As a former chef, I can cook most things that appear on restaurant menus. Crepes, however, have always presented a challenge.
Maybe my batter isn't quite thin enough, or thick enough. Maybe my pan is too hot, or too cold. Maybe I cook them 30 seconds too long or not quite long enough. Making the perfect crepe is both an art and a science, so I'm thankful to have Café Marcel to fill that culinary void in my life.
The crepes are revelatory, at once light and filling, soft and yet crisp. Both the sweet and savory varieties are absolutely delicious. The café is inside a tiny doorstep off Fourth Avenue just south of Seventh Street, in the same building as Che's Lounge. The interior is quaint, simple, clean and bright. And the counter service is friendly and chatty.
There are about a dozen different crepes on the frequently changing menu—mostly sweet, but a few are stuffed with savory items. For me, the savory crepes outshined the sweet crepes. The spinach, tomato, ham and brie crepe ($8.95) came with a side of herb cream sauce, and the combination was delightful. The spinach and tomatoes were uncooked, which kept the crepe nice and light, even with the hefty helping of salty, melted brie and thin slices of ham. The herb cream sauce added the finishing touch, tying the cooked and raw ingredients together.
Now, that's not to say that the sweet crepes aren't delicious—they are. The apple, pear, honey and brie crepe ($7.95) walks the fine line between being sweet and savory, but the dusting of powdered sugar and whipped-cream dollops pushed it just over the line into the territory of sweet. The only thing that wasn't absolutely lovely about our first visit was my decaf latte ($2.50 single/$3.25 double). Now, I don't expect decaf to hold up the flavor of coffee like the caffeinated variety does, but sadly, I am forever relegated to decaf. But even for decaf, it was bitter. And it was served way too hot, scalding the milk and my tongue. It was so hot that it was still undrinkable even after I had finished my entire crepe. (The crepes, by the way, are gigantic.)
Our second visit to the café was every bit as good as the first, except for the rain, which made the interior seating area oppressively humid. I ordered one of the Swedish-style crepes on the menu ($5.95), in lingonberry—they're also available in strawberry and raspberry. Swedish crepes are filled with fruit preserves rather than fresh fruit, and so are a bit thinner than the other dessert crepes on the menu. Ted ordered the strawberry, banana and Nutella crepe ($6.95), which came out stuffed to the brim and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
The lingonberry crepe was sweet without being overwhelming—it had a nice tartness to it, which helped balance out the whipped cream and powdered sugar. Ted's crepe, on the other hand, was bite after bite of sweetness. The strawberries were super-ripe and very sweet, as were the banana slices. The Nutella spread was generously distributed in the crepe, and to top it off, there was not only powdered sugar and whipped cream, but also a heavy drizzle of chocolate sauce. It was heavenly, albeit extremely filling and very, very sweet.
The café was mostly empty on both of our visits, and the streetcar construction on Fourth Avenue is likely part of the reason. The crepes at Café Marcel are delectable; the service is friendly; and the ambiance is charming. So, until someone sends me their favorite crepe pan and a French grandmother's secret recipe, I'll be frequenting Café Marcel (and my other favorite Fourth Avenue businesses), especially during construction, to ensure that I'm not in danger of being crepe-less.