Griddle fresh

Aug 13, 2008 at 12:00 am

Editor's note: This restaurant has since moved uptown and many details in the new spot differ from this review.

Torya Blanchard made a perfect crêpe the first time she tried, and from there, destiny took over. First enamored of the traditional French pancake while an au pair in Paris, she watched the professionals at her local crêperie. Today, you can watch through the window of her miniature downtown walk-up as she uses a wooden rake to spread the batter on the special griddle into a flawless circle. No mass production, no steam table; each confection is made to order as you wait.

Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. This makes for conversation in the interval, both with Blanchard or her helper and with others waiting their turn on the sidewalk. By putting on our friendly face we met a Tahitian woman (with a formidable French accent) who was asking for crème Chantilly. Loosen up and enjoy the whole experience; it's fast food, of a sort, but at a European pace. To add another French meme, Blanchard, until recently a French teacher, sometimes wears a black maid's uniform with a lacy white collar and apron.

Blanchard's crêpes are not the traditional French sort, where paper-thin is the aspiration. These are thicker, heartier, and as she's experimented since opening July 25, she's hit on whole-wheat flour as her preferred batter. "I like it that it has more texture to it," she says. "They get a lot more food than they expect."

So the crêpes are not ethereal, and you can indeed make a meal of one — they're a foot across. You don't need to know Paris to grasp the simple menu, but Blanchard has named each of the 20 crêpes after an arrondissement, or district, of the City of Light, and the "Right Bank" list (sweet) is separated from the "Left Bank" list (savory) by the "Seine," which is plain.

Biggest seller so far among the savories is the 7, or "Sarah" (each crêpe is also named after one of Blanchard's friends). It's mushrooms, chèvre, spinach, red peppers and balsamic vinegar. All ingredients come from Eastern Market, which Blanchard visits daily. Runner-up is the "Allison," which makes a nod to the many North African residents of Paris: It's hummus, hot sauce, spinach and herbes de Provence. I liked this one mostly for the hot sauce, which doesn't feel particularly French.

But then neither does the "Jamie" or the "Vera," both with bacon. For the "Jamie," Blanchard cracks an egg directly onto the sizzling batter and asks how you like it as she swirls with a fork. Swiss cheese and plenty of onion are the main flavors. "Vera" combines bacon and spinach with Boursin, and two other savories pile on Black Forest ham.

Indeed, the savory crêpes were somewhat inconsistent in their fillings, during the first week of operations. Is the aim to concentrate on the crêpe itself, with the filling as condiment, or is the approach American, i.e., loaded?

For sweet crêpes, which are the majority, customers like the "Fay," similar to a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster, plus pecans, or "Black Kristy," with strawberries, chocolate and "whipped cream" (from a can). Blueberries, strawberries, bananas, apples, brown and white sugar, coconut, Hershey's chocolate sauce, maraschinos, almonds, Nutella and caramel sauce are presented in a dozen suggested combinations, or you can design your own for 50 cents an ingredient.

I was charmed by the "Melinda." It's just lime and brown sugar, which are a perfect mix of tart and sweet, plus cream cheese for richness. Blanchard herself goes for the "Seine" with just butter and sugar.

Because you're eating on the street, neatness can be a problem (Blanchard hopes to add some patio furniture on the sidewalk). The safest technique to avoid the innards' spilling out is to roll the crêpe up like a burrito, tucking in the corners if necessary.

Don't call ahead. Your crêpe does need to be made to order, and it'll be much better if you eat it right then.

Good Girls is near the downtown Y, around the corner from Oslo. By the end of the month, Blanchard plans to expand with a two-griddle operation in Shed 2 at Eastern Market, next to the cappuccino guy, from 6 a.m. "till last man standing."

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].