Really Thin Pancakes
Not just for the French anymore – this popular item is being reinvented and reinterpreted here at home
Illustration by Vikki Wiercinski
Canadians are all too familiar with the crpe. The popular thin pancake-like wrap, folded over assorted fillings, is not only a favourite across the pond, but a staple in Canada as well. But what we may find surprising is that the crpe is making its culinary rounds throughout the United States and back again, returning home as a trendy vehicle for fusion-filled creations.
“People are always looking for interesting foods, and we have a lot innovative people experimenting with molecular gastronomy,” says Chef Brad Smoliak, owner of Kitchen by Brad, which provides dinner party hosting and cooking classes. “But what I find now is that people want some really basic comfort food with a slight twist.”
Having recently returned from the National Restaurant Association 2014 conference in Chicago, Smoliak says the conference saw many vendors showcasing creative crpe dishes. “I saw a lot of savoury crpe dishes rather than sweet ones – a lot of Mexican flavours and cheese stuffed crpes – and I definitely see that as a new wave,” says Smoliak.
Why has the crpe become so popular? Smoliak points to the obvious. “Really, the crpe is just a different vessel. If you have someone who eats a gluten-free or vegetarian diet, for instance, you can stuff them with lentils – or you can just play around with it a little bit,” says Smoliak. The chef points to one of his own creations as an example: A crpe stuffed with braised wild boar, crushed potatoes, carmelized onions and garlic, served with a mustard beer cream sauce. “Take whatever flavours you like. Make them with butter chicken if you want. Why not?”
Of course, traditional crpes have always been served both savoury and sweet. Edmontonians need only look as far as The Creperie – a French restaurant with a 40-year history serving the dish – to know that.
Mahoney Kassab, The Creperie’s manager, says that crpes have always been some of the most popular items on the menu. “In 40 years, we haven’t had to change the menu much,” says Kassab. “People have always liked traditional crpes.”
But of course, the Creperie has never snubbed its nose at the prospect of experimental creations. The restaurant introduced a jambalaya crpe during the rise in popularity of Cajun cuisine in the ’90s, and even features an Asian-inspired ginger beef crpe on its menu. Recently, it has catered to the brunch crowd by offering breakfast scramble crpe creations.
Across the river in Old Strathcona, Under the High Wheel co-owner Jennifer Ogle features five different crpes on her menu – including ones that accommodate a crowd with dietary restrictions. “Our goal was to make old-world comfort food. And there weren’t that many places that served crpes when we opened,” says Ogle. “We also decided to do a buckwheat one that was gluten-free and vegan so we could serve crpes to people who can’t generally go out and eat them.” The crpes have since become some of the most popular items on Under the High Wheel’s menu. “We have had days where we have sold about 100 a day,” says Ogle.
Both Ogle and Smoliak believe that the dish’s popularity comes from its versatility. “You can practically do anything with them,” says Ogle, “You could even roll them up and take them on your way like a burrito if you want.” Smoliak agrees. “They can even be crispy. I crisp them up in the oven for a bit of crunch. That’s what is great about crpes. People really want that recognizable stuff, but also like to get creative and playful without reinventing the wheel.”