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Crepe Expectations

Gary Keeley
Robert Scheer

Creme de la Crepe: Gary Keeley is the proud papa of the 23-year-old SC tradition, the Crepe Place.

Some landmarks just keep on ticking, like the irrepressible Crepe Place, catering to its following with delicious consistency

By Christina Waters

GATHER 'ROUND AND LISTEN UP--I expect some of you out there will be able to chant along. If it wasn't the very first fern bar in Santa Cruz, the Solarium was an early sprouter. And after its demise, the Thunder Deli came in and revived the cult following that loved the old Victorian on Soquel Avenue, where the garden in summer is one of the sweetest spots on the planet.

Most recently the Crepe Place, itself a two-decade-old local tradition, moved into the vintage dining rooms, filling the burnished hardwood interior with the sweet smell of custom-made crepes. And who among us hasn't feasted on these miraculous creations, overflowing with non-traditional fillings and good vibes?

So it was one of those pleasurable, sentimental dining journeys a few weeks ago that found us seated at the front bar, ordering glasses of house red wine, laughing and catching up on other peoples' lives until our table was ready.

Part of the point of coming to the Crepe Place is that decisions aren't global problems. You know you're going to have some sort of crepe or salad and soup, and you're going to end up feeling all warm and cozy when you leave. Exactly like we did.

Some of my happiest dining-out memories arrived at the table with that familiar little loaf of warm honey wheat bread. Definitely nostalgia bread, and still as good as we'd remembered, we agreed, tearing huge chunks of the soft dough and savoring its hippie-era perfume.

Like an entire produce market on a plate, the house dinner salad offers a generous window onto the world of fresh, raw vegetables. Crisp romaine, sliced purple cabbage, a froth of grated carrots, sliced mushrooms, crunchy celery, tomatoes (okay, out-of-season, not-technically-ripe tomatoes) and a dusting of sunflower seeds. This colorful assemblage of the best and freshest came glistening with honey lemon dressing--still great, still my favorite. Amazing back when nobody did anything like it, this salad is still amazing now that it embodies the apotheosis of retro/natural.

My veteran dining partner Rosemary was quite smitten with her large bowl of very zippy dahl--a dahl that provided a gentle slap in the face, spice-wise, as well as in the sesame seed, chile and onion departments. Hot soup on a chilly night is surely an eternal archetype. Smiling a lot, we finished up every last liquid lesson.

Okay, now it was crepe time--and sure enough, our quick-witted server swung by our table bearing a gargantuan special called el torito ($12 dinner) and an order of the dish that launched the legend: the mighty spinach crepe ($10 dinner). We sighed. Paused. And then dug in.

Juices, fresh and warm, oozed with each forkful of utterly perfect crepe and expertly sautéed and assembled interiors. Tasting of late summer, the abundant spinach romanced its bedfellows of creamy cheeses, mushrooms and onions. Very sensuous, I agreed, sneaking my fork over toward Rosemary's plate. My crepe was even more generously packed with cheese, red bell peppers and slices of lean, sautéed beef. Lovely stuff it was, with no pretensions and plenty of bold flavor.

"It's even better than I remembered," Rosemary said, speaking for both of us. Silence descended upon our table. And we attempted to put a dent in these gorgeous crepes.

"Attempted" is the operant term here, folks, because we knew we were on assignment and had a God-given obligation to sample dessert. Fine.

There are options at the Crepe Place that could easily send Julia Child into pastry overload. Lemon poppy seed cake--killer. Mile-high chocolate cake--to die for. Carrot cake--sin on a plate. And then there's the infamous, the notorious, the one, the only Tunisian donut ($3.50)--larger than the Sahara, fresher than a lover's blush and, when it arrived with only the lightest dusting of powdered sugar we'd ordered, just as barely sweet as a long good-bye. The Tunisian donut is what dessert should be when you need something distinctive, something with memorable texture, but not sweet, or gooey, or swimming with cream-laden calories.

Our forks probed, prodded and ultimately prevailed. The Tunisian donut must remain, as it has done for many years, one of the loveliest possible finishes to an only-in-Santa Cruz dinner. Like this one at the Crepe Place.

The Crepe Place

Address: 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Phone: 429-6994
Hours: 11am­midnight Mon.­Thu., 11am­1am Fri., 10am­1am Sat., 10am­midnight Sun.
Price: Inexpensive
Ambiance: *** Victorian warmth
Service: *** Friendly, swift
Cuisine: *** Reach and grasp are in sync
Overall: Few landmarks maintain their reputations for straightforward satisfaction this well--a durable experience

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.

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