Taste of France
A new crêperie brightens Chico’s culinary landscape
Crepe Cafe995 Nord Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
When my boyfriend arrived home twisting his eyebrows over the “Creepy” Café sign he’d just seen on Nord Avenue, I flipped out.
“You mean CREPES?!” In Chico? At last.
Upon walking inside what was once a Starbucks, I was greeted by Mike, a dynamic West-African man who came to Chico to build his prototype of a crêpe shop that could expand into other college towns if successful.
“Chico is a good place where people are less exposed to this kind of food,” he said while quickly (but skillfully) folding the toasted edges of a crêpe.
Mike Gaba-Chabi (his other first names are Olatoundji and Gislain) is from the Republic of Benin, a West-African country with a history of French rule. The strong French influence in his native country, combined with the time he’s spent in France (his siblings still live there), sparked his interest in France’s national dish.
“I came to Chico to put my own identity into the food,” he said with a French accent.
Each crêpe on Gaba-Chabi’s menu contains his personal concepts. Breakfast crêpes are served all day (an “Omtatouille” crêpe with eggs and ratatouille is one of the most interesting on the menu), as are vegetarian, meat and dessert crêpes. I was drawn to the curry chicken crêpe ($6.99), and my boyfriend—in his usual desultory manner—chose the Péché Mignon ($7.25), a chicken crêpe with bananas and mushrooms. I was skeptical.
Gaba-Chabi invited us to watch him cook behind a low glass barrier along the counter. He dusted the flat, rounded hot plates with a little butter before pouring the pancake-like batter into the center and spreading it evenly on the plates with an offset spatula. When batter began to bubble, he flipped them with dexterity. For my curry chicken, he layered handfuls of jack cheese (my choice), sliced mushrooms, chicken breast strips, curry powder and a Mornay sauce—a white sauce with grated cheese. When the ingredients had fused, he folded four edges of the round crêpe into a square and topped it with a brush of butter and a hearty scoop of mango chutney.
For the mysterious Péché Mignon, he layered brown sugar, jack cheese, chicken breast strips, sliced bananas and mushrooms before covering the unusual mixture in Mornay sauce. When he brought the toasty crêpes to our booth a few minutes later, I was intrigued, to say the least, and very hungry.
The Mornay sauce had fused with the curry powder to create a flavorful, creamy sauce, and the generous scoop of mango chutney complemented the spices well. I tasted the Péché Mignon, and it was also yummy, but a little too adventurous for me. Upon taking a bite, I savored the cheesy chicken-mushroom combo, but was distracted by the unwelcome sweetness of banana. My date disagreed—he, a banana fanatic, was happy he had trusted the chef.
When I returned for lunch a few weeks later, Gaba-Chabi’s familiar face was behind the crêpe station, and as he mingled with customers, it seemed he had already acquired a few French-speaking regulars. I ordered a Farmer’s crêpe ($6.99), with thickly cut fresh tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, a generous portion of sliced avocados and my choice of cheddar cheese. The crêpe was crunchy on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside, and Gaba-Chabi had added some sort of yummy seasoning before he folded it up.
In the middle of my meal, I realized that I didn’t feel like I was eating alone at all. Gaba-Chabi’s friendly conversations keep the space lively and welcoming. I remain impressed by his ability to bring a sense of West-African pride and artful, imaginative French cuisine to a place like Chico while still taking the time to understand what community means to us. Merci beaucoup, Mike.