In the pantheon of bread-based handheld carbohydrates—think tortillas, pita pockets and Ethiopian injera—the crepe stands out for its elegant simplicity. At its best, the paper-thin pancake, whose bubbled pattern of browning is as defining as a fingerprint, evokes an amber-lit bistro or a seaside creperie spinning out fresh confections stuffed with ham and cheese, fruit and chantilly or chocolate. But at its worst, a crepe recalls little more than a pancake wrapped around a haphazard handful of incoherent ingredients. Somewhere along that spectrum stretching from the coast of Brittany to the sidewalks of downtown Nashville, there’s Krayp Kafé.
Since early 2007, we’ve been looking forward to the arrival of Krayp Kafé, the intriguing little storefront wedged between Chile Burrito and a parking garage on Fourth Avenue North. We can only assume that the nearly yearlong delay in its launch was the result of assiduous attention to detail. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the design of the efficient nook, which boasts an open kitchen with gleaming stainless-steel coffee-brewing equipment, two round griddles, a dining counter and five stools. With a sleek and monochromatic decor of chrome and glass, custom-designed concrete countertops, faux-brick walls and a subtle undertone of European club music pulsing in the background, Krayp Kafé almost recalls a twee Parisian snack boutique. But any flicker of nostalgia for the Champs Elysées vanishes like the steam rising from a well-seasoned pan upon first sight of the orange-and-green logo, which simultaneously butchers both the spelling and pronunciation of a food that should rhyme with “strep.”
The core of Krayp Kafé’s eraser-board menu is a selection of about a half-dozen savory crepes, ranging from avocado and mixed veggie to smoked salmon and cream cheese. There are also breakfast crepes and dessert crepes. Each crepe is handmade to order on one of two round irons. A chef ladles batter onto the iron, then distributes it evenly across the surface using a wooden T-shaped tool. When the thin batter begins to cook, the chef deftly scrapes it from the surface (or not so deftly—one chef says she still mangles one in four attempts) and begins the filling process. The finished product is then folded into a triangle and wrapped in paper for the customer to eat like a falafel.
Fundamentally, the crepes are executed well enough, though we might have liked ours to be cooked a few seconds longer to develop a lacy, crispy edge and a slightly more brunette hue. And for the most part, the ingredients were respectably fresh, including sliced avocado, mixed greens, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and smoked salmon.
Where things started to break down was in the combinations and ratios. For example, the avocado-and-mixed-vegetable crepe was little more than a few slices of avo with a tussle of spring mix. When we asked the chef about the specific mixture of vegetables, he—bless his heart—began to name the individual lettuce leaves contained in the spring mix. In the case of the prosciutto and smoked salmon crepes, the delicate meats were overwhelmed in the folds of crepe, with the overriding flavor being that of the spongy bread. In a couple of the combinations, a light drizzle of vinaigrette helped unify the flavors, but for the most part, there was little to help marry the ingredients into a cohesive combination. Nor were the ingredients of such quality as to merit standing alone. Even the simple addition of honey mustard would have enlivened the crepe stuffed with a Jenga block of ham and melted shredded mozzarella.
On the sweet side of the menu, we found a few treats that we enjoyed, in part because we expected less of them than we did of the savory lunch items. In particular, the pineapple-and-raisin crepe with homemade custard—served on a Styrofoam plate—would make an ample breakfast or a rich afternoon snack. Strawberries and whipped cream (available also with chocolate whipped cream) was also a simple confection, noteworthy for the abundant mounds of fresh cream. (For anyone salivating over the possibility of chocolate crepes, be forewarned that Krayp Kafé uses chocolate chips and not the heavenly hazelnut-chocolate spread Nutella, which is often served in traditional French creperies. But if you ask, your server might scrounge up a jar of the real thing.)
We also enjoyed the signature milk shake made with green tea ice cream and served with a layer of liquid brown sugar in the bottom of the glass, not unlike the heavy layer of grenadine floating in the bottom of a tequila sunrise. But we did not take even a second sip of a very disappointing margarita “kokktail,” a blend of antifreeze-colored fruit juice and soda,
To give Krayp Kafé its due, the restaurant has taken on the ambitious challenge of introducing to Nashvillians a relatively novel food group. Someone has to be the trailblazer, or we’d never get things like burritos or falafel. And its owners have done a heroic job of hiring. On all our visits, we found the crepe-makers (crepeurs?) to be helpful, forthcoming and unusually enthusiastic about their unusual job. (That said, in four lunchtime visits, we never did encounter an owner.)
They’re also off to a good start creating a brand image. With details such as concrete countertops inlaid with the company logo (a pointy-faced fox), and other thoughtful touches of corporate branding, Krayp Kafé seems destined for expansion.
But for a concept to take hold, it needs to provide more than just novelty. It has to offer quality and value. And that’s where Krayp Kafé lacks consistency. For example, the miserly $4.35 avocado-and-lettuce crepe left us wholly unsatisfied, while the less expensive egg-ham-and-cheese crepe was a generous meal that could compete with virtually any breakfast sandwich around. And some of the sweet crepes offer good value, clocking in around $3. But who’s got room for a crepe dessert after ingesting the bready bulk of a savory version?
If the Krayp team hopes to become a dining habit among downtowners, it will have to define crepes as a more reliably satisfying meal. Otherwise, the inevitable comparison to the bulging handheld meals at the neighboring burrito store will be an unfavorable one.
One strategy would be to create a series of creative signature recipes far more memorable than avocado-and-lettuce or ham-and-cheese. But such a revamping of the menu might require more work than the Krayp team bargained for when it bet on the simple French classic. Then again, no one ever said it was easy to make something simple.
Krayp Kafé is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
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