By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
I wanted cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers and beer, a shot of whiskey. Laura wanted Mexican food — chips and salsa, top-shelf mezcal and tamales. New Mexican would've been all right with her. A bowl of pozole, a plate of tacos and thee. She was chasing after some memory of our destitution and poverty in Albuquerque, some deep-brain hit of the good shit from back in the days before we had cats, health insurance, cable TV.
We were in a celebration frame of mind, but we had two very different ideas of the appropriate food to go along with our party mood. How we ended up eating crepes, I couldn't tell you.
To me, crepes — along with quiche and, a little less so, pap like tartiflette and raclette — have always been the baby food of French cuisine, the mewling, ingratiating inner child who warrants no more than a false smile, a gentle pat on the head and a kick in the pants when he doesn't move along quickly enough. That the grand, mother cuisine that gifted the world with such delights as the sautéed livers of force-fed geese, shellfish poached alive in boiling wine and pig face in mustard sauce could've also considered gritty pancakes folded around bananas and topped with chocolate sauce a worthwhile contribution to historical gastronomy was anathema to me. The quiche, at least, has some kind of loopy connection to the mousse and soufflé (dishes best reserved for preparation by the intellectual kitchen monk with the calm of a Zen master), and tartiflette is essentially just cheese and potatoes. But crepes? There aren't many areas in which the American hash-slinger wins hands-down over the French chef, but in the construction of pancakes, we own the field.
2816 E. 3rd Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
1512 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
And yet there we were — Laura and I, standing in the freezing cold in Cherry Creek, staring in through the windows of the original Crepes 'n Crepes (there's another, newer location in Writer Square).
"There's no tables," Laura said, a note of hopeful expectation in her voice. "And I'm not gonna wait for a crepe."
"Me neither, but we're here. When we're done, we can always go to the Cricket and get drunk."
Shrugging, she acquiesced, the cold outside and the promise of beers after no doubt a powerful motivator. I opened the door for her, and the minute I did, I felt like I was being lifted on a wave of sound, of color. The place was busy, with tables crowded close together, crowded against walls, crowded with people, everyone talking and laughing and eating, drinking café au lait and hot chocolate with chantilly cream. The polished wood bar seemed to glow. The floor was full of servers — girls in black aprons, black-and-white-striped T-shirts and tattoos.
And as we waited, I remembered that those American genius pancake-makers had to learn their tricks somewhere. Though we've had johnnycakes and oatcakes and primitive latkes here since forever, our forever is significantly shorter than that of the Europeans. In France, they've been eating crepes and galettes since the Middle Ages — since the first buckwheat plants arrived from Asia in the twelfth century and took to the temperate climes of Brittany like they'd been born there. The galette (a fat buckwheat cake that some say actually predates the loaf of bread) came first and was a primary source of sustenance for the farmers and peasants of the area, fried in the pan and served with sausages, pickles and salted butter, or cut into strips and plunked into broth (buckwheat dumplings). The crepe (and, in particular, the crepes au froment) came later — first cooked flat, between two hot stones, then in specialized pans that would someday make the fortunes of the geniuses behind innumerable gourmet-cookware stores. And really, if you want to get seriously academic about it, the crepe can be traced eleven hundred years further back, to the first century, when Apicus scribbled down a recipe for ova svongia ex lacte — more an omelet than a crepe proper, but the dish from which the crepe would eventually take its name: crispus, Latin for crispy, lacy and/or wavy.
Flash forward roughly 2,000 years to me, standing with eyes closed in the narrow, cleared space between the door and the bar, smelling the sweet-sour stink of Grand Marnier in the pan, of grill oil and warm breath and savory spices. And suddenly I am remembering eating crepes — at breakfasts out with my family when I'd order crepes (actually blintzes) simply because they were different from the eggs, bacon, pancakes and waffles (offspring of the galette) that my parents and my little brother were having; at a creperie in New York City, where I first had poireaux grilles (the roasted-leek crepe that's probably the closest thing still served to the ancient crepes of Northern France); celebrating, again, the end of a family camping trip at a nowhere bar up near the Canadian border, my parents drinking banana daiquiris, me eating crepes with bloody-red cherries and the stinging bite of armagnac (so wrong — it should've been prunes — and yet just so right).