A pizza box filled with chocolate bacon silver dollar pancakes
Great Maple has just about done it all this pandemic. It socially distanced its dining room, it expanded its outdoor seating. It expanded its outdoor seating again, erecting tents in its parking lot and filling them with tables and patio heaters. The all-day eatery even put out little, ornamented Christmas trees to give its asphalt dining room a festive feel.
1451 Washington Street, San Diego
All that became obsolete when the latest stay-at-home order put the kibosh on outdoor dining. However, the Hillcrest restaurant appears undaunted and has implemented yet another conversion to help carry it through the closed-up holiday season: its parking lot is now a drive-thru.
The drive-thru set up at Great Maple in Hillcrest
As in, last Sunday, I drove my car up to the entrance of the Great Maple parking lot, ordered brunch, and drove home with pancakes, bacon, sausage, and a breakfast cocktail.
I’m not going to pretend the experience lives up to what Great Maple offers during normal times, when brunchtime typically finds the mid-century-styled restaurant filled with fashionable revelers, lingering over large plates of smoked meats, griddle cakes, and fancy donuts, while sipping bloody marys dressed with absurdly large, edible garnishes ranging from whole pickles to octopus tentacles.
A bloody mary in a sealed take-out cup
However, while the see-and-be-seen vibe doesn’t travel in take-out containers, the food and cocktails can. Some of them, anyway. Though my favorite Great Maple snack — sugar dusted beignets — aren’t available from the drive-thru, its celebrated maple bacon donut is ($14). And though you can’t get the bloody mary with the tentacle, you can order the Pickle Mary ($14), as well as a bevy of other cocktails, from mimosas to mules ($10-15).
Chicken apple sausages
The brunch menu offers Great Maple favorites, including breakfast sandwiches ($17), breakfast pot pie ($19), or smoked brisket hash ($21, or a vegan option for $16). You may get a pizza box filled with Johnny’s silver dollar pancakes. The cluster of small pancakes may be picked out in regular buttermilk flavor, or fruity pebbles, peanut butter fried banana, or chocolate bacon, which comes with plastic ramakins of whipped butter, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, and powdered sugar.
Smoked bacon with a side of salted caramel sauce
I nabbed a la carte orders of the restaurant’s chicken apple sausages ($6) and salted caramel bacon ($8), which just turned out to be the smoked bacon ($6) with a ramakin of salted caramel dipping sauce. The sugar content (and prices) can obviously be over the top, as much of the menu here tends to be.
Beignets at Great Maple when spaced-out indoor dining was still allowed
The drive-thru experience itself was relatively breezy. I worried I would have needed to call ahead with my order, but that’s not the case. I simply drove up, ordered and paid with a masked staffer positioned at the entrance. Then pulled ahead and enjoyed a soundtrack of lounge and jazz covers of Christmas tunes for a few minutes until another staffer passed the packaged food through my passenger window.
Silver dollar pancakes with whipped butter, chocolate syrup, maple syrup, and powdered sugar
Lunch and dinner are offered via drive-thru while the stay-at-home order remains in effect, but what I particularly enjoyed about drive-thru brunch — and maybe this is just me — was the opportunity fill up on pancakes and meat and breakfast cocktails at home, then seamlessly switch to nap mode.