By Laura Reiley
The world's gone flat again. Pancake flat. All of a sudden, menus all over the Tampa Bay area are offering French crepes and the thin pancakes of other countries, too.
Two newcomers in the area focus on the classic buckwheat flour galette (another word for crepe) of Brittany. Made since the Middle Ages, the savory Breton crepe batter is prepared with this darker, more rustic flour, cooked quickly and filled with cheese, ham, veggies, whatever. Sweet crepes, however, usually contain white flour.
For a sample of either style, enjoy a meal at L'Olivier in downtown St. Petersburg or track down the crepe-mobile of Glenn David Cryer's La Crepe d'Or, stationed each weekend at one of the area's outdoor markets or festivals.
L'Olivier is the dream of Olivier Cuevas, realized beautifully in the courtyard of the Tower Plaza adjacent to BayWalk. The intimate cafe has one of the most romantic, candlelit patios around, the menu an equally romantic greatest-hits list of classic bistro fare. Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, quiche Lorraine — but the stars of the show are the work of three imported Krampouz machines. These crepe-
making machines are so famous in France that the company has its own crepe school.
From inside the small dining room, watch the staff pour and swirl the batter, or else pass the time with a French concert or documentary on the big TV while nibbling a simple balsamic-drizzled spinach salad with walnuts and plush squiggles of roasted red pepper.
Dinner crepes, made of one-quarter tangy buckwheat flour, are filled with things like slow-cooked ratatouille ($13.50), Brie, spinach, walnut and honey ($14.95) or ham, Emmental, mushroom and diced tomato ($13.50), all of which are served with a scoop of luxurious potato gratin. One crepe is plenty, especially if your aim is to finish with a classic Suzette (flambeed with Grand Marnier, $8) or a homey banana and Nutella crepe ($7) and a good coffee or glass of Champagne.
Crepes on wheels
Across the bay, Cryer began carting his crepe-mobile to area festivals a year ago. With a garden store in South Tampa, Cryer hopes to open his own creperie sometime soon. But for now La Crepe d'Or is the next best thing. The 15-inch buckwheat crepes ($7.50) are made to order, each with its own oh-so-French name. The Briard gets baby spinach leaves, cubes of Brie, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red pepper, green olives and caramelized onions. The crepe's sides are tucked in, and then the creation is topped with red pepper, pesto or sun-dried tomato sauce.
Cryer says his most popular offering is the Auvergnate, baby spinach, crumbled blue cheese, chopped Granny Smith apple, walnuts and thin prosciutto slices on top, then folded and sauced with a squiggle of balsamic glaze.
At L'Eden in downtown Tampa, owners Gerard and Anne Marie Jamgotchian do their best work at lunch (only sweet crepes are offered in the evening), with combinations that have charmed downtown office workers. The teeny gem of a dining room gets packed with people enjoying crepes enfolding tomato, leek and cheese ($8.75), tuna, onion and tomato in a cream sauce ($9.25) or even hearty bacon, mushroom and onion ($9.25).
Service can be all over the map, from scary-solicitous to icy, but it's worth persevering to enjoy this bustling eatery in otherwise crypt-quiet downtown. At dinner, the menu adopts a small-plates approach, with food just coming out when it's ready to face the table. Most ready for its curtain call is a plate of juicy Australian lamb chops (a real bargain at $14) or an addictive dessert crepe ($4.50) gussied with nothing more than sweet butter and granulated sugar. Its simplicity and elegance corroborate that Jamgotchian trained originally as a pastry chef.
A German flavor
Sometimes crepes come with a different accent, as at the German Crepes House in Tierra Verde. Owner Carsten Uwira has come to Florida equipped with a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a special German pancake machine that makes six at a time. German pfannkuchen are closer to pancakes than crepes, sturdier and served open-faced, topped with fresh herbs and cheese ($7.99) or something more hearty like bacon, onion and pickle ($7.99).
With water all around it, the charming restaurant, tucked at the back edge of a shopping center next to Good Times, is patronized heavily by boaters. Boaters, evidently, with excellent taste in beers: German lagers, Belgian wheats, the list is gorgeous and marries wonderfully with the puffy, homey pancakes, or else a sturdy platter of jaegerschnitzel or bratwurst.
Still more creperies are on the horizon (B.T. Nguyen of Restaurant B.T. is poised to open one in South Tampa) and other established bay area restaurants (La Creperia Cafe in Ybor City, O'Bistro in St. Petersburg) are flipping skinny pancakes.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.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.