Erik Rochard says Americans are intimidated by crepes, and he's trying to change that with Crepe Cafe, a 25-seat place he has tucked into his popular Cafe de Paris in Columbia.
For centuries, crepes have served as "the meal of the peasants in the west of France," he says. But they also have become the stuff of street vendors and cafes in Paris, where Rochard grew up, and in the 1970s they inspired the U.S.-based Magic Pan chain, now defunct.
At the creperie, which he opened in the fall to complement his 90-seat restaurant on the other side of the foyer, early favorites have emerged among the lunchtime set: the peasant crepe, filled with cheese, egg, bacon and ham ($7.95); the Norwegian, with smoked salmon, capers and sour cream ($8.50); and the Parisienne, with eggplant, turkey, pesto and goat cheese ($7.95). The lineup of sweet varieties includes butter and sugar; apple compote with raisins; honey; and chocolate (all $4.50). Kick in another two or three bucks for chocolate and coconut; berries and whipped cream; or crepe Suzette.
The crepe shop replaces Rochard's delicatessen, which turned a profit on such signature items as quiches and croissants but "was not an interesting concept," said Rochard, who opened Cafe de Paris in Columbia in 2002 after operating it for several years in Laurel. "We were hit with competition from places like Quiznos."
To make the change, Rochard installed shutters and resurfaced the walls with a cracked texture evoking a bistro in Provence.
Unlike in France, crepes here sometimes require a bit of a sales job. The 51-year-old Rochard recalls the day a young woman came in hungry for a sandwich. He told her the carbohydrates in the bread would ruin her figure and insisted she try a crepe, which he said would have a fraction of the carbs.
"She said she had never heard of a crepe," he notes, shaking his head. Rebounding from the shock, he fixed her one filled with prosciutto, pesto and mozzarella and promised that if she didn't like it, the meal would be on the house. She gladly paid her bill.
--Tony Glaros (Jan. 3, 2007)