal pitcher and two paper cups of whipped butter, for $5.75.
Chace’s thin, lacy potato pancakes ($7.95) represent one of the very few adjustments Zakskorn has made: They’re now gluten free. (She tested the changed recipe on devotees, who couldn’t tell the difference.) The popular hash-brown omelet ($9.95) hews to Bill Chace’s original recipe, a huge half-moon striped with cheddar cheese, and the menu still lists his original “Family Favorites,” including a Ladies’ Plate and the Weight Lifter’s Special. If you like classic, comforting biscuits and gravy ($8.45 with two eggs), you’ve come to the right place. Bacon takes the middle road, just-right medium-crisp. Coffee is very hot, unaffectedly tasty and frequently refilled.
Development has encroached on the woods around Chace’s, and if the lot is full, parking isn’t as easy as it used to be. The area is “totally different now,” Zakskorn says. “But we haven’t changed.” People love coming back, she says, to something that’s the way they remember. And she aims to keep Chace’s that way.