Sometimes, I really miss France…Okay, most of the time I miss France. I think alot of it has to do with boulangeries, crepes, and pastries. How could I not fall in love with a country where dessert-making is considered an art-form, and fresh bread is a basic life necessity (along with water, clothing, and shelter)?
Lucky for me, I live in a city with strong French influence, and over the past ten years, there has been an influx in French restaurants and cafés. The City Coffeehouse and Creperie is a perfect example. Although I’m not sure when the restaurant opened, I know it has been around for awhile; my earliest memory of it dates back to my fourteenth birthday, when I went there for lunch and ordered a “Freedom” crepe, which is inspired by the colors of either the French or American flag (it’s hard to tell…both flags have blue, white and red).
I ordered the crepe because it had fresh strawberries and blueberries inside, but I was puzzled by the third ingredient: creme fraiche. I had never tried it before. I asked my Mom to describe it, and she compared it to whipped cream. But what I tasted was slightly sour, and not at all like the fluffy clouds of cream that I sprayed out of a can onto an ice cream sundae. It took me a few years to appreciate the complex flavor and dense texture.
Now, many years later, I have tried most of the Creperie’s menu, and have a hard time deciding what to order. This past weekend, when I visited the restaurant with my sister, we stood in front of the two large, chalkboard menus for a few minutes deliberating. While the café offers traditional French crepes (filled with Nutella, sugar, and jam), they also offer many savory crepes named after iconic St. Louis institutions. The ambiance is decidedly French, but there are many local influences found on the menu. We ended up ordering two salads, and also a savory and sweet crepe. Obviously, we weren’t following the French rule of moderation.
My salad, the Market Salad, was topped with mandarin oranges, bleu cheese crumbles, halved red grapes, fresh, juicy strawberries, pineapple, and granny smith apples. The best part about the salad was the dressing, a sweet, house-made poppyseed vinaigrette that was a strange, silver color, but tasted delicious on top of the fruit.
My sister’s salad, the Ann’s Green Gable, was similar to mine, but more geared towards meat-eaters; it was topped with bacon and chicken, and also included red onion.
Our salads came with a piece of French baguette, which tasted freshly-baked and authentic; the outside was crispy and flaky, and the inside was soft and chewy. Like I told my sister, of all the French bread I’ve tried in St. Louis, this bread tastes the most like the kind I’d buy in France (which begs the question…who does the Creperie get their bread from?).
Midway through our salads, our sweet and savory crepes arrived. I managed to finish my salad before diving into the savory crepe, which was called the “Shady Oak” (named after an old, defunct movie theater a couple blocks over).
The crepe included layers of mesquite grilled chicken, fresh spinach, tomato marinade, green onions, Havarti cheese, and the restaurant’s housemade honey-dijon dressing. The chicken was tender and had a slightly smoky flavor, the cheese was melted and gooey, and the honey-dijon dressing brought out the flavors of the spinach and tomatoes. The crepe was drizzled with the dressing, and was still steaming after five-minutes of sitting on the table.
Admittedly, both of us rushed through the savory crepe. It was delicious, but nothing compared to what was sitting beside it; a Nutella-Banana crepe dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a side of fresh, homemade whipped cream.
When I ordered Nutella-Banana crepes in France, they would be a fraction of the size, and would have half as many layers. There would only be a small spoonful of Nutella, evenly dispersed across the crepe shell, and the crepe would have never been served with a mountain of whipped cream. But then, I remind myself: I am in America…And while certain cultural norms don’t transfer, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing…:)