Crêpes on the Row has an opportunity to become a destination, if only they would take it.
It’s not the boy band music blaring from speakers throughout a Saturday afternoon visit to the Cannery Row spot. Some people appreciate a sappy sound to go along with all that powdered sugar and Nutella. No, it’s the way they undermine some really nice work by the person at the griddle.
The crepes alone are delightful – finespun, with a nutty, malty sweetness that offers just enough sugar to flirt with the palate without tipping off savory ingredients. So in one with cheese, spinach and green onions, a fresh grassiness and raspy bite springs from the batter. The bright snap of a salad softened and given richness by the mellow drape of pancake is a compelling thing.
Or it would be, if not for the tedious mat of mass-produced cheese.
The house special – a filling composition of two eggs, a couple slices of turkey and double the cheese – suffers for the same reason. Granted, the ingredients do not suggest culinary excitement (who craves white meat turkey for its bold flavors?) But the eggs are delicate and homey and the presentation fit for a truck stop diner appetite. Again, however, the cheese just adds monotony.
Crêpes on the Row doesn’t promise fineries, mind you. It’s a counter service space where staff members call out your order number when it’s ready. There are basics such as soups, salads and bagels, in addition to the array of crepe options. With 23 sweet, 13 savory and some specials, there’s some hemming and hawing at the register.
Still, with such a deft touch on the griddle, you are left to wonder just how delightful the little thin pancakes – it’s really difficult to resist a Talladega Nights reference – could be if the pantry stocked artisanal cheeses and local ingredients whenever possible.
Not that local, seasonal and artisanal is always the goal, especially at a quick service spot where price point is a concern.
Consider, however, that there are moments in their honey, banana and almond offering when the vaguely earthy richness of the fruit and the soft, almost smoky note from almond slivers meet with the malty dough that become the essence of blissful comfort. Yet these havens – when your eyes roll back, the boy band noise fades away and the flavors envelop you – are drubbed by a heavy-handed dressing of honey.
Not buckwheat honey, sage honey or orange blossom honey, but a swath of cloying, syrupy, plodding stuff worthy only of plastic jugs.
So there’s quite a bit good about this place that opened quietly in July across from the Aquarium. The restaurant draws a good crowd. The crepes are delicate and the menu generous. Guests can go for simple classics such as one with lemon and sugar to the loaded “Monterey Special,” piled with spinach, feta, caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes.
The bad – well, parents taking the kids across the street for a break won’t mind (and the kids likely won’t notice). Adequate often does the job.
CRÊPES ON THE ROW, 807 Cannery Row, Monterey. 8am-7pm daily. 641-7004.