Batter Up on Liberty
What Crepe? and the Wafel Shop
by M.B. Lewis
Liberty from Main to Fifth Ave. already offers cherry treats, chocolates, handmade ice cream cones, cupcakes, and fruity-plump muffins. In the early weeks of 2013, with the opening of What Crepe? and the Wafel Shop, it added two purveyors of batter-based confections.
Does this officially make the area Dessert Alley? Or Home of the Endless Brunch? How about we step back from a double-whammy sugar high and first explore the eclectic bistro What Crepe? And let's drop the question mark in the name so you can actually read these sentences--it's there, said one server, because it's what they ask their customers: what crepe do they want to order?
It's a big question: the menu features eighteen "savory favorites" and thirteen "sweet favorites." Happy meals of the grown-up variety can be made from many, from the veggie-friendly Mushroom Madness, packed with a variety of perfectly sauteed 'shrooms mellowed with truffle oil and Swiss cheese, to a hearty rib-eye steak option that leaves hungry folks content without making them work too hard to chew the tender strips of meat.
I liked both the Obvious (chicken, caramelized apples, spinach, feta, and pecans) and My Morning Jacket (ham, asparagus, Swiss cheese, and hollandaise), but they didn't taste as different as you'd think they would, considering they have no fillings in common. The style of crepe preparation and wrapping probably explains this. As one lunch companion said bluntly, "I didn't see a crepe in the place--I saw the crepe griddles in the kitchen behind the glass, but what were delivered were burritos." Meaning, our big meal crepes came wrapped up tight, then cut in half. The fillings are high quality, but the flavors tend to be overpowered by the doughy, slightly sweet crepe wraps.
You taste exactly how sweet the batter is if you order an appetizer of "crepe crispies," which look like pita chips but have vanilla wafer/animal cracker undertones. You can order them with sweet dips or in a savory fashion, drizzled with
truffle oil and sprinkled with both shaved Parmesan and shredded cheddar--"overkill," a dining companion proclaimed. The flight of savory dips that accompanied the crispies, however, were popular: spicy chorizo sausage queso, mild smoked salmon pate, and a light take on spinach artichoke.
Also notably pleasing were smooth chicken white bean soup (garnished with bacon and cheese) and fresh mixed baby greens salads. Note that three of the four salads (all but the tuna Nicoise) come with either fruit or candied nuts sweetening the mix. Our attempts to request omissions--once in salad, once in crepes--were not successful. A better tack might be to build your own; they'll add any of their many fillings, sauces, and toppings a la carte to a $6 crepe ($7 for gluten-free or vegan).
Dessert crepes are a big deal here. Unlike the dinner burritos, the massive Patriot--topped with bananas, blueberries, strawberries, Nutella, and both ice cream and whipped cream--is served flat, pizza style. Consider sharing it--or a Honey Bear, S'More, or Banana Exotique--if you have that sort of familiarity with your companion. Maybe one of you will want to order a drinkable dessert from the very sweet-sounding array of special cocktails. Cinnamon Old Fashion or Gummy-Bear Martini, anyone?
There's so much going on at What Crepe that they have to resort to teeny-tiny type to fit it all on the menu. Don't forget your reading glasses if you are a patron of a certain age. The menu, prices, and portions are the same at lunch, which can produce sticker shock--combos start at $11, topping out with that tender rib-eye and a garlic-Parmesan crusted salmon at $16.50.
Those prices include a casual chic aura, with dark plank siding letting whimsical chandeliers shine. Frilly gewgaws, rococo but empty picture frames, an endless loop of "Casablanca" playing in front of two rows of bar stools, butcher-block paper table toppers and linen napkins--it's all trying pretty hard to say "restaurant experience!"
I didn't find it that seductive myself, but judging from the steady crowds on my trio of visits, plenty of folks like the concept. This is the third location in a greater-Detroit mini-chain, so maybe there's more appeal in the message than immediately met my eye (and palate, and price sensibilities).
The Wafel Shop on the other side of Fourth Avenue also specializes in batter-based confections, but the decor is plainer and the array of toppings simpler. The cheery counter staff offers a choice in preparation (actually different batters) between sweet and heavy Liege style or crispy and more familiar Brussels waffles (or, as they say in Belgium, wafels). Each costs $5 ($2 more for gluten-free), and basic toppings--butter, syrup, powdered sugar, or a light dusting of chocolate shavings--are free.
The Wafel Shop's combos top out where What Crepe's begin, reflecting simpler topping options--no steak or salmon here, but there's plenty of bacon, a reportedly popular topping. Order a la carte, and a buck or two will get you any of five kinds of fruit (the blueberries and raspberries we sampled were fine and fresh) and a half-dozen sauces and spreads. Almost all--Michigan maple syrup, chocolate sauce, whipped cream--are familiar, but you may want to ask for a sample of the dense and unusual cookie-crumb-based Biscoff before springing for it.
Three kinds of nuts and bacon were as close as they got to savory toppings on our first visits, but the counter folks promised more to come, including perhaps a Mexican waffle, if you can imagine. Sure enough, whipped goat cheese, cheddar, and arugula made their debut as the Observer was going to press. Ice cream is promised for the summer months as well.
Zingerman's Coffee Company roasts a signature Wafel Shop blend, which is smooth and easy on the palate, if not particularly distinctive. The canister labeled "cream" pours Calder Dairy whole milk. Lots of espresso drinks, great teas, and juices are on hand to "pair" with your dessert (or breakfast, lunch, brunch, snack, or maybe even dinner).
For me, the simpler formula made the Wafel Shop an easier place to visit and relax at. Once or twice it reminded me of a dorm eatery, maybe because the evening clientele seemed pretty young. It's another interesting niche venture hoping to hit the sweet spot on Liberty.
241 E. Liberty
Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Appetizers $7-$16, soup and salads $5-$14, savory crepes $11-$16.50, sweet crepes $8.25-$15.
The Wafel Shop
113 E. Liberty
Tues.-Sat. 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun.-Mon. 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Waffles $5-$7, most toppings extra, drinks $1-$4.75.
[Originally published in May, 2013.]