STEVE HOCKSTEIN/special to THE RECORD
Standing room only: Brunchers waiting outside the Country Pancake House and Restaurant in Ridgewood on a Sunday morning. (Photo by STEVE HOCKSTEIN/special to THE RECORD)
It was 38 degrees and breezy, but that did not discourage Artie Stoll and his family from waiting patiently on the broad sidewalk in the center of Ridgewood, a few steps from Van Neste Park, the village green.
It did not deter the Caterino family, either, or the daughters and granddaughters of Anna Nicolich — there to celebrate her 85th birthday — or many others from spending a late Sunday morning during the holiday week milling about in the chilly air.
The quest for which they waited with such calm anticipation?
Not just any pancakes, to hear them tell it, but pancakes larger and more varied than any around. Or 25 different kinds of French toast or tasty soups or huge, unusual omelettes.
For 20 years, crowds have been gathering on Sunday mornings outside the Country Pancake House on East Ridgewood Avenue, waiting in bitter cold or oppressive summer heat for the opportunity to be invited inside when a prized table comes free. This North Jersey ritual draws people from far and wide.
On this particular morning, there was an added twist: Only a block away, a celebrated Montclair establishment had just opened a long-anticipated new outpost in the middle of Ridgewood.
The battle for brunch had been joined.
Raymond's, an extremely popular restaurant on Church Street in downtown Montclair, began life as a tiny storefront offering unusual gourmet breakfasts a few doors down from its current, much larger location.
Although it had opened its doors in Ridgewood just a week or two earlier, the word of mouth had clearly been robust. A crush of people filled the front entrance to Raymond's and spilled onto the sidewalk.
Despite this new competition — and the longstanding presence of the Daily Treat, a traditional luncheonette down the block in the opposite direction — open tables remained elusive at the Country Pancake House.
The wait in the brisk late December air required people to demonstrate willpower, if not outright stoicism. Stoll, his wife, Jill, and their daughter, Morgan, had driven 35 miles from Fort Montgomery, N.Y., just south of West Point. He said he had first heard about the pancake house a few weeks ago while watching a show on the Travel Channel that highlighted what the network called the 10 best breakfasts in America.
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