If Disney built a suburban shopping center, it might well look something like Lafayette Village in North Raleigh. The center’s designers pulled out all the stops to create the illusion of a European village, from stucco walls with faux shutters and window boxes to stone paver “streets” and a large central courtyard complete with classic lion’s head fountain.
Simply Crepes fits into that scene like a flower vendor at a street market in Provence. A cozy L-shaped wine-and-espresso bar greets you just inside the door. Beyond, a dining room furnished with homespun antiques, wrought iron and crystal chandeliers, spindle-back chairs and Oriental rugs on hardwood floors makes it easy to imagine you’ve walked into a French countryside inn.
An open kitchen makes it clear that the aim is to provide substance to back up all the eye candy. By and large, the kitchen delivers.
You’ll search in vain for the famous crepes Suzette (fire departments frown on tableside flambéing these days), but you will find pretty much every other imaginable variation on the crepe theme here.
And a few you probably didn’t imagine. The Crepe-adilla, for instance, a French twist on a Mexican quesadilla that’s one of a handful of starter options. Or the Philly Cheesesteak crepe, which you’ll find on the entree list along with the likes of the Reuben and Thai Style crepes.
The Buffalo Chicken crepe is an inspired innovation, serving up boneless nuggets deep-fried in crepe batter, tossed in homemade Buffalo wing sauce, and wrapped up with lettuce and blue cheese crumbles in a traditional crepe.
The same crepe batter turns up again on the appetizer list, where it makes a surprisingly suitable crust for fried pickle chips. If the kitchen would take more care in seeing that multiple pickles don’t get fried together in a single clump of batter, this one would be an unqualified success.
In the meantime, the French onion soup won’t let you down, as long as you don’t mind that provolone and parmesan stand in for the customary Gruyère.
Nor is the kitchen a stickler for strict authenticity when it comes to traditional crepes. “Creamy Alfredo sauce” is a recurring theme across a wide range of filling options, from ham and asparagus to chicken cordon bleu.
That’s not to say that Alfredo is an unwelcome guest at the party. But if the fact that you’re in a creperie has you craving something a little more, well, French, then you might find what you’re looking for in the tarragon chicken crepe.
I can give a qualified recommendation for the seafood crepe, too. whose only disappointment is the lack of any discernible basil in the promised “homemade basil cream sauce.”
OK, make that two disappointments, though to be fair, the menu does warn you that the filling includes “faux crabmeat” along with scallops. But the jumbo shrimp are fine, and the roasted red pepper sauce that garnishes the plate adds a nice smoky counterpoint. And the presentation – crepe tied into a fat purse with a scallion ribbon – is delightful.
Breakfast crepes are served all day (the restaurant opens at 7:30 a.m. and remains open throughout the day), and cover a similarly diverse spectrum. Options range from Simply Breakfast (scrambled eggs, cheddar and your choice of ham, andouille sausage or thick-cut bacon) to The Berry Gulée, a distinctive egg-battered crepe folded around fresh berries.
This being a creperie, it isn’t surprising that the menu includes nearly as many sweet crepes as savory. Temptations include nine variations on the classic dessert theme, a list that’s got you covered from inner child (banana split) to sophisticated adult (chocolate mousse). The menu cautions that you have to be over 21 to order the Nutella Grand Marnier crepe, but I couldn’t detect a whiff of the orange liqueur in the one I ordered.
If you’re a purist – or just looking for a light dessert – you might even turn to the breakfast menu. There you’ll find the classically simple Traditional crepe, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with your choice of homemade sauce: chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or lemon.
Or pure maple syrup, whose presence on the menu can be traced to the owner’s roots. Pierre Héroux, who founded Simply Crepes with his wife, Karen, grew up in Quebec, where his French-Canadian family made their own maple syrup. The family now lives in upstate New York, where they make crepes using the same generations-old Héroux family recipe at two more locations.
On the walls of the Raleigh restaurant are a few vintage black and white photographs of Héroux in his younger days, tapping maple trees and making sugar with his family. Sweet evidence, you might say, that for all its stylish looks and upscale setting, Simply Crepes is at heart a mom-and-pop shop.
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