Just as crêpes spread from Brittany to become France's national dish, they've slowly crept into most developed nations' cuisines. The U.S. presents no exception to that trend, but something strange has happened in Colorado Springs over the past year: The beloved pancakes have snuck out of home kitchens and off a handful of local menus to spawn four earnest crêperies during an economic downturn.
I'd be more surprised, but crêpes are both adaptable (savory or sweet) and generally affordable, often in line with average sandwich prices. Pair those considerations with the growth in the gluten-free industry — savory crêpes are traditionally made with gluten-free buckwheat flour — and near-universal love of simple flavors, and this explosion actually demonstrates good business sense.
Wholly Crêpe, set outside Macy's second-floor entrance in the Chapel Hills Mall, opened two months ago under owners Blandine Brutel and Aline Chambre, who are French and Belgian, respectively. Brutel, the primary cook, trained in a Brittany crêperie and trumpets "truly authentic fillings": Niçoise olives, homemade leek fondue, Torani chocolate sauce and, of course, Nutella. Earning cred on the drink front, the duo also uses Italy-based Illy coffee, whose signs are ubiquitous on European street corners, and 1883 de Philibert Routin syrups from the French Alps.
The former contributes to superb cappuccinos and lattes ($2.25 and $2.75) and the latter, when added to Perrier water ($2.75), makes for a natural-tasting sparkling water. (We tried the blackberry currant flavor.)
To the main attraction: Crêpes (all $4.50 to $8.25) don't get much better than this. Past the quality ingredients, the simple execution is deft and the presentations are generally thoughtful and pretty. Case in point, our favorite item: the Brittany Delight, a crêpe stuffed with brie and walnuts, then topped in a honey drizzle and another fist-sized crêpe cup (think mini taco bowl) filled with vinaigrette-tossed greens. Enjoy the salad, then the semi-sweet mix, which allows the pleasant buckwheat flavor to permeate.
The Tres Chic offers a lovely way (outside of the build-your-own option) to try the excellent leek fondue stuffing, plated with a dollop of crème fraîche and two smoked salmon stacks over a crisp, square fold. For even cleaner flavors, go for the Wholly Crêpe of ham, sunny-side-up egg and Swiss, or La Cocorico, with grilled chicken hunks and Swiss moistened by the garlic- and parsley-rich sweat of accompanying sautéed mushrooms.
The Belle-Helene and Belgian Explosion topped the sweet list for us. The former combines pear bits with toasted almonds, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream; the latter places a lovely chocolate mousse in another, smaller crêpe cup atop a chocolate sauce-stuffed crêpe. Again, the quality chocolate sauce (no Hershey's!) makes the dishes. Stick with the buckwheat batter if you like the flavor, or get the regular wheat crêpe for more elasticity.
The only ding-worthy aspects of my visits relate firstly to the pungent nail-polish smell occasionally wafting out of a neighboring salon into Wholly Crêpe's metal seating area. (At least you can retreat to the nearby food court.) Secondly, the busy outfit currently uses disposable plastic Chinets and foam to-go boxes. They could go greener with real plates for dine-in and eco-friendly to-go boxes.
This aside, Wholly Crêpe presents a great leap forward for mall stalls, and reason alone to go shopping.