Canadians are all too familiar with the crepe. 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 crepe 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 crepe dishes. “I saw a lot of savoury crepe dishes rather than sweet ones – a lot of Mexican flavours and cheese stuffed crepes – and I definitely see that as a new wave,” says Smoliak.
Why has the crepe become so popular? Smoliak points to the obvious. “Really, the crepe 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 crepe 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 crepes 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 crepes 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 crepes.”
But of course, the Creperie has never snubbed its nose at the prospect of experimental creations. The restaurant introduced a jambalaya crepe during the rise in popularity of Cajun cuisine in the ’90s, and even features an Asian-inspired ginger beef crepe on its menu. Recently, it has catered to the brunch crowd by offering breakfast scramble crepe creations.
Across the river in Old Strathcona, Under the High Wheel co-owner Jennifer Ogle features five different crepes 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 crepes when we opened,” says Ogle. “We also decided to do a buckwheat one that was gluten-free and vegan so we could serve crepes to people who can’t generally go out and eat them.” The crepes 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 crepes. People really want that recognizable stuff, but also like to get creative and playful without reinventing the wheel.”