Posted on March 18th, 2013
In Old Town Quebec there is a creperie a few steps off of the tourist’s beaten path. Small and jam-packed. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to share a table with another party to expedite things – and by expedite, I mean if you want your crepe before the next mealtime rolls around. It feels dark and old inside. The wine options are red or white, glass or carafe. The side salad served with your crepe has one dressing choice. The staff is a rotating cast of twenty-something ladies in corduroys or ankle length skirts, vintage tee-shirts, boots, and head scarves. The menu is a long list of filling items: veggies, meats, cheese, sauces – like a pizza joint – plus fruits, chocolate, butter, sugar, and whipped cream. You order your dream combination and then you wait with a patience aided by your carafe of wine or a bowl of steaming mocha chocolate.
The wait is longer than what you’d expect at a café because – despite crepes being the mainstay – there are only two crepe irons, placed right in front of the counter seats. They seem disinterested in turning tables and fully focused on the perfection of their crepes. I was lucky enough to get a counter-seat once and got a seventy-five minute observational tutorial on the magic. Two crepes are spread paper thin methodically with a squeegee-like device, soon after they are flipped. A couple of minutes later they are filled with someone’s delightful topping selections and folded in half. They cook for several minutes and from there are folded in thirds and cooked for several more minutes. The result is heaven! A steaming crepe with a crisp exterior (almost like a masala dosa) and gooey piping hot insides—fully melted cheese or butter and sugar that has all but turned into caramel on the griddle.
I have no stronger memory of enjoying gluttony so fully while on vacation. When the responsibilities of my daily grind start to drive me batty, I daydream about sitting in the dark café waiting to stuff myself with crepes; no other worries on my mind. If I were able, I would annually make the eight hour pilgrimage exclusively to eat these crepes and drink house wine for a long weekend. Out of longing and the desire to share these marvelous wonders with people I love, I have once or twice recreated them at home with the aid of two or three cast-iron pans.
Imagine my excitement a few years ago when several cafes in and around my small New England college town introduced crepe menus. CREPES! Right in my own back yard! I tried the crepes at each café as they became available. Each time I hoped that this place would get it right. But none of them did. All of them had a pre-determined menu, no choosing your own fillings. Oddly enough one place, which I do love apart from the crepes, has make-your-own-salad and -sandwich menus with a wide variety of filling choices, but insists on dictating your crepe filling combinations. The menus aren’t the only problem; if the crepes were made properly I could handle working around their choices. The biggest problem is the undercooking. The crepes are spongy and floppy, and only cooked until their fillings are barely heated through. It’s essentially a lukewarm soggy mess on a plate–nothing that could momentarily transport me away from the woes of responsibility.
And so, I am resigned to long for the magic of Quebec while being taunted by disappointing crepes advertised in every local café window. I like to think that someday a crepe closer than a day’s drive will satisfy, but I wonder if it is a fool’s errand to try to find it…if the magic is in fact in the memory.