Crepe shoot

Yui Agarie shows off a fresh berries and cream crepe at Crepe N' Roll.

Yui Agarie shows off a fresh berries and cream crepe at Crepe N' Roll.

Photo/Allison Young

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Japanese crepes. Wait, what? I thought crepes were something you find in a French restaurant? However, crepes are also street food with French creperies serving the same function as hot dog stands or food trucks. In Japan, a single creperie in the Harajuku district of Tokyo—circa 1977—spawned dozens of shops now frequented by tourists and locals alike.

But what is a Japanese-style crepe? Actually, they’re pretty similar to the French tradition, though the Japanese version usually includes a lot less butter and the fillings are often fresh, raw or cured. Crepes can be sweet or savory, or combinations of both. Sweet crepes feature sauces, syrups, fruits, nuts, ice cream, whipped cream, and so on. Savory crepes include veggies, meats, cheeses, sauces, etc. Various batters can be used, though Crepe N’ Roll has settled on original style, buckwheat, green tea, and chocolate (gluten-free versions also available).

At Crepe N’ Roll, there are a variety of menu items, or a list of ingredients from which to select. Prices range from $4.25 to $7, and they make for a fairly filling, affordable meal. Having ordered, diners can watch as the chef carefully spreads batter onto the crepe iron, a round, flat cooking surface akin to a sideless skillet. A specialized tool known as a batter spreader is used to do exactly what the name implies, reminiscent of something used to smooth pavement. Ingredients are then added as the crepe cooks, then the whole thing is deftly separated from the iron with a long, thin spatula that could easily be mistaken for a paint stirrer.

This process results in a fresh product that’s then rolled loosely and placed in a paper cone before being served. While initially entertaining to watch, the wait does tend to drag on a lot for something that competes directly with wraps and sandwiches (both of which are produced much faster). Although crepes do require more time and skill, the bottleneck at Crepe N’ Roll is that everything is done by a single employee.

In an otherwise empty shop on a Thursday evening, the young couple ahead of us ordered a crepe each, and then my wife and I ordered three savory crepes in order to try some variety. The chef produced each crepe individually in series, which meant it took more than half an hour before we were served. We then ordered a pair of sweet crepes, which were still in progress when we’d finished the first three. On weekends, they have two chefs on hand, but if they’re serving more than a couple of people you can expect to wait a while.

I ordered the Italian Favorite (basil pesto, spinach, mozzarella, chicken) and the Ham and Cheese (ham, cheddar, spring mix, spicy mayo), whereas my wife built her own (feta, spring mix, avocado, turkey, spicy mayo). I expected a lot more zing from the “Italian,” but it just wasn’t there, and my other wrap was also pretty bland. However, my wife’s wrap was really tasty so perhaps it’s best to use some imagination and build your own concoction.

For dessert, my wife chose the Harajuku (chocolate batter, strawberries, cheesecake, strawberry sauce, strawberry ice cream), and it was absolutely delicious. I went with the Japanese Favorite (green tea batter, azuki bean, whipped cream, green tea ice cream, pocky sticks), which I unfortunately did not love. At least now I know that sweetened, mashed bean paste isn’t something I enjoy. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste.

The decor is spartan yet clean. There are a variety of teas, juices, and coffee drinks available, and the server/chef/cashier was friendly and helpful. Crepe N’ Roll has been open for less than a year, so perhaps with more experience they’ll find their rhythm and pick up the tempo.