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I love just about every breakfast junk food except pancakes, which might explain why it took me until last week to set foot in an IHOP for the first time. I was aware that IHOP offers the full range of chain-diner food, but since it references my least favorite syrup-holder right there in the name*, I'd find myself at Denny's instead when I had a fast to break at an inconvenient hour.
*The way the branding works is that IHOP restaurant franchises are administered by International House of Pancakes, LLC.
But I was intrigued when Erin forwarded me a press release for IHOP's new limited-edition Hash Brown Stacks. Hash browns are among my very favorite foods in any category, and who doesn't like to eat stacks of things?
Plus there's an IHOP in my neighborhood and I do what I'm told (when I'm told to eat hash browns), so I skipped on over to see what I've been missing all these years.
The following statement is not meant as a blanket indictment of IHOP, but rather an indictment of the only thing I've ever eaten there: The Bacon and Cheddar Hash Brown Stack is some seriously egregious bullshit. I don't know if the Spinach and Mushroom or Ham and Swiss renditions are any better, but I doubt it. The Bacon and Cheddar Hash Brown Stack's problems are likely endemic to the breed.
If you'd replaced the bacon and cheddar with the world's finest meats, cheeses, and vegetables, you still wouldn't have a good meal (though you might have one that lands on the right side of the "egregious bullshit" line. The hollandaise was a particular disaster; a Stack that lost that might achieve mediocrity).
The IHOP menu claims the Bacon and Cheddar Hash Brown Stack is composed of "golden hash browns topped with crisp diced bacon, melted cheddar cheese, sliced tomato, an over-medium egg, rich hollandaise sauce, and green onion."
Parts of this are accurate. The bacon was reasonably crisp, the egg was over-medium and in fact good, and the onions were green.
Now to address the menu's less accurate descriptions. The cheese was only intermittently melted (more on that below). The hash browns were not golden; they were white. Friends, have you ever eaten raw potato? Don't eat raw potato. I ate nearly raw potato at IHOP the other day and it was very unpleasant.
The bacon, which did have a nice texture, wasn't diced so much as half-stripped, so there was no way to guarantee the presence of bacon from bite to bite. It was also inconsistent across locations (the photo was taken in downtown Brooklyn, I tasted in Harvard Square). That's no way to eat breakfast.
The cheddar was bad, and like the bacon, not consistent across IHOP locations. In the picture, you'll see it's an unmelted slice. In my experience, it was thinner than typical ballpark cheese sauce and slightly grainy.
I was spared the tomato slice that was supposed to lurk between the cheese and the egg. Let's praise the egg some more before it's time to get the hatchet back out for the hollandaise. The egg was yolky and warm and I wish it could have crashed a better breakfast party.
The hollandaise was horrible. It was eerily orange and broken, and it seeped all over everything. (I wanted to ask if I could run my poor egg through the dishwasher, but instead I tended to it with napkins as one would an oil-soaked duck after an offshore tanker spill.) I'm not one to harp on authenticity, particularly in this category of dining, but the only thing I could really pick out as hollandaisical was cheap oversalted dairy. I suppose it was butter, but it may as well have been more cheese sauce, since the only thing I could really taste was salt. Oh, so much salt.
The good news is that IHOP is only keeping the Hash Brown Stacks—which, at $5.99, are overpriced by $7—around until February 19. I hate to hate things, so I'm willing to take another trip to IHOP in March if anyone can recommend something they do well. Did I just order the wrong thing, or did I go to the wrong restaurant?
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