Under a dark blue awning, beyond sleek frost-engraved doors, bright colors burst from the back wall from lively French posters covered by a giant fishing net. The room is warm, with lots of natural light and walls with wooden paneling and pale yellow paint. Knickknacks from France catch the eye at every corner – porcelain plates, bigouden caps, painted trays of Mont Saint-Michel. Four giant crêpe griddles sit next to the counter, taking a breather from the rush they work through each morning.
Owners Thierry Crocquet and Daniel Peron are proud of their new home for their beloved brainchild, Crêpes of Brittany. The restaurant had been thriving in a tiny corner of a coffee shop on Fisherman’s Wharf for six years, but now finally has a full-size space to rest its head.
Since expanding in scale, Crêpes is now expanding its menu with non-crêpe items, including onion soup, a handful of baguette sandwiches and even some beer, wine and cider thanks to their newly-acquired liquor license. Another new beverage on hand is Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company’s organic joe.
Their meticulous selection of ingredients is clear from the first bite of a ham-and-brie sandwich ($12.50). It is simple – no sauce or fancy toppings – just meat, cheese, a delicate slice of tomato and some fresh iceberg. Oh, and an authentically French touch: a pat of butter. The bare-bones approach lets the main characters shine: a French type of ham called Madrang and the luscious double-cream cheese.
I was optimistic after hands-on owner-operator Crocquet told me their ham is imported from France, and impressed as he listed everything else that is too: the brie, the gruyere, the croissants, all the alcohol – all straight from Brittany.
Much of what isn’t from Brittany is made in house. Once a week Peron creates crème de caramel au beurre sale – or salted butter caramel – while other items are made fresh daily, often from scratch.The soup, sides and fillings are homemade. The whipped cream is homemade. Even the cream cheese is homemade.
On my second visit I tried Crepes’ tuna sandwich ($11.50). Though tuna can be dull enough for a kids menu, this one was chock full of potent flavors, most notably celery and pickles. The side of pasta salad also exhibited the care taken in making it, cooked to a pleasing al dente and decorated with a tangy dressing.
A hearty appetite would be similarly très satisfied with the #2 option, ham or turkey breast with mayo, gruyere, lettuce, tomato and a boiled egg ($12.50). A delicious and filling mix, it was hard to put down.
For something on the (slightly) lighter side, the onion soup ($5.50) is worth checking out. Thick layers of gruyere melt all over an oniony beef broth whose flavors have clearly been happily marrying for a while.
Other fare that would be a great snack for later (or now, or anytime) include Crêpes’ croissants ($2.75). They come par-baked all the way from the owners’ hometown across the Atlantic. Firm and crusty with a buttery chewiness, these babies may have been my favorite thing on the whole menu.
But then there are the crêpes, the mouth-watering crêpes. It was hard to choose from their sweet and savory lists – menus that haven’t changed since their first day half a dozen years ago. I wondered if I should pick a crowd favorite or create my own. I ended up adding eggs to the tried-and-true brie-and-caramelized onions ($8.95). Breakfast is their most popular time, and “omelets” like the one I got are the most popular. The eggs, however, could only play a supporting role next to the vividly flavorful leads. The sweetness of the long-simmered onions seemed to bring the brie’s mushroomy creaminess to life, all wrapped up neatly in a thin yet sturdy buckwheat galette.
On both visits, the sweet stuff surpassed any expectations I had. The strawberry cream cheese crêpe ($7.20) was a heavenly combination of warmed, bursting ripe berries, every bite a new experience of sweet, or creamy, or syrupy (yet somehow not sticky). Not far behind, the banana caramel ($7.20) was alive with the heat of cooked natural sugar and complemented richly by salted butter caramel and more whipped cream. Perhaps the most understated of all – the lemon sugar ($4.25) – was actually the best. With a thin slice of real Meyer lemon adding a citrusy kick to a seemingly plain crepe, this one quietly stole the show.
Crocquet insists he doesn’t make crepes for the money, but for passion. It’s the kind of passion that can lead a 40-square-foot corner spot to become a 45-seat restaurant (not including the patio), and the kind of passion that draws locals into a tourist-centric spot because the love in the food is irresistible.
“On the wharf it was cash-only, we had 40-minute waits, paper plates – it never should have worked,” he says.
But it did. And now, six years later, it’s working bigger and better than ever.