I adore blini, chapatis, Vietnamese banh xeo, even good old syrup-drenched flapjacks. What's not to like about these bready discs? But best of all are the buckwheat crepes of Brittany, their tangy, earthy flour imparting its own character to the fillings, the crepe centers soft and pliable while the outside edges stay delicately crisp. The crepe isn't just a vehicle for filling (as in, say, a burrito), it offers its own enchantment.
Konstantinos Chilias, a Greek who spent 15 years making crepes in Paris and another eight in Los Angeles and Long Beach before moving to Tampa, decided early on that Americans like whole wheat savory crepes and white flour sweet crepes. He has served an astounding array of these at his Creperia Cafe in Ybor City since its opening in 2005. On Sept. 12 he opened a second location in St. Petersburg on a slightly unlovely block in the Grand Central district, looking at the successful Taco Bus as a model.
In fact, there are similarities: A shiny Airstream sits closest to the street nestled in a tidy wooden frame (this camper isn't going anywhere), with an adjacent air-conditioned 20-seat dining room (the former office for a car lot) and a cement patio with umbrellaed cafe tables. Way at the back of the lot there's a mobile Creperia food truck, hand-painted exuberantly and ready to hit area festivals, birthday parties and food truck rallies.
He bought the Airstream in Arizona, and the historic aluminum touring coach has been retrofitted with stainless appliances and Krampouz commercial crepemakers from France.
Skip-tor Johnson and other employees smooth the batter across the surface of the Krampouz, flipping the finished crepe out to be filled. And here's where I think they do themselves a disservice with their generosity at Creperia Cafe: The crepes contain too much stuff. For savory crepes, of which I had several, fillings are packed in, the crepe itself fairly bulging at the middle. This means no crispy crepe edge, whether that's on a vegetarian colossus like the special (cheese, mushroom, spinach, tomato, caramelized onions and peppers; $9.75) or the super lemony stewed chicken version called the French Riviera (cheese, chicken, artichoke, tomato in a white wine sauce; $10.25).
Savory crepes are plated on Styrofoam with chopped romaine, a cuke round and a tomato round dressed lightly in what tasted like bottled Italian dressing. Pair one with a lush cafe con leche ($3.55) or a milk shake ($4.35) and it's a seriously satisfying lunch or dinner.
In dozens of options, sweet crepes are similarly abundant with fillings, showing a heavy leaning toward Nutella, bananas and gooey goodies like dulce de leche. Powdered sugar and chocolate drizzles sometimes seem distracting — as with my penchant for spare, simply filled savory crepes (especially those made with buckwheat flour, sigh), I felt the best sweet versions were pared back: a classic crepe Suzette with butter, lemon, orange and a flame of Grand Marnier ($7.95) or the even simpler Bolero with sugar, butter and lemon ($4.50).
Creperia Cafe has no table service thus far. It's order at the counter, then find a seat inside or outside with your plate. Inside there's French music and cold air; outside it's Florida sun and people watching along Central Avenue — both good options.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.