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Cornouaillians eat a lot of crepes, washed down with the delicious, hard apple cider produced there or a honey liqueur called hydromel, generally considered the "drink of the gods." There's a famous folk song about a fountain of hydromel in an enchanted forest, sung in alternating verses of French and Breton. I learned that song at age 14 when my French boyfriend taught it to me, strumming his guitar as we polished off a bottle of the olde mead. I can still sing it by heart, and I can still remember exactly what a crepe cooked in a Bretagne café tastes like and exactly how the streets of Quimper looked from the back of a motorcycle after a warm, light rain in the middle of a summer night.
They may be torching police cars in Rennes these days, but I'm pretty sure the only fires at La Crêperie are under the crêpes suzettes. Which is to say, I come to this 12-year-old Breton restaurant in Lauderhill with a good deal of baggage I'm a walking, talking definition of the word nostalgia. I'm ready to either pick the place to death on technicalities, burst into tears over my pot of onion soup, or both. What I certainly don't expect, at 7 p.m. on a recent Friday, is to find the place so crowded that I'm turned away from the door and instructed (firmly but kindly) to return in one hour, leaving me no option but to navigate stop-and-go traffic down University Drive, searching in vain for something to do. If ever there were a place as far in soul and spirit from the fantastical Celtic byways of Brittany, it's this stretch of Lauderhill: a suburban wasteland of Carl's Furniture stores, coin laundries, and auto insurance offices, of Dollar Planets and Plaster Castles.
Should have made a reservation, I thought gloomily as I ticked off slow minutes in the parking lot. The hiatus gave me too much time to study the details of La Crêperie from an outsider's point of view: the hysterically flickering "Restaurant Open" sign, the gigantic "Now Hiring" posted in a window, the '50s-style photos of frog legs and trout. What on Earth, I wondered, could have brought the good Monsieur et Madame Retty from paradise to this godforsaken stretch of road? And kept them here for more than a decade?
But there's something inarguably authentic about La Crêperie. The faux wood paneling and fake brick arches that you would see in France; the glass-topped tables with their old-timey French postcards and mismatched tablecloths; the decades-worth of accumulated bric-a-brac: oversized photos of old ladies wearing the traditional Breton lace, along with tarnished copper pots, souvenirs, and figurines. Strings of holiday lights, powered by generator after Hurricane Wilma, cozy things up. Anywhere on Europe's back highways, you'll find places like this time-warped restaurants in tiny hostels run by husband and wife. The food is invariably unfancy, unfussy, and delicious. As we settled down, finally, at our table with a half-carafe of house Chardonnay ($10.95), we began to understand that you can take the Breton out of Brittany, but you can't take Brittany out of the Breton.
La Crêperie's savory crepes are made from buckwheat flour in the traditional style of Brittany. They are golden, nutty, and aesthetically beautiful: With their delicate wings, they look vaguely like edible birds temporarily alighted on your china plate. There are 31 varieties of these dinner crepes and another 11 for dessert, so it would take a long time to work your way from chicken, spinach, and white sauce (number one) through spinach, Swiss cheese, and garlic (number 21) through tuna fish, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and white sauce (number 26) to crepe William (ground sirloin, ratatouille, Swiss cheese number 30). And if you did manage it, there would be sweet crepes made with sugar and butter or apple and ice cream or pear Belle Helene with chocolate sauce waiting for you.
We've sampled the ham and Swiss cheese ($9.75), a classic Breton staple, and the more elaborate crepe with escargots, spinach, and Swiss cheese ($17.95). Both were excellent. The texture of the crepes themselves ranges from crisp and succinct toward the wings' outer edges to moist and buttery at the center, where the dampness of their fillings has relaxed them into soothing mouthfuls resembling bread pudding. The combination of ham and cheese is just unbeatable creamy, sweet, salty, fragrant, warming. I'm pretty sure I could eat a ham-and-cheese crepe every day for the rest of my life (as many a Breton does) and never tire of it. My dinner partner's snail-stuffed crepe was divine too, oozing with garlic and butter. The snails were plump, the spinach tart. With a tossed salad ($4.95) of diced vegetables in a creamy garlic dressing, these are a perfect light supper.