There’s something distinctly unsettling about dining at Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle Shop in Virginia Beach. On the one hand, you’re going to get treated to copious, tastily prepared portions of the four breakfast food groups (eggs, salt, sugar and potatoes). On the other hand, you’re eating in a place called Pocahontas Pancakes in Virginia Beach.
Pocahontas Pancakes is a throwback to the theme diners of the early 1970s in all the worst ways. You remember Sambo’s? The restaurant that ripped its theme from The Story of Little Black Sambo? With all the artistically bereft murals of the little black kid and the tiger cub? Yeah, Pocahontas is like that. Somehow, the Native American lobby is either unaware of, or has turned a blind eye to, Pocahontas Pancakes.
Diners are watched over by assorted wall paintings of eerily smiling Indians and white settlers. The Indians are depicted – typically enough – with unsuspecting goofy “ain’t we got fun” grins. The white guys have a vaguely snooty, but not quite sinister, look about them. As for Pocahontas herself, she’s merrily picking berries (or something) in the woods.
I guess the artist was trying to capture some mythical time where the white guys weren’t trying to systematically rob the natives of their land. Which could explain why, try as I might, I couldn’t find even a subtle symbolic reference to either the diseases the Europeans brought with them or the reservations they ultimately stuck the Indians on. Of course, Sambo’s didn’t go out of its way to address slavery or race relations, either. After all, this is a breakfast joint we’re talking about here, which would probably explain all the paintings of Indians dancing around steaming stacks of pancakes, fried eggs and fruit-covered waffles. I mean, who wants to wrestle with deep thoughts of social injustice while trying to kill a hangover off with loads of grease and carbs? Might as well stare vacantly at the Indian dolls and fur-lined dream catchers scattered about the restaurant. Or the teepee bizarrely built around the rear exit.
Pocahontas Pancakes is smack in the middle of the Virginia Beach tourist district, which means it’s surrounded by a motley assortment of t-shirt shops, deeply worn and stained chain hotels, parking lots … and more t-shirt shops. This also means that – as far as food goes – Pocahontas doesn’t have much competition (I’ve eaten at one of the “high-end” hotels in the area, and Pocahontas is the haute of haute cuisine by comparison). Lots and lots of people go to Pocahontas, which generally translates into a wait of some sort to get in. A very manageable under-30-minute wait, but a wait, nonetheless. And you will spend that wait standing on a sidewalk staring at a t-shirt shop and the backside of a decrepit chain hotel. Whee. Late risers beware: the restaurant closes at 1 p.m.
Décor and location aside, the food part of Pocahontas Pancakes is an efficient, well-executed affair. The young, competent and affable staff zips around in Pocahontas Pancakes t-shirts (you can pick one up on your way out, if you’re so inclined) while cracking jokes with the patrons. The restaurant’s spellcheck-challenged website points out their staff is mostly seasonal “collage” and high school students. Coffee is immediately produced and repeatedly filled, and orders generally hit the tables less than ten minutes after they’re placed. Exactly as you’d expect for a diner, right? A mere nine bucks and change will get you their breakfast sampler which comes both with half a Belgian waffle, meat, eggs and a couple pancakes with the perfectly faint hint of saltiness in the batter. The waffle, which is served with glazed fruit and whipped cream, is an excellent example of the breakfast staple – its crust is satisfyingly crunchy while the inside is soft without being doughy or mushy. Eggs are expertly cooked to order and omelets show up oozing processed cheese (this is a plus, mind you – no self-respecting diner should give you real cheese).
Being Virginia and all, you can safely expect outsized portions for just about everything. The omelets span the width of a standard dinner plate and stand several inches tall. Most every combo meal is an engineering exercise in fitting the absolute most food possible on the oval plates. The burritos could easily be renamed “breakfast logs.” The menu does sport a few questionable inclusions, such as the beef fajita omelet that comes with something called “Pocahontas sauce.” Ew. If you ask for salsa, plan on your plate showing up swimming in a weird celery-studded sauce. Celery in salsa? Must be a Virginia Beach thing. If you stick to the standard fare – the eggs, waffles and pancakes – you won’t go wrong.
And if you concentrate on not pondering John Smith trying to convert the Native Americans in order to make them more subservient, and the epic tragedy that followed, the food goes down a lot easier. Just think of it all as a syrup-drenched, margarine-slathered metaphor for the last four centuries or so of American history.
Address: Atlantic Avenue and 35th Street
Phone: (757) 428-6352
Tags: Diner, Breakfast, B