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Thursday, April 18

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Airbags

Have you ever fallen into a dining rut? You know, where you continue to order the same thing at the same place over and over and over again?

I've heard of people running on this culinary treadmill for weeks, even months -- my fixation lasted much longer.

For two years, I frequented a certain popular crepe establishment on North Clark Street (a few blocks from my apartment) and satisfied my morning hunger with an apple crepe and cup of coffee. In the beginning, I never had a problem finding people to accompany me. But by my seventh, eighth, fifty-ninth visit, my friends abandoned me in search of other breakfast spots, and I had to go it alone week after week. It sounds boring, but it wasn't.

At the end of those two blissful years, I moved south to the corner of Arlington and Clark (in Lincoln Park), a good eight blocks from my faithful bistro but directly across the street from Crepe de Paris -- a crepe rival. I briefly flirted with the idea of relocating the site of my crepe fix for the sake of proximity, but one glance in the dingy window changed my mind. Orange walls, empty tables, bored employees and suspect cooking equipment didn't exactly whet my appetite. I hightailed it back north on Clark and never looked back.

That is, until a year and a half later when a neighbor spoke highly of Crepe de Paris and my curiosity managed to get the better of me.

And so, on a bright Fall Saturday morning at 9:15, I begrudgingly crossed over Clark instead of heading north on my usual route. The worn sign hanging on the door announced that Crepe de Paris opened at 9 a.m. (admittedly late for a breakfast spot), but there was no sign of life inside and the door was locked. Ah, the excuse I had hoped for -- I turned and started down the street, imagining the familiarity of a warm apple crepe topped with whipped cream and a...

"Wait!" a voice yelled after me. A spiky-haired waitress was leaning out the door. "I can't open yet. The cook is late. Will you come back?"

"When?"

"Dunno," she shrugged.

I sighed, defeated -- for some reason, I felt a twinge of compassion for this mademoiselle and her belated chef -- and promised to return in 30 minutes.

I held true to my promise and less than an hour later was seated at the very establishment I had once sworn off, savoring the absolute heaven that is the banana, toasted almond, and Nutella crepe. The massive golden brown crepe was meticulously folded into a perfect triangle and delivered on a plate that was artfully decorated with eddies of dark brown chocolate and dollops of whipped cream. I was entranced; this was a delectable deviation from my usual crepe routine.

The sheer rapture of that first bite of chocolately-banana goodness and those that followed was enough to distract me from the shakiness of the start to the morning and the bumps that have yet to be worked out. Yes, the coffee is instant. Yes, the water is served lukewarm directly from the tap into smudgy water glasses, which are never refilled. Yes, after I placed my order, the waitress ran out to the convenience store and returned with two bananas. And yes, Crepe de Paris features the latest IKEA bistro-table models and framed photos of the Eiffel tower, not to mention a horrific paint job using the most hideous color imaginable.

But these kinks became a blur as I devoured my crepe in five minutes flat. As I settled back in my chair, completely satisfied, I couldn't help but berate myself for taking so long to discover this gem. The date was Sept. 19. My lease was up Sept. 31 -- I was moving away in less than two weeks.

I prefer to ignore the irony of the fact that I have since moved within steps of my former favorite creperie yet now patronize Crepe de Paris regularly. In an effort to expand my somewhat limited breakfast repertoire, I have been forging through the plethora of options on the menu and have yet to be disappointed: fresh strawberries with dark Belgian chocolate; fresh apple and brie; avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, and melted Monterey jack cheese; and roasted bell peppers, spinach, fresh basil, and goat cheese. (In a moment of weakness one morning, I ordered the apple crepe -- the warm slices of apple coated in a sugary melange of brown sugar and cinnamon and tucked into a fluffy pancake triggered thoughts of sweet nostalgia of breakfasts past.)

Crepe de Paris may struggle to woo customers simply because it lacks the Parisian ambiance and authentic cuisine that is characteristic of certain other crepe establishments that will remain nameless. It has succeeded in completely Americanizing the crepe (as evidenced by the thickness of the pastry, the strange combinations of the fillings and the flowering decorations used in presentation) -- an accomplishment the French would no doubt find appalling. But a little authenticity is a small tradeoff for a lot of taste, a sacrifice the handful of patrons of Crepe de Paris are more than willing to make.

Not only did Crepe de Paris break me out of my gastronomic tedium, it also has entirely heightened my expectations of the crepe. Now, I am forever doomed to demand fantastic ingredients paired in unusual combinations and wrapped in pillowy blankets of dough, as well as walk miles and miles for my breakfast.

Crepe de Paris is located at 2433 N. Clark St. Crepes range from $4.00-$6.95.

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Comments

nnnikki / October 27, 2003 6:30 PM

actually, having lived with and loved a petit ami born and raised in La France, Crepe de Paris was a much-loved snack stop during our years in Chicago. We did indeed visit That Other Crepe Place on a number of occasions, but the cheapness and not-bad authenticity of C.d. Paris kept him coming back.

Then we moved to Paris and were reminded of what real crepes are, and how inexpensively they can be had....but still, C.d. Paris was, by his lights, a decent home away from home. We both liked the atmosphere in That Other Crepe Joint, and the owner became a pal, but we secretly scurried to C.d.Paris anyway, which is a fair endorsement.

(also, hi kim! from nikki waller...)

 

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