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FOOD REVIEW: what crepes?

what crepe?  .  Royal Oak, MI

I was invited by Stephanie Givens to attend the Media Day for what crepe? in Royal Oak last week. My initial response was to pass on this as I figured that you can’t make a truly informed review of a restaurant when they are all geared up for it and ready to give you their best. After being convinced otherwise, and being told that you are treated very well at these functions, I relented…and thank God I did.

What I didn’t think of was that you should review a place when they are at their best, presenting their ‘A Game’, because in essence, that is what we all want to experience. We all have off days and moments when we are not at our best, and that is normal. But we strive for the best experiences in our lives, especially when dining out, whether because we are truly ‘foodies’ at heart, or are trying to impress someone. If you are either one of these, what crepe? will more than satisfy both, and send you home feeling like you should go to confession for all the sinful indulgences you just experienced.

Now rest assured I was going to do my best to ensure a legitimate un-biased review. I did no research ahead of time. I talked to no one, didn’t visit any sites, any reviews…anything. I wanted to go in with a completely blank canvas in my head as to what to expect. It was even to the point where I walked in and was wearing jeans, my old worn-down and sweat stained Siena Heights College baseball cap and a sweatshirt. Boy did I feel a bit underdressed when I walked into the French-inspired décor, smelled the candles burning, saw the cranberry red walls and deep red velvet drapes, antique ornamentation and wine racks filled with bottles. Thank God all those concerns quickly went away as soon as I was seated and greeted by my waitress, Amy, an energetic and smiling blond whose passion for the food and experience at what crepe? was ever-present. She was always willing to offer suggestions on what was good, based on what my tastes were, in everything from the beer and wine selection to the appetizers and main entrée. She didn’t seem to just ‘push’ certain dishes, but really seemed to care what I was looking for. (Lest I forget Eva, a more subdued, but always smiling, brunette, who took over for Amy at shift change. Ours was a relationship where as she would walk by, we would simply smile at each other because she knew I was enjoying myself immensely, and I knew I looked like a dork enjoying myself so immensely! It was a win-win.) The overall vibe I got from the waitstaff was that they are more than just taking the orders and serving the food, they are the ambassadors between customer and kitchen, ensuring a perfect experience in taste.

As for visual stimulation and décor, as well as the menu itself, the customers have Paul Jenkins, Jr., or PJ as everyone calls him, to thank for that. As the owner, designer and overall hands-on visionary behind what crepe?, this 37 year old entrepreneur and fast-moving dreamer has been able to take his inspirations from all around the world and condense them down to this perfect little 50-seat bistro. From his time spent dining in Café Crepe’ in Toronto, Canada, the main inspiration behind What Crepes?, to his two (2) favorite global restaurants of Sotu Sotu and Nobu, PJ has been able to take the best parts of his dining experiences and localize them right in our neighborhood. To get an idea of how What Crepes? came to fruition, think of this Cliff Notes® explanation: a trip to Toronto with his girlfriend led to eating at a regular stop of theirs, Café Crepe’, which led to the idea that “I can do this!”. 4 hours spent in the Café taking notes, snapping pictures and dreaming. A flight home, and spent the entire night brainstorming and researching options for restaurants, crepes, and anything else that came to mind. The following morning, while walking thru Royal Oak, PJ saw a ‘For Lease’ sign at 317 S. Washington Ave, and as if acting on pure gut instinct, called the landlord. Two weeks later, during a Business Plan meeting with the landlord, and with mocked-up menus, hats, and logo’s with him, the landlord offered the location and PJ signed the lease to begin. The rest is culinary and dining history.

The menu, which can be found at what crepe?, is phenominal. Granted, I only had one appetizer, entree’ and dessert, but from the menu descriptions, as well as in talking with the Amy and Eva, and PJ directly, their choice to use fresh quality ingredients instead of quantity and home-grown vegetables in their own garden behind the restaurant make all the difference in the world when fork meets tongue.

Each bite of my appetizer, the black pepper encrusted Ahi tuna with Asian vegetable slaw over a bed of sweet, purposely burnt and crispy crepes, with a side of wasabi mayo, was a perfect combination of sweet, savory and spicy. Thank God for mistakes in the kitchen where one can find out that a burnt crepe is not necessarily destined for the reject pile, but in fact, a great base component to support a great dish.

The main entrée’, a pan-seared Ribeye Truffle with wild mushrooms, spinach, swiss and truffle zip sauce all wrapped up in a soft crepe shell, was…well, overwhelmingly good. Each bite was filled with deep savory meaty goodness and combined with the sweet flavor of the crepe’…amazing. One small, yet big, detail. Don’t let the word crepe’ mislead your thoughts on what the portions of these meals are going to be. I am a rather large guy, and can polish off my share of food. The ribeye entrée was massive. Think Mexicantown burrito. I only finished half, even though my taste buds were screaming to finish off the rest. It was my stomach that prevailed in convincing me to take the rest home and save room for dessert. If you have a disconnect between your taste buds and your stomach, you might very well be in trouble when eating here. I suggest wearing loose-fitting clothes and planning on taking a food-induced coma nap very soon after your meal.

For dessert, I introduce to you the Nutty Monkey. An 8” tall layered concoction of bananas (I despise bananas and their healthy potassium. Amy recommended I switch to strawberries instead. Perfect choice, Amy. You rock!), warm Nutella, vanilla bean ice cream, candied pecans, chocolate powder and whipped cream all piled on a base of warm folded crepes’. I finished off this bad-ass-mofo. I didn’t care the costs or repercussions afterwards. If I had dosed off on my drive home and had been hit by the train crossing Main Street, I would have died a happy, albeit mangled, man. It was that good. It was that sinful. I would say that the visit was worth just the dessert alone, but I can honestly say that that is the case for each part of my meal.

Some places skimp on certain aspects of the dining experience, offering less than stellar appetizers or generic desserts, but that is not the case with PJ. He has truly thought thru each and every aspect of the dining experience here. To deny yourself, or your friends, this experience is criminal. Stop by, don’t plan on going anywhere for a few hours, and simply enjoy the ride from beginning to end. I haven’t even mentioned the wine and beer selection, the $20 All-You-Can-Drink Wine Nights offered, the Movie Nights, the hand-made silver studded tables and non-matching comfortable chairs, or even the fact that the soundtrack to your night is supplied by PJ’s personal musical inspirations/selection and NOT Pandora. There is so much more to what makes what crepes? special that I could go on forever. But I am going to stop. Go in for yourself. Seek out the details that make PJ’s efforts all worth while and the 2-hour wait evenings a no-brainer. Although, I might suggest maybe going between 3-6pm for less crowd and more of an opportunity to talk with PJ as he roams about. In the hours’ time I was able to speak with him during this meal, I couldn’t help but feel connected and motivated to do something grand on my own. You will definitely walk away having felt like you gained a friend… a friend with a really kick ass pad, great music and soul-fulfilling food.

Brett J. Lawrence