On Sunday, our friend Carter sent out a post that the Parlez-Vous Crêpe truck would be at Johnny’s in Carrboro, a coffee shop that’s part breakfast-lunch stop and part general store. It was a little bit of a drive, but it was the weekend, and we were feeling spontaneous. Besides, the crisp, cool morning begged for a road trip.
I had heard about Johnny’s for years but never made it out this way. We were happy to be here because Johnny’s just reopened a couple of months ago after a brief hiatus. I’m glad it’s back because it’s a really great joint: strong-bodied coffees from Open Eye Café, a welcoming atmosphere, and lots of places to sit inside and outside. My first time here was a real treat.
A sweeter treat was our reintroduction to Parlez-Vous Crêpe. This mobile crêperie has been around for about 4 years. I remember when it first appeared at the Bynum Front Porch Music Series – everyone was curious and excited about a mobile crêperie. Their crêpes were an instant hit then, and now Parlez-Vous Crêpe is a favorite in the local food truck scene. Of course, this requires keeping in touch to know where to go (they’re on Twitter and Facebook). Lately, their circuit has been between Carrboro and Durham. Johnny’s is now known throughout the region as a food truck stop, with a regular schedule posted weekly. This worked well for all during the Parlez-Vous Crêpe Sunday slot because they can send folks inside for drinks while waiting for orders.
I chose to wait outside and watch Aimée Argote, the crêpe chef, through the broad truck windows. When I spent time in Brittany years ago, it was fascinating to watch the chefs prepare sweet crêpes and savory galettes with the traditional crêpe batter spreader and crêpe spatula. Here, I was reminded that making crêpes is an art, indeed, requiring creative craft, timing, technique, and a fair amount of coordination, too. She definitely commanded her space.
It’s also an art form to take photos through a highly reflective window on a bright day – a skill I have yet to master.
The menu at Parlez-Vous Crêpe changes depending on the day of the week, as well as which seasonal ingredients are available. This Sunday’s offerings included a new savory crêpe called La Lorraine with eggs, potatoes, and mushrooms topped with Béarnaise sauce and a good dose of sharp Asiago – a favorite flavor of mine from the classic quiche recipe. My husband ordered La Fermière (The Farmer’s Wife) with spinach, sausage, eggs, and other goodies.
We took our crêpes inside to get some really good Mexican and Brazilian roasts and take in the scenery. Carter made our day with her great smile and excellent recommendation. It’s safe to say that we’re now hooked on the whole experience, and we’ll be back for more real soon.
Crêpes are very thin pancakes made with white wheat flour. In the Breton region of France, crêpes made with buckwheat flour are called galettes, also known as Galettes Bretonnes au Sarrasin. These are usually made with savory fillings, like mushrooms and vegetables, and served with a crisp apple cider. Sweet fillings, like fruits and chocolate, are mostly reserved for wheat crêpes. Galettes are often folded into a square envelope instead of being rolled like the traditional sweet crêpes elsewhere in France. The griddle-like hotplate used to cook galettes and crêpes is called a billig in Breton.
The word crêpe derives from the Latin ‘crispus’, meaning ‘curl’. Think of the edge of the thin pancake as it cooks, turning up slightly as it begins to get crispy. The circumflex mark above the first ‘e’ in crêpe is a graphical reminder of the lost ‘s’. The history of galette is not as clear; however, there are a number of folk etymologies for this word. Galette is reportedly derived from the Old French word ‘galet’, meaning ‘pebble‘. One theory is that the ‘pebble’ was the surface on which people cooked the thin pancake, probably a smooth granite stone. I’d like to think the pebble analogy comes from the shape and size of the buckwheat groats, but that would be too easy. Galette is also the word for various flat cakes or tarts in other parts of France, so the ‘pebble’ shape is also an implied source for the name. Another folk etymology is a derivation of the word for “pail”, probably as “the place where grain or meal is stored”. The time of entry into usage is also quoted inconsistently, ranging widely from the 12th century up through the 17th century. I would love to hear from an actual linguist on this one because there are too many false positives out there for me to comfortably cite a reliable history for this word.
An interesting article on the history of crêpes and galettes at the Get French web site.
To learn the art of making crêpes, there is a school in Maure-de-Bretagne, France: l’Ecole Maître Crêpier [French-only site, rumored to have English sessions]
For a history of all food forms related to pancakes, check out Pancake: A Global History, by Ken Albala.
La Fermière: Pablo Picasso created 2 paintings with the same name in 1908, one full portrait La Fermière, and one half-bust La Fermière. Both are at The State Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg. Joan Miró also created a painting entitled La Fermière (1922-1923), which is at Centre Pompidou in Paris.
– A Dash of Culture
Where Every Story Has Food and Every Food Has a Story.™