Venue Review: Crepe Cellar
The Charlotte Observer
3116 N. Davidson St.
The Crêpe Cellar throws open its windows on pretty summer nights, and that single gesture tells you a world about the place.
It's open – to passers-by, to the streetscape, to its whole NoDa neighborhood.
It's old-school – in a way that evokes both slamming screen doors in America and little creperies (and pubs) in Europe.
And it's onto something – namely, the notion that occasional freshness sure beats constant recirculation. And not just these days.
Owners Jeff Tonidandel and Paul Manley opened this where Addie's Jamaican had been, cobbling together a cozy room sparked by mirrors, brick and a long bar. The menu is similarly cobbled together: Crêpes, yes, both traditional and more new wave, but also French bread pizzas, burgers, roasted chicken with corn-zucchini succotash and, at brunch, remarkably good home fries and grits.
Thursdays are “neighborhood nights,” when a $25 three-course menu using Carolina-specific products is offered, along with the usual one. Area produce, foodstuffs and beverages show up on the regular lineup as well, from French press Dilworth Coffee to cider (the traditional crêpe sidekick) from McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, to house wines from RayLen, in the Yadkin Valley.
Crêpes come savory or sweet here with the first using buckwheat flour, the second white. Don't expect the tang of a buckwheat pancake; these are more delicate, and their fillings range from ham with Gruyere and a maple-Dijon glaze to chicken with bacon and Cheddar.
Ask for your sauce on the side if you're particular; occasionally a crepe, like my breakfast smoked salmon one under hollandaise, is oversauced. At $7.50 to $8.50 including a side (may I recommend the killer, lima-less succotash?), each is a meal.
And the sweet can be a legitimate brunch entrée – particularly, say, the fabulous and well-balanced Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread) with bananas and optional strawberries. At the very least, plan to sample the classic Suzette with a Grand Marnier butter sauce and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Other entrees hold their own. The half a roast chicken, though not enormous, is also only $11.50 with side, and is a bistro-worthy dish. The local menu's Grateful Growers pork chop over Adluh grits (from Columbia) and wilted spinach showed equal spirit (though the chop was a mite thin). A 10-ounce hanger steak comes with green peppercorn brandy sauce and admirably crisp frites.
Also offered are pumpkin gnocchi with tomato, bacon and sage; fish and chips and more. There's a pretty (and pretty big) salad of mixed greens and endive with candied walnuts, goat cheese and green apple, plus a more-restrained-than-it-sounds ginger-maple dressing: Terrific. Other salads include a small house, Caesar and a curried chicken.
Spritely servers in company T-shirts and jeans take their time and can explain dishes well and enthusiastically, while the host helps keep tables cleared – a crucial task in a place this small (particularly when reservations aren't taken).
Its size also means one loud party can raise the noise level significantly, but since the atmosphere is hardly intimate anyway, diners shouldn't be surprised. The place is designed to be collegial, and that it most certainly – and handsomely – is.