Sesame Seed Pancakes with Whipped Ricotta

A brunch standout from Vern’s, Charleston’s newest neighborhood spot

Photo: Andrew Cebulka

Husband and wife duo Dano and Bethany Heinze have wanted to open a place like Vern’s, their new Charleston bistro, almost as long as they’ve known each other. “Right after we met, we began to conceptualize our ideal neighborhood restaurant,” Bethany says. “We wanted a small, intimate space with a welcoming atmosphere that feels like part of your life—a place you can go all the time.” 

The two met while working at the now shuttered Charleston mainstay McCrady’s—Dano as the chef de cuisine, Bethany as the bar manager—but moved to Los Angeles in 2016 to work in esteemed kitchens including Animal, Son of a Gun, and Jon & Vinny’s. “We had plans to open our restaurant out there,” Dano says. “The produce and the environment in California are unreal, but it never really quite felt like home. We missed our community in Charleston.” Last year when they moved back to the Holy City, the community greeted them with open arms.

Named for Dano’s grandfather who was a butcher by trade and owned a grocery store, Vern’s sits on a sunny corner in downtown Charleston’s Elliotborough neighborhood and serves modern takes on American comfort dishes made from local ingredients. “We wanted the menu and the space to be familiar but still exciting,” Bethany says. Highlights include roast chicken from nearby Sumter with brown butter jus, fresh campanili with rabbit from Spartanburg, and tartar that utilizes North Carolina tuna. 

The weekend brunch menu holds its own delights, such as these sesame seed pancakes with whipped ricotta and berry jam, conceived by Dano and chef de cuisine Rob Looney. “We had the idea to do Aebleskiver, which in the Danish culture is a round pancake,” Dano says. “Our take is very light and fluffy because it’s finished with egg whites. We lay the batter down and put sesame seeds on top, and then you flip it and let the sesame seeds toast underneath.”

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  • Sesame Seed Pancakes with Whipped Ricotta and Berry Jam (Yield: 2–3 servings)

  • For the whipped ricotta

    • 2 cups ricotta cheese

    • 1 tsp. powdered sugar

    • ¼ tsp. kosher salt

    • 1½ tsp. extra virgin olive oil

    • 1 tbsp. wildflower honey

  • For the pancakes

    • 4 large eggs, separated

    • ¾ cup plus 1½ tbsp. water

    • ⅔ cup whole fat Greek yogurt

    • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

    • 1 cup plus 2 tsp. all-purpose flour

    • ½ tbsp. kosher salt

    • 1½ tsp. baking powder

    • 4 tbsp. granulated sugar

    • 1 tbsp. white sesame seeds, toasted

    • 1 tbsp. black sesame seeds, toasted

    • Grapeseed oil or clarified butter or ghee for cooking

    • ½ cup blackberry jam, for serving

    • Fresh blackberries, for garnish

    • Local wildflower honey, for garnish


  1. To make the whipped ricotta: Combine the ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the cheese is smooth and fluffy, about 30 seconds. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and honey until completely combined. Transfer the whipped ricotta to a container with a lid and keep at room temperature if using right away or refrigerate if using later. (Tightly covered, the whipped ricotta will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using.)

  2. To make the pancakes: In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, water, yogurt, and melted butter until completely combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 tbsp. of the sugar and mix thoroughly. In a third bowl, combine the two types of sesame seeds, and set aside.

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, whisk the reserved egg whites on low speed until just combined. With the mixer running on medium-high, slowly add the remaining 2 tbsp. of sugar and whip the egg whites just until they hold stiff peaks when you lift out the whisk attachment but are still glossy. Set aside while you begin mixing the batter.

  4. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined. Some small lumps in the batter are okay. Add ⅓ of the whipped egg whites to the batter and gently stir in to lighten the mixture. Add half of the remaining egg whites and gently fold in from the bottom of the bowl to combine. Repeat with the remaining egg whites.

  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbsp. of grapeseed oil or clarified butter or ghee. Using a ⅓-cup measuring cup, add the batter to the skillet, lightly smoothing out the surface. Cook as many at a time as your skillet will hold, allowing ½ inch of space between the pancakes. Sprinkle about 1 tsp. of the toasted sesame seeds onto each pancake. When you start to see bubbling on the surface of the pancake, about 3 minutes, flip each pancake and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer the pancakes to a plate and lightly cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm while you cook the remaining pancakes.

  6. To serve, assemble the pancakes in stacks of two (or three, if you’re really hungry!), adding a nice spoonful of the whipped ricotta and a drizzle of blackberry jam between each layer. Top each stack with a dollop of whipped ricotta, making an indentation with the back of the spoon, and filling with some blackberry jam. Add a few fresh blackberries, drizzle the stack with a couple tablespoons of local honey, and serve right away.