The popularity of the adult pancake is on the rise again. By the time downtown's Crepe de Paris closed in June after 40 years in business, there were almost 10 second-generation creperies in Seattle to replace it, including 611 Supreme, Crepe Cafe, Saley Crepes, La Cote Creperie, and the Asian-fusion Unicorn Crepes. Half have opened in the past 18 months. The economy will probably ensure their success. Like Neapolitan pizza and handmade pasta, crepes hit that sweet spot between comfort and class. They're pancakes—French ones!—and though Frenchitude doesn't count for all it did 25 years ago, it still casts a lingering glow. You can eat adult pancakes with wine. You expect them to be delivered by people wearing clean aprons. Just like pizza and pasta, crepes' low ingredient and labor costs are good for cooks. Those profit margins allowed Anita Ross to save up funds making crepes at local farmers markets. She began with one stand almost five years ago and slowly added crepe irons, markets, and customers, until she could finally afford her own place: Anita's Crepes on Leary Way, halfway between Ballard and Fremont, which opened almost two months ago. Ross' crepes are still appearing at six markets—why give up guaranteed income? But Anita's Crepes: The Restaurant gives diners a solid reason to stop in. It's the atmosphere. Ross has tricked out her butter-yellow, nine-table restaurant so that it's the perfect place for a $50 crepe date (if you order judiciously). She has spent her frugal budget on things that matter. The lighting might be classic Ikea, but her tables are thick, butcher-block squares of recycled wood with solid bases, surrounded by dark leather club chairs that are still comfortable after two hours of sitting. A few prints add gold and orange tones to the walls but don't require any more attention than that, and the servers wear as much black as it takes to class them up. The room is dressed to go from day to night without so much as a sparkly top. (OK, I lie. At night, Anita lights a few candles and flips the switch on a string of white lights ringing the exterior.) Smartly, as well, the place is set up with an open cooking area that's just big enough to show off Anita and her assistants at work, leaning over the counter like sushi chefs to welcome customers and send them off. The servers can answer questions about the wine list, they offer to split soups and salads before you think to ask, and they keep checking back on the table until the receipts are signed. As for the crepes, Anita's find that balance between elegant and everyday because, like pizza and pasta, they're simple frames for an infinite variety of fillings. Her adult pancakes come with farmers market pedigrees, of course—sustainably raised meats, farmstead cheeses, organic vegetables. They're also divided into dark and light: In the tradition of Brittany, Ross makes her savory crepes with a mix of buckwheat and wheat flours, while dessert crepes contain white flour alone. Changing the lineup of crepes every day, Ross doesn't go wild with the fillings—a crepe with soy-ginger chicken is as exotic as she gets—but she puts an amazing amount of care into them. Each crepe comes photogenically garnished with hints of what is enveloped inside. For example, she scatters tiny leaves and mozzarella balls the size of gooseberies next to the spinach and feta crepe, as if the crepe had been sitting below a spinach and cheese tree when a gentle breeze came along, dislodging them. Because she mixes flours in the savory crepes instead of using only buckwheat flour, as many traditional Breton creperies do, the 2-millimeter-thin pancakes stay tender all the way to the edges, and the buckwheat's nutty-grassy character comes across more faintly. The thing that makes a pancake like Anita's spinach-feta crepe or the one with Woolly Farms ham and gruyere taste opulent is the glistening gold orb of a perfect egg yolk that peeks out of the folds. Pierce it with your first cut, and the yolk flows out over and among the simple fillings, enrobing them in its unctuous coating. You could almost think you'd doused it in butter. (I did have two minor complaints with the spinach crepe: The baby spinach leaves tucked inside the crepe were pretty, but I would have wished for some sautéed spinach as well to contribute more of its deep, mineral green to the crepe. Also, it's hard for any francophone to read "spinach et fromage" without throwing his linguistic systems out of whack. Pick a language and stick with it.) Ross was trained as a pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and even did an externship at the French Laundry, which is like applying gold leaf to the edges of your diploma. Before she opened the restaurant, she had talked about adding adventurous entrées to the dinner menu. To date, that has manifested in a $35 four-course prix fixe that she offers at night alongside the same list of crepes that she serves throughout the day. On the night I visited, the meal included a simple spinach-apple salad, a beautifully light cauliflower bisque, diner's choice of a roast chicken or New York strip, and chocolate mousse for dessert. "You can also order the dishes on the meal a la carte," suggested our waiter. So we did. At $11, the sausage crepe one friend ordered, folded into a neat handkerchief next to curled slivers of pork and tendrils of mizuna, felt like a bargain, especially considering we ate it by candlelight with a Rhone red. The same couldn't be said, though, of the entrées, which matched the crepes in simplicity but elevated my expectations into a much higher price bracket. An 8-ounce steak, browned in the pan and served with a handful of roasted Brussels sprouts and two tablespoons of a potato-artichoke salad—not even a simple pan sauce—did not feel like $28 well spent. Same with a half chicken, served breast dry and leg still bloody-boned. Even though I enjoyed the tangle of slow-cooked haricots verts and the velvety potato and celery-root puree that came with it, I wished I'd spent $15 on such plain food, not $22. It's the low-end luxuries of her crepes that leave you feeling like you've just picked up a Diesel jacket at Nordstrom Rack for one-third its original price or gotten a $30 haircut that makes you feel twice as photogenic as you did the week before. Which is why you should always end with pancakes for dessert, no matter what you've eaten earlier in the meal: a $9 sweet crepe lovingly wrapped around banana slices and Nutella, say, with a millimeter-fine drizzle of hazelnut-chocolate sauce zagged over top, or the $8 "lemon sugar" crepe, which sounds basic until you taste the marvel of the slighty grainy, lemony sugar, caramelized by a blowtorch, its tartness cut by a dollop of whipped cream. What the recession wants is recession food, and with a few tweaks, Anita's Crepes offers the right splurge for the times.Price Check
Anita's Crepes 4350 Leary Way N.W., 838-9997, www.anitascrepes.com. BALLARD. Open for lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sat., and weekend brunch Sat.–Sun.
Ham crepe $12
Spinach et fromage $10
Lemon sugar crepe $8
Banana-Nutella crepe $9
Steak a la carte $28 firstname.lastname@example.org