Crepes with street cred
Go to The Crepe Maker for the crepes, not the ambiance
Like burritos, calzones, pirogi, or pot stickers, crepes satisfy what would appear to be a near-universal, perhaps fundamentally human, desire to sink one's teeth into a melange of soft, saucy foodstuffs enclosed in a carbohydrate-based shell.
Among the planet's wonderful array of similar culinary inventions, the French-born crepe holds an exulted place. Think of its versatility. It can be savory or sweet, a main dish or dessert. It can be healthy and vegetarian or decadently doused in liqueur and cream. It can be a cheap, take-away snack from a curbside cart — embellished with only a pat of butter, some sugar and a squeeze of lemon — or it can bulge snootily with truffles and Gruyere at a fine restaurant.
Still, even the fanciest crepe on the far side of the world can trace its lineage back to a humble street corner somewhere in Brittany. Crepes are so appealing in their simplicity and stand-alone goodness that they make the ideal, fuss-free street food: easy to make, fun to watch being prepared, unencumbered by too many condiments.
So when the Greek-born Tony Giakoumis decided five years ago to expand his 15-year-old crepe business from the South Bay farmers market circuit to a breakfast-and-lunch storefront on Main Street, he probably didn't feel the need to amp up the accoutrements. Crepes with street cred don't need no trendy decor or fancy silverware ... right?
Accordingly, The Crepe Maker makes some good crepes, but does not offer a very inviting place in which to enjoy them. The tables and chairs are mismatched and uncomfortable — grimy patio castoffs that look like they did some hard time on Craigslist. The plates, utensils, and cups are plastic or Styrofoam. Water is available only in Lilliputian-size Dixie cups. Long and cavernous, the space itself feels more like a hallway than a restaurant.
Giakoumis has made some nice attempts to warm up the place, painting the walls a cheery yellow and hanging some black and white photos of France, but it all still feels pretty bleak. Try to nab one of the two outdoor tables or take your crepe to go.
On the other hand, if you keep in mind the Crepe Maker's farmers market provenance and you tell yourself that you're not really in a restaurant, per se, you're actually ordering from a large, stationary crepe cart, then it is possible to look past the depressing decor — and the even more depressing coffee and accompanying Mini Moos creamers.
The Crepe Maker offers about 25 savory and sweet choices ranging from $4 to $9, as well as a small selection of panini ($7.75) and salads ($6.95-$8.45). According to the counter man on duty one morning, they "sometimes" offer buckwheat crepes, but on the two occasions I was there, only flour-based crepes were available. I normally prefer the heartier buckwheat shell for my savory crepes, but no matter. The savory vegetarian crepe ($9) was outstanding. It was filled to bursting with feta, sundried and fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts and spinach.
We also enjoyed the Grand Marnier ($9) which benefited from a liberal shot of the liqueur, sweet, ripe strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate. I was hoping for a dollop of real whipped cream as opposed to the foamy canned stuff, but I'll take whipped cream any way I can get it. The mixed berry ($9) also arrived with a hefty helping of quality, ripe blackberries, strawberries and raspberries.
The ham, cheese and tomato crepe ($7) was fine, but less impressive than the others. A too-heavy hand with the mild cheddar made for a goopy experience.
The crepes here are on the large side, plenty for a breakfast or lunch. Some, like the chicken mushroom and turkey avocado ($9 each), are large enough for two to share if neither of you is too hungry.
I stopped in one day for a chicken panino ($7.75) and enjoyed it as much as the crepes. A nice-sized marinated chicken breast sandwich, dressed up with sundried tomatoes and Swiss cheese, was paired with a small green salad and made for a very satisfying lunch.
In preparing this write-up, I vacillated on whether to implore The Crepe Maker to reconsider using only disposable plates, utensils and cups, not only in the name of whatever landfill Los Altos uses, but because food — even a crepe — simply tastes better when served with silverware you're not afraid will snap in two mid-meal. I recognize that The Crepe Maker has a 15-year history of selling crepes on the street — and I wouldn't expect real silverware at, say, a fast food restaurant — but even if you squint and pretend, 280 Main Street is not a crepe cart. Softening some of the streetwise edges, providing good coffee in real mugs, some comfortable seating, and maybe even an answering machine so callers can find out when the place is open, would seem to be relatively simple upgrades that could take The Crepe Maker to the next level.
Meanwhile, though, we'll just enjoy the crepes.
The Crepe Maker
280 Main Street, Los Altos
Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays;
9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends. Closed Mondays.
Reservations: Groups No
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor dining: Yes
Party facilities: No
Noise level: Low to medium
Bathroom cleanliness: Restroom was out of order