By LAURA REILEY
Times Food Critic
It's hard not to see the trend as a function of the economy. In the past 18 months, more than a dozen creperies have opened in the area. Why? Crepes tend to be a smaller portion and a more modest financial commitment than other meals, both for diners and restaurateurs.
There are Russian blini, Jewish blintzes, Hungarian palacsinta, Indian poori and roti, Chinese bao bin and Italian crespelle — but the basic recipe is the same. It's a batter made from flour and some liquid, poured onto a griddle and cooked quickly.
But for some reason, the skinny pancakes that have captured our attention are the French ones, whether they're filled with chicken in a lush cream sauce or berries and a little chocolate ooh-la-la.
In November 2007, Kurt and Pam Bollenbacher renovated a tiny gift shop off the main drag in Safety Harbor, launching Crepe-ology. And in Parrish, Donna Posso bought Crepes & More two months ago and started pouring batter.
In both cases, the motivation seems to be the same. Posso, a former barista, and Bollenbacher, an electrician and former air-conditioning and refrigeration tech, wanted to be their own bosses. And they felt the time was right for crepes. (It's cyclical. Remember the Magic Pan?)
Crepe-ology is practically a one-man show, Pam helping Kurt out when there's a lunch rush. It's paper plates and plastic utensils (coffee and tea in Styrofoam cups are a drag, but the kitchen's lack of industrial dishwasher is stymieing), just a few tables inside and a lovely outdoor patio.
The top seller is a flash-frozen raspberry beauty ($4.75) slathered in a dark Ghirardelli chocolate sauce. But a mighty fine meal can be assembled with a sprightly mesclun mix salad ($2) studded with grape tomatoes and cuke rounds and a "chicken supreme" duet of crepes ($6.25), a jumble of deeply caramelized onions elevated by herbs de Provence, topping hunks of white meat chicken and lengths of sauteed portobello, and a swath of molten Emmentaler cheese.
I like a crepe to be plush and pliable in the center but crisp at the very edges, a textural quibble, but Kurt's tend to be soft all the way through. Still, my grand finale of soft butter-sauteed bananas under a blanket of crazy-hot caramel sauce ($4.75) was standing-ovation material.
In Parrish, near the 301 and I-75 exchange, Crepes & More is the kind of coffeehouse/dessert spot where it's easy to linger. A quick hazelnut latte ($3.25-$4.25) can lengthen into a perusal of the menu and a long loiter over a garden veggie crepe ($7.95) given a big wallop of velvety alfredo sauce (a sauce that moistens a number of the savory offerings, from a crab version to one with roasted peppers, Italian sausage and onion, $7.95).
The dessert case is packed with allures, but hold out for a Swedish Delight ($6.95) with its lingonberry preserves, berry sauce and whipped cream. In fact, a dollop of lingonberry preserves graces a number of crepe offerings, giving the whole place a Swedish accent. And between the expertly made coffee drinks, Italian sodas ($2.25-$2.75) and fruit smoothies ($3.75-$5.75), a lack of liquor license hardly seems like a hardship.
At both spots, a healthy, hearty meal can be had for under $10. Which surely explains the current creeping encroachment of crepes.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.