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Wild Blueberries: The Not-So-Secret Ingredient to One New York Restaurant’s Award Winning Pancakes

During the 12 summers she spent as a camper, then counselor, in Maine’s Belgrade Lakes region, DeDe Lahman became enthralled by Wild Blueberries. “We picked them wild, ate blueberry ice cream, visited Blueberry Hill (in Rome, Maine) on days off, and just enjoyed all things Wild Blueberry,” she recalls.

So when Lahman and her husband Chef Neil Kleinberg opened the Clinton St. Baking Company and Restaurant in 2001 on New York’s Lower East Side, the first muffin they made was blueberry crumb — “the quintessential morning muffin flavor.”

Photo of DeDe Lahman and Chef Neil Kleinberg. Photographer Hannah Janal

She insisted they use Wild Blueberries from Maine, “as a homage to my favorite state,” she says. But aboveall, “Wild Blueberries have a very intense flavor for such a small berry.”

Neil’s recipe that followed—Wild Maine Blueberry Pancakes with warm maple butter—has been hailed as New York’s Best Pancakes by some of the industry’s most discriminating tastemakers, and helped put Clinton St. Baking Company on the map as the Big Apple’s Number One breakfast spot. That’s not an easy distinction to earn in a city that is a destination for the world’s top chefs.

Wild Blueberry Pancakes are so popular they’re served all day long. There are more than 800 orders for Wild Blueberry Pancakes on a weekly basis—and Clinton St. regularly attracts crowds from all over the globe who are willing to wait hours in line for the experience.

Widely exalted for their “melt in your mouth goodness,” and being “festooned with enough Wild Blueberries to satisfy a mama bear and her cubs,” New York Magazine twice crowned the pancakes the city’s best, a title The New York Daily News also bestowed. Critics at Travel & Leisure magazine wrote that the Wild Blueberry Pancakes slathered in Maple Butter “make you think you’re still dreaming,” when they included Clinton St. Bakery on its list of New York’s Top 50 restaurants. And the dish has been featured on The Martha Stewart Show and selected for The Food Network’s famous Bobby Flay Throwdown.

Lahman attributes that popularity, in large part, to Wild Blueberries’ unique taste. “There’s clearly a very deep understanding of the flavor and taste,” she says. “People say ours are the best blueberry pancakes in the world, and that title has been earned because of the Wild Maine Blueberries which add a special sweet, yet tart nuance that cultivated blues do not!”

What’s more, the wild blue superfruits blend well with Chef Kleinberg’s signature pancakes —celebrated by critics for being “light and springy,” and “at once delicate and substantial”— which are a twist on a classical French recipe for a soufflé that he began developing years ago, while working as a sous chef.

Wild Blueberries don’t bleed and release too much moisture, Lahman explains, which would make the pancakes wet and soggy. What’s more, because they hold their texture and flavor — even in the oven — they’re particularly great in baked goods.

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Lahman and Kleinberg use fresh Wild Blueberries from Maine when they’re in season, but the rest of the year, they use frozen fresh Wild Blueberries, which are widely available from growers across Maine and eastern Canada. The growers and processors use the IQF (individually quick frozen) method of freezing, which helps ensure that the Wild Blueberries retain their flavor, moisture, and texture. That’s important, as Clinton St. uses roughly 25,000 pounds of Wild Maine Blueberries on an annual basis.

Using Wild Blueberries is part of Clinton St.’s commitment to use only top notch, best-tasting ingredients, just as they use real Grade B, dark amber maple syrup, and award-winning premium milk that’s been certified as the highest quality milk in New York State by Cornell University’s Department of Food Science.

Photo of Wild Blueberry Pancakes. Photographer Michael Harlan Turkell from The Clinton St. Baking Co. Cookbook (Little, Brown 2010).

“A hallmark for us at Clinton St. Baking Company is to use the best quality ingredients we can find, and if we can’t find it we make it,” says Lahman. “Since we think that Wild Blueberries taste the best in our pancakes, we use those.”

Lahman and Kleinberg reveal the secrets of Chef Kleinberg’s famous Wild Blueberry pancakes in The Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch, & Beyond from New York’s Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant (Little, Brown and Company, 2010)in addition to more than 100 other recipes for their most craved baked goods, omelets, soups, sandwiches, and desserts.

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