What Crepe? offers lots of tasty variations on its namesake dish
The owners of what crepe? in Birmingham and Royal Oak decided to launch their third restaurant in Ann Arbor, since "it was a great area for a great product," said manager Dennis Williams. "There's nothing like it here."
What crepe? opened Feb. 24. The most striking element is the dramatic, awe-inspiring transformation of the space. This was formerly home to a short-lived restaurant called Squares, a plain, open space that served food cafeteria-style.
It is impossible to recognize it now. This welcoming space has the look and feel of a French bistro, with an eclectic mix of design. Gone is the cafeteria setup. Instead, this is an elegant yet casual sit-down restaurant, with hardwood floors, brick red walls and crystal chandeliers.
White paper covers the black tables, while a large glass pitcher of water with no ice, European style, is there to refill the tiny glasses provided. There are an eclectic mix of knickknacks throughout, including a bookshelf with French cookbooks. Behind the bar, a large flat-screen television plays classic movies, while French cafe music serenades brunch diners. Glass is all that separates customers from the kitchen, so you can watch the chefs prepare the crepes.
214 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor
- Hours: Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday, closed. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover.
- Liquor: Yes.
- Prices: Moderate. Entree crepes range from $12 to $16.
- Noise level: Moderate
- Wheelchair access: Yes
There are two dozen "savory" crepes, main-course dishes, including vegan and gluten-free options, as well as a dozen sweet dessert crepes. You can choose from the options on the menu or build your own crepe, selecting from meat, seafood, cheese, sauce and veggie categories.
We started with drinks and I opted for the latte. It was frothy, full-bodied and provided a perfect amount of caffeine; on my next visit, the cappuccino I ordered was of the same high quality.
While the dessert crepes are paper-thin, served the traditional way, the main-course crepes provide a filling entree. On my first visit, I ordered the deja vu crepe. It was enormous, with a sculpture-like appearance. The crepe was stuffed with fresh smoked salmon, Swiss cheese and asparagus, accented with a slightly spicy Hollandaise sauce. The flavors blended well for a rich, filling offering.
I decided to order the chicken truffle crepe the second time around, adding a blend of shiitake, oyster, cremini and button mushrooms, and it was wonderful. The chicken was marinated in a delicious sauce (a house recipe the manager would not reveal), and it combined well with the melted Swiss cheese and fresh spinach. The truffle zip, a mix of soy sauce, butter and truffle oil, nicely accented the crepe.
The pan-seared tofu, red onion, avocado, tomatoes, spinach and feta in the Old Woodward crepe individually tasted fine, but this dish lacked a sauce to tie the ingredients together.
Basic side dishes here are a cut above. The scrambled eggs were thick and moist, while the bacon was outstanding. With a sugary maple flavoring, this was far better than the thin strips served at many restaurants. The pieces were so thick they had to be cut with a fork and knife.
The dessert crepes also were artfully presented, with a mountain of whipped cream and chocolate drizzled on top. They tasted as good as they looked. My daughter got her day off to a sugary start with The Patriot, in which creamy vanilla ice cream was tucked inside a crepe and surrounded by fresh bananas, blueberries and strawberries. A layer of nutella added more sweetness, as did the homemade whipped cream.
I thought this was a sinful concoction until I tasted the even richer What? Chocolate Eclair, which also included shaved white chocolate and vanilla bean white custard. It was beyond decadent, a splurge for anyone's sweet tooth.
The mixed berry was a mix of raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, served in a slightly tart raspberry sauce, also a great offering. We also tried the s'more, in which graham cracker crumbs and chocolate sauce were served over a crepe filled with marshmallow and peanut butter. I thought the peanut butter was a bit overpowering and could be eliminated, especially since the spread isn't part of a traditional s'more.
On our second visit, on a weekend night, the restaurant had an entirely different vibe. Instead of jazz, Motown played on the speakers and patrons sipped cocktails instead of coffee.
We started with the savory appetizer flight, which came with three different spreads and was served with slightly sweet "crispies," resembling flat, unsalted chips. The artichoke dip was better than the typically mayonnaise-laden dish. It had a broth-like consistency and contained delicious chunks of artichokes. The salmon pate had a dense taste and was thick and creamy, while the queso offered a spicier option. I appreciated the way these different spreads complemented each other, though I think they would have been better served with crusty French bread instead of the crispies. I didn't much care for the soup of the day, spinach feta, which had a watery broth and was overly salty.
I want to give a special shout-out to our server on our first visit, Phill, who had a welcoming and contagious enthusiasm. After he checked in on us and asked our opinion of our meals, and we told him that our food was delicious, he responded with genuine pleasure. On our second visit, our server was quieter and seemed a bit nervous, though she was nonetheless pleasant. Though our entrees were delivered promptly on both visits, we needed to wait longer for the dessert crepes the second time.
Premium food comes at premium prices. The most basic dessert crepe is $8, while many of the savory crepes are $12, but I felt the quality justified the price.
On both our visits, this place was bustling. That doesn't surprise me. If you're a crepe lover, or even someone who just likes crepes, you'll be happy for this new addition to the Ann Arbor dining scene.
Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for AnnArbor.com.