Crepe Show

These eastern European cafés may tout their crepes, but you'll stay for the old world comfort foods

To be perfectly honest, I was pretty ambivalent about whether to write about this place at all, until the very moment I ordered its wonderful beef goulash. I ordered it, I had no great hopes, I popped the top on the Styrofoam container and was enchanted to find real carrots, real potatoes, real beef. I tasted it and was thrilled by the powerful taste of good paprika and long stewing, and as I sat there murmuring and marveling, Bilijana wandered out into the food court looking for me, because she forgot to give me a little plate of handmade crackers. Handmade crackers! In City Center! Each one was cut with wee cookie cutters, in the shapes of diamonds, leaves, scalloped rounds; and each little square of dough was egg-glazed and then topped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or caraway. They were as darling, upscale, and homemade as anything in the margins of Gourmet magazine, and being served around the corner from the Lady Footlocker. Sacré bleu!

A bowl of goulash at La Crêperie costs $3.75, while a cup runs $3.25, and if you throw the four bucks you've got for lunch this way you will not only get an amazing stew destined to warm the very cockles of your comfort-seeking heart, you'll also be doing a good deed, because Bilijana is a seriously talented chef in serious need of some customers.

Which she'd probably have if the place were named La Goulasherie, instead of La Crêperie. I mean, most Minnesotans I know regard crepes in generally the same category as tea roses, linen stationery, and cotton candy: all very nice things, certainly, but distinctly nonessential. Meanwhile, rich, peppery meat stews like goulash or comforting, hearty dumplings like pelmeni fit into the cultural heritage of fully half of everyone who lives here, whether we're from Germany, Sweden, the Punjab, Korea, or Eastern Europe, and so are regarded as very essential.

Borscht and dumplings at Moscow on the Hill: They call it the Crepes Room, but go for the Eastern European comfort foods
Trish Lease
Borscht and dumplings at Moscow on the Hill: They call it the Crepes Room, but go for the Eastern European comfort foods

I just don't think most of you would cross the street for a crepe, but I think you'd run through moving traffic for any lovingly homemade meat and potato thing. And not because of any anti-French feeling, but just because you didn't grow up on crepes, you grew up on lovingly made winter comfort foods, or at least grew up getting enough glimpses of them to know that you should seize them on sight.

Which is part of what makes it so difficult to be an American these days, I think. As we rush back and forth, up and down, spinning on our spinning wheels, spinning out our America, the busiest country on earth. Where our productivity is through the roof, and our time to think is through the floor. As we dash through City Center, on our lunch hour errand sprints, dragging our identities behind us, like so many squalling five-year-olds, held firm by one wrist, and we haven't got a second to think about what we might want, and we barely have a second to read the billboards, to scan the signs. But I'm telling you the truth here: Back behind some of these big signs, sometimes you can find the real comforts.

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