This was the first full-on crêperie in Philly since the Magic Pan ruined the crêpe's reputation years ago. Since this place opened, there has been a small boom in crêpe joints in town, with an inexpensive quickie fast-food style place (that has since closed) barely a block away at 6th and South, and the very good "La Crêperie café" on the 1700 block of Sansom.
Beau Monde is based on a traditional Breton crêperie model, although the menu features some unconventional fillings. You can see the thin pancakes being made though a window on Bainbridge street, and it is interesting to watch the chefs pour the batter onto traditional griddles brought in from France, and spread it thin with wooden paddles.
My favorite crêperie in the whole world is La Papillon in Toronto, and there they make slightly larger crêpes on a big flat-top grill, like Jim's and Pat's use for cheesesteaks. It's ironic that no one in this town uses these common Philadelphia appliances for crêpes, but the smaller round griddles are traditional in Brittany, and are similar to those in crêperies I visited in Paris as well.
With the exception of salads, soups and a few appetizers, the menu is devoted completely to crêpes.
And for god's sake, can we please say "crêpe" (rhymes with "depth") and not "craype" (rhymes with "grape"). Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest.
The crêpe menu is unnecessarily confusing. There is some sort of perplexing matrix of ingredients, with one price if that's all you want as your filling, and another if you want to add it to another ingredient for a combo. Pizza joints worked this out decades ago: it is much easier to order if there is just a basic price for a "bed" and then add-on ingredients grouped by price.
But you know what? Skip past that main part, you will just get dizzy trying to figure it out, and go to the bottom for their suggestions. That's where the best stuff is anyway. The Chicken, Goat Cheese, Olive and Leek combo is earthy and good. The Coq Au Vin is too. The Beef Bourginion is a classic for good reason, the wonderful, winey sauce a perfect complement to the hearty buckwheat wrapping.
DDP has been ordering very basic crêpes, we have liked them as much as the more elaborate constructions. A simple tomato filling is perfectly sufficient without any other additions (and cheap!), the basil and oniony tomato cubes making the flavor quite deep. A mushroom crêpe was earthy and satisfying, the mushrooms sautéed down with a dark woodsy juice.
I had a basic ham and swiss, which is what I always ordered when I was little and it was quite satisfying although one time the cheese hadn't quite melted. CDP ordered it on a another trip and it was perfect. An egg, ham and swiss cheese filling made a perfect brunch entree one day.
I was surprised to see Andouille sausage listed as a Brêton specialty, I always think of it a New Orleans Cajun thing. Of course it finally occurred to me that if we trace the cajuns backward in their history, we go back to Acadia in Canada, and ultimately back to France. That must account for the tasty andouille that filled a combo I chose of the smoky, garlicky sausage and grilled vegetables. I liked it, but next time I might try the menu's suggested combo: andouille and ratatouille.
After eating millions of crêpes in Canada, I must admit that I missed that vital Quebecois condiment: good maple syrup. The joke is that Canadians will pour it on almost anything, and even if that is an exaggeration, I can testify that syrup is especially good on a sausage, apple and cheese crêpe.
The best crêpe we had at Beaumonde was a special that really should be added to the regular menu. It was filled with Thai chicken, scallions, carrots and peanuts in a rich peanut sauce. This went very well with the hearty buckwheat crepe.
Desert crêpes were also good. A dark chocolate filling was simple and excellent. A single scoop of Coffee ice cream seemed a bit small for an ice cream filling, but it turned out to be just the right amount, and good quality ice cream too! We tried a decadent pear, chestnut cream and pastry cream combo that was fantastic as well, although bordering on too sweet combined with the sweetened crêpe itself.
This leads to my only reservation: the crêpe batters themselves. I'm sure these recipes are traditional, but all the savory fillings are served in a coarser, dryer, buckwheat crêpe. All the desert crêpes are based on a sweet, white-flour batter. These are very good, but after tasting a few different styles, in few places around the world, I have decided that I prefer a more neutral white-flour crêpe for both sweet and savory fillings. And I think the crêpes themselves could spend just a little less time on the griddle. They are tasty, but just a few seconds too dry. That being said, the saucy fillings, like Coq au Vin, or Beef Bourginion are excellent matches for the buckwheat wrappers, the moist interiors playing against the drier outside.
I actually prefer the actual pancakes themselves at "La Crêperie café", although I like the variety of fillings and decor much better at Beau Monde. If we could get the chef from La Crêperie café to make the pancakes, the Beau Monde chef to fill them, we would really have something!
Salads are good, and very large. The basic house salad is good opener, while the more exotic concoctions could easily serve as meals in themselves. We liked a huge and tasty one with spinach, beets and goat cheese.
We had a very good mushroom Vichyssoise, which was textured with little bits of mushroom in the smooth chilled potato. It was a rather unappealing gray color, but tasted quite good. The waiter had helpfully, politely, but incorrectly, described Vichyssoise as a cold tomato soup. Probably just a mental block, but could lead to some surprises if patrons were expecting gazpacho.
We actually had their gazpacho during a recent heatwave. The restaurant's cooling system wasn't quite keeping up with the brutal heat, so something cool to start seemed absolutely vital. The gazpacho was good, but, this is a crêpe place after all, so not all that surprisingly, it wasn't good enough to make a special trip for or anything.
We recently sampled a passable French Onion Soup, and a Carrot soup practically electric with ginger.
Draft Ciders were also life-saving heat mitigators. The menu lists several, although they have never had all of them any time I have been there. I like the Rebel, and the Woodchuck, perhaps the best of all is the Woodchuck "Dark and Dry". Waitstaff informs me that the imported French cider, $25 for a big 750 ml bottle, is really the best, but I need to get a more committed crowd with me before I drop $25 on hard cider. DDP tried a Pear Cider that was complex, and very refreshing.
Perhaps it's the Brêton zeitgeist, but I always feel like drinking draft cider here. I never get it anywhere else. The bar has some wines by the glass, many by the bottle and a few beers.
Service was a little weird at each visit. It wasn't bad, just strange.
The ambience of this place is very appealing. It is a truly lovely restaurant, especially in the evening, as the muted lamps and candles reflect warm colors off of the hand-painted, gold-tinted wallpaper. And in good weather, french doors open on the sidewalk, giving a lovely Parisian café feel. They have an outdoor deck, which allows dining right out on the sidewalk, if you are up for the not-quite romantic vibe of 6th and Bainbridge streets.
Despite any reservations about the slightly goofy service and my personal preferences in batter recipes, I still like this place a lot, and will be heading back to try more of the menu, if I can figure it out.
One salad, one soup, two crêpes, one desert crêpe, and two ciders was about $55 (incl.tip) but this was a lot of food. On other trips, two of us each had a crepe and a cider, and got out for less than $30, even with a nice tip.
La Crêperie Café
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