The French connection

The Crepe Cafe

901 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

We love our fusion in this town. We put cream cheese on sushi, lime-infused white rice in burritos and barbecue sauce on pizza. And the sick thing is, it’s sometimes better than the authentic stuff. But there are also times when authentic wins out—at the Crepe Café, for instance.

My dining companions and I passed up the cafe’s Kathmandu crepe, tricked out with mango and chutney, and the salsa-and-sour cream identity crisis of the Fiesta crepe. We were determined to sink our teeth into some good old French culinary culture. And at the Crepe Café, it was a winner.

“You wouldn’t necessarily find this in a crepe in France. But it’s good,” said my lunch companion, watching a deliciously thick orange sauce drip from a forked chunk of Poulet Provencal crepe.

My companion, who spent a year of her life in France and who I commissioned to dine with me for that reason, ordered a pancake stuffed with ratatouille, herb-roasted chicken, cheese and mornay sauce. Sure, mornay sauce is technically French, originating somewhere between the 16th and 19th centuries, but if you go to France, walk the streets and eat as the locals do, you don’t often find crepes that elaborate.

Ham and cheese. Lemon, butter and sugar. Nutella. Simplicity. Coq au vin and beef bourguignon, both classically French, aren’t usually stuffed between the folds of a French pancake. But that doesn’t mean the Crepe Café’s doing anything wrong. Far from it. They also offer those simple French throwbacks, right at the top of the menu’s center spread, and on the same page that offers a crepe stuffed with prawns and Creole sauce.

My friends and I walked into the former La Bou building on K Street without expectations. After all, Sacramento’s major crepe staple, Crepeville, is about as “authentic” as Chipotle. But the Crepe Café pleasantly defied our ambivalence, filling us with a nostalgia we could taste.

The interior is decked out like a real French cafe. Red and wicker woven chairs, table markers written in a simple black French scrawl, water carafes on the house and every chef in a puffy white hat. It’s charming, and reminiscent of the cafe binges that occurred during one friend’s year in Aix en Provence, another friend’s summer in Paris, and my own greasy, backpack-laden whirlwind through the capital city.

The summer-Parisian ordered the Ratatouille crepe, stuffed with the bell pepper-zucchini-tomato-eggplant-onion medley that fills many a real French pancake. The deep, earthy flavors, particularly of the zucchini touched with garlic, made her lunch hour sing.

I went for the memories: a few homesick days in France soothed by the simple, soul-warming saltiness of ham and Swiss crepes. The one at Crepe Café has mushrooms in it, too. A perfect addition. It hit my taste buds in all the right places, made me smile and roll my eyes with satisfaction.

And my friend with the Poulet Provencal crepe was smiling, too. “In some ways, it’s better than the plain crepes you find in France. It’s definitely more authentic than Crepeville,” she said.

According to the Web site, the Crepe Café brand has served “genuine French crepes since 1976,” the year its owner, Michel Bloch, came to America. The French businessman set up shop off and on at fairs and universities until he opened the Crepe Institute, which promises “to teach the art of making crepes and how to establish a crepe business at a desired location.”

His newest creperie rests in a desired location, indeed. It’s positioned in a perfect few-block radius between the Downtown Plaza and the Capitol. And it’s proximity to pedestrian-friendly K Street is ideal for random lunchers like my friends and I, who just wanted an excuse to touch fresh air during the work day.

Our relatively thin (relative to Crepeville’s two-man portions) pancakes were filling in their own right, but journalistic integrity mandated that we continue to stuff our faces, this time with something sweet. We ordered a Crepe Suzette, a French classic. Our first bites were Marnier-heavy. (“Are we about to get drunk at lunch!?”) But as the dainty triangles disappeared from our plates, delivering more of that sharp-yet-sweet marmalade with real orange slices to our taste buds, we grew to love old Suz.

And we grew to love the cafe, with its big windows and fenced patio, perfect for people watching, its prompt table service—and at least one server speaking in an authentic French accent. And the fact that when we looked at the time, a magical, calming hour had been spent in the company of good friends, far from our computer screens. If there’s one thing that’s truly French, it’s a long lunch in the absence of a laptop, a Blackberry or the burden of thoughts on work; just pure relaxation, good company, and most importantly, great food.