With all the hullabaloo about Carmon’s in downtown Champaign reopening as a crêperie, we thought it would be a good time to revisit Champaign’s first crêperie in to compare. Originally called Tout Sweet, the brightly lit little café is hidden inside the College Corner Mall on the corner of Fourth and Green Streets. About a year ago, Tout Sweet was transformed into The Crêpe Café with a new owner and an expanded menu. They weren’t kidding when they said “expanded.” As soon as our party of three sat down, we were immediately overwhelmed by a menu listing 12 savory crêpe selections plus twelve more dessert options. Then, there were omelettes, salads and an invitation to create our own masterpiece from a list of ingredients which included many vegetarian options. Then our waiter pointed to the specials of the day which included seven more choices including a smoked salmon, brie and spinach combination as well as an eggs Benedict option – that’s eggs Benedict inside a crêpe.
After much deliberation, we decided to do two courses for lunch. For the first course, we resolved to take a quick tour of Europe and ordered the Florentine, the Parisien and the Norwegian. All three choices were winners, but surprisingly Norway turned out to be the most exciting country. Stuffed with a heady mix of smoked salmon, asparagus, green onions and sour cream, the Norwegian ingredients were wrapped around a slightly crispy crêpe topped with a sprinkle of gruyère cheese. The awesome combination was delectibly complex, sort of on the same level as a lox and bagel sandwich, but better. The Florentine came in a close second with a classic spinach and feta combination thrown together with sauteed mushrooms and a healthy dose of smooth béchamel sauce. The Parisien was the most “normal” of the bunch, a classic ham and cheese combination with some mushrooms thrown in. I was happy they used gruyère instead of Swiss cheese, but there’s not much you can say about ham and cheese. The savory crêpes themselves were perfectly cooked, nicely browned, extra thin and chewy. Unlike Carmon’s, no buckwheat flour here.
We couldn’t wait for dessert as the menu promised us everything from berries to Nutella to gelato in our sweet crêpes. I was very pleased with the Carnivale which was stuffed with sliced bananas and fresh strawberries then topped with gelato and whipped cream. I was ecstatic when our waiter offered 12 flavors of gelato to choose from. I think I made the right choice with bananas foster gelato which melted nicely into even more bananas as I cut open the perfectly folded crepe. The sweet crêpes also had a hint of cinnamon and vanilla which added to the overall luscious experience.
With my dessert, I indulged in a richly flavored butter rum latte which had just the right combination of sweetness and intensity. By this time, we were too full to survey the excellent gelato selection, but we promised to come back when we could fully appreciate the finely crafted Italian ice cream made by Palazzolo’s in Saugatuck, Mich. With a rotating selection that currently includes flavors like chai latte, Chinese green tea, pomegranate and raspberry tiramisù, how could we refuse?
Our overall experience was pleasant and the bill was easy on the wallet. The service was top-notch and attentive, the environment cheerful and sunny. I saw no reason to go back to Carmon’s when The Crêpe Café has so much more to offer at better prices.
The Crêpe Café is owned by Ismael and Petra Roig who purchased the restaurant from Aaron Aikman, the owner of Cafe Luna next door. Ismael wisely decided to keep the original decor intact, down to the prints by local graphic artist Dean Schwenk. According to Doug Buscemi, the manager and chef of The Crêpe Café, there are plans to get a liquor license and offer wines by the glass in the near future. Since their building is scheduled to be torn down by summer 2008, The Crêpe Café will be in need of a new home. Fortunately, owner Ismael has big plans to expand the restaurant, so we can look forward to a bigger Crêpe Café soon in a new location. With any luck, Roig’s new venture will be a big success and our Champaign restaurant will become the flagship location as the Australian franchise takes over the United States.
The Crêpe Café
313 East Green Street, Champaign
Photos by Anni Poppen