By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Selling a specialty item and hoping to make a profit is iffy business. Whether it's empanadas or egg rolls, Jamaican patties or arepas, chicken wings or gyros, establishing a successful restaurant that revolves around a single dish requires a client base large enough to fill seats every day of the week without counting on repeat business. No matter how much a patron might like a dog with the works, for instance, chances are he's not going to eat one more than every seven days or so. That's why most small businesses that purvey such targeted dishes don't bother with seats and permanent locations, preferring to peddle their wares from lunch trucks, carts, and fairground stands.
The Crepe Factory, however, has a chance to be the exception to that rule. For one thing, while the 60-seat restaurant, which opened in June in the Shoppes at Weston, concentrates on crepes, it offers more than 30 types, with the option to "create your own." The menu also supplies a variety of soups, salads, stuffed Idaho potatoes, and "panne cooks," which are hollowed-out bread bowls filled with the same choice of fillings as the crepes (ditto the potatoes).
In such a scenario, the quality of the fillings is far more important than the base material. But for what it's worth, the crepes themselves are soft and tender, folded over and presented in long-handled, skillet-style crockery. The panne cook is a crusty loaf that stands up to liquids, absorbent in the way that makes you want to dip bread in gravy, but not collapsing under the saucier items. And the potatoes have a dense sweetness and slightly limp skin that tastes more steamed, as if they were made in a microwave, than baked, a texture I don't actually mind, though one of my party thought they could be flakier.
Though for the most part the selection is versatile for mix-and-match results, one base might be a better fit with a certain topping. Simply sautéed button mushrooms were a little too watery for the potato, but heavier toppings were clear matches. The beef Stroganoff, bites of succulent veal and mushrooms enveloped in a lush, sour cream sauce, was a boon for the meat and the mushroom lover.
Given the breadth of influences, however, from Eastern European to Asian, I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness of the ingredients and the tasty authenticity of every recipe we tried. The ultrapure shrimp scampi, for example, was a half-dozen large shrimp, sautéed with minced garlic and parsley and dressed with a just-creamy, thickened butter sauce. We sampled this one as a panne cook, and it was a good choice, as the sturdy bread was perfect for containing the fluid as well as for keeping it hot.
Other toppings, such as the ham and cheese, were clearly more ideally suited for the crepes; the inch-long slabs of ham and lacing of Swiss and mozzarella cheeses might have been lost elsewhere. Curried chicken was a "wetter," but no less appealing, choice, with the crepe soaking up the light yellow curry and the generous chunks of chicken breast. We found the mushroom fondue to have the most likable texture, as the sautéed button mushrooms were given character by a blend of Gouda and Monterey cheeses and contrast by a feathery béchamel sauce.
The main items make for large portions, but it's hard to resist beginning a meal with soup or salad, because everything from the chicken or beef stock to the balsamic vinaigrette and "house" mustard salad dressings is homemade. French onion soup, topped with provolone cheese instead of Gruyère, had a pleasing caramelized onion flavor, though the soup itself could have been hotter. The slightly reinterpreted minestrone, which contained a plethora of traditional ingredients plus white beans, corn, tiny meatballs, ditalini, and barley, was enhanced with grated cheese and hearty enough to satisfy a smaller appetite.
Paired with a house or Caesar salad, a bowl of the cream of tomato or lentil soup can also be a meal, but if you plan to round out an entrée with a prologue of the Crepe Factory salad, prepare to share. Enough for three or even four, this assortment of baby greens, kalamata olives, fresh diced tomatoes, quartered fresh mozzarella balls, and sliced white mushrooms is a spot-on introduction to the restaurant's sincerity.
In fact, that earnestness may be the Factory's biggest draw. Though service is a trifle slow and unsure for a five-month-old place, owner Moises Fisboin clearly wants to cater to the community. The restaurant is spotless, and though the stone-and-tile décor is a bit cold for such warm food, the meticulously sponge-painted walls hung with prints and continuous blue banquettes are designed with the Everydiner in mind. Indeed, Fisboin has subheaded the restaurant "The Ultimate Family Dining Experience," and kids are welcomed with crayons, place mats, and their own menus, which offer such tot-friendly eats as peanut butter-and-jelly crepes and French fries that are shaped into happy faces. And unless I miss my guess, which, given the number of times I've made the stuff in my own home, is almost impossible, the macaroni-and-cheese is the Kraft variety, which is the only kind my daughter will eat.
For adults, the Crepe Factory is still working on acquiring a beer-and-wine license, but there's the usual array of soft drinks, plus juices from South American fruits (lulo, curuba, guanabana, wild tomato), blended in water or milk, that are gorgeously presented in tall glasses. An array of Nutella- or dulce de leche-topped dessert crepes, Belgian waffles, and assorted sundaes -- my kids were delighted with the "laughing clown," a scoop of ice cream garnished with gummy bears, M&M's, and a sugar cone "hat" -- add depth to the restaurant, extending it from the dinner hour to the after-movie hour. So while you might not crave a crepe on a daily or even weekly basis, there's plenty of opportunity to fall into the Factory with something else entirely on your mind.