by Alice Levitt
195 Falls Road, Shelburne, 985-9511
There are few foods in the world more simply pretty than a buckwheat crêpe. The purplish brown pastry, dotted with air bubbles and lightly browned, is the culinary equivalent of that perfect white T-shirt. Dress it up or down, it's almost always classy. And it tastes good, too.
For five years, devotees flocked to the Shelburne Farmers Market to get these pancakes from the French Farmhouse Crêpes cart. It was no surprise, then, that the Lemon Peel Café & Crêperie, owned by the cart's creators, Rob and Hilary Scharf, had a line almost out the door last Sunday afternoon.
The menu is only posted on a chalkboard near the counter and I had to push through a crowd to see it. Since it was around 1 p.m., I was too late for a classic Irish breakfast, and soup was sold out, so I settled on a pair of crêpes instead.
After I ordered, I was given the numbered block at right, so the waitstaff would know where to bring my food and drinks. I was pleased to order a French-style limonade, opting for the blood orange flavor, even though the pomegranate also intrigued me. This may have been the wrong decision — the taste was more Orange Crush than continental weekend.
The hot chocolate, constantly churning through a margarita machine, was far better. The drink itself was rich, but topped with whipped cream and mini chocolate chips, it was really something luscious. The bittersweet chips melted and mixed into the liquid with every sip.
While we waited for our food, we flipped through a fun assortment of books, including cookbooks, a collection of great speeches and a French-language guide to Ireland. Soon, this beauty (right) was placed before us.
This special was a masterpiece of Gallic simplicity. Just a pair of folded, buttered crêpes topped with strawberries, with maple syrup and bacon on the side.
First, a word about the bacon: Don't expect flat, crispy American slabs. These are greasy British rashers, fried to resemble something more like fatty ham than might be acceptable at most restaurants without British or Irish heritage. But it was perfect with the buttery, hearty crêpes and strawberries that were surprisingly fresh for the season. The moist bacon also lent a bit of its flavor anywhere it touched on the crêpe, adding a delightful piggy surprise to some bites. The combination didn't really need the maple syrup, but it didn't hurt.
I very nearly ordered the goat cheese, pear and honey crêpe, but couldn't resist the Caprese one. I probably made the right choice, though some rather depressing winter tomatoes reminded me why seasonality is so important.
The rest of the ingredients were marvelous. Bouncy fresh mozzarella was just warm enough to melt a bit, and basil added the measure of freshness the tomatoes lacked. Tender prosciutto added a much-appreciated slap of salt.
Despite having to rearrange the unevenly distributed ingredients, this would have been a very satisfying meal on its own. But a small pile of lightly dressed greens made the plate for me. The garlicky mesclun mix (along with more of the sad tomatoes) were ideally acidic and lent an almost magical counterpoint to the salty, fatty flavors of the crêpe.
Though plenty full, we couldn't resist splitting a pain au chocolat for dessert. The crisp outside and buttery inside layers were just as they should be. Dark chocolate ran throughout in two veins, cooled to something that didn't quite count as hardened. Next time, I'll get my own.