Mill Street Crepe Company
When I lived in Paris in the mid 1980s, every day, without fail, I had a crepe. Most came from a crepe stand on the boulevard St Michel.
I usually ordered a galette, made with buckwheat flour, folded over Gruyere and jambon and an egg, but sometimes a sweet crepe shiny with butter, lemon juice and sugar, soft and crispy-edged.
Crepes are marvellous inventions. They can swing both ways: messy street food eaten on the run, or all dressed up and taken for a flaming, saucy spin at a fancy French boite. They work for breakfast, snack time, a late night indulgence, filled with ice cream and dunked with a warm chocolate sauce. Crepes are freezable, malleable, adaptable, delicious.
They are also mostly gone, at least from this town.
In fact, French crepe restaurants have disappeared on both sides of the river. Luxe Bistro occupies the space where that long running date restaurant, Le Creperie, used to be. Café Crepe de France on Murray Street was replaced by a Lebanese restaurant. There used to be a place for crepes in Stittsville and I recall heading there with a kid or two after an AMC show. They’re gone now, both the kid and the creperie. Across the river, there was L’Argoat, best of the lot of them, specializing in buckwheat galettes. But it too shut down – moved, actually, in with its vegetarian sister restaurant Fleur de Sel.
So thank God for Almonte. It has resurrected the French creperie and hired a chef that makes presentations worth the hike.
The Mill Street Crepe Company is lodged in one of nine units in the new Heritage Court, a handsome red brick with history – here once was a general store, butchery, a Stedman’s. And now a number of shops, including this creperie, well-windowed and comfortable enough, with a casual café feel.
Heritage Court owner, Gordon Pike, hired Chef Theo Yeaman to run the kitchen at The Mill Street Crepe Company. Trained at George Brown College, Yeaman has work experience at Jump, Canoe and Auberge du Pommier restaurants in Toronto, at Vancouver’s Lumiere under celebrated Chef Rob Feenie, at The Chef’s Table in Calgary (where he was the 2008 bronze medal winner at Calgary’s Gold Medal Plates), and, to add a particularly fluffy feather to his cap, the boy can boast a “stage” (an apprenticeship) at Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, England (voted Best Restaurant in the World in 2008).
And now he is here, in his Gold Medal Plates competition jacket, flipping crepes in a little café in Almonte. You might wonder why? We did.
“I grew up here,” he told us. “I’ve come home. And I’m going to be a dad soon.”
Almonte’s a lucky town. Yeaman employs solid technique on quality ingredients. Flavours are clean and crisp. Sauces are gossamer and employed just enough to moisten, but not so much that we feel deluged with butter and cream. And Yeaman injects texture and colour into what can be a floppy assembly by toasting one side of the crepe package. He gives scallops the crunch of a hard sear, he tosses in some toasty pine nuts, he soothes the rich, dark flavours of red wine braised short ribs with slow roasted tomatoes, their concentrated flavour lending the meat some summer zing.
Crepes are packaged with a soup or a salad and both add-ons are commendable. There is a daily soup (a graceful roasted parsnip one night) along with the house soup, a gentle cream of roasted garlic and onion, perfumed with a touch of basil oil, the smoothness interrupted with croutons and pine nuts. The salad is an invitingly simple composition of mixed leaves, house pickled beets, goat cheese and toasted walnuts dressed with a French vinaigrette.
It’s impossible to single out one crepe as the must-order. They are all good, from the classic chicken and mushroom in a tarragon cream to the wintry short ribs with leeks, overnight tomato and cubes of roasted parsnip.
I braced myself, after ordering the scallop crepe, for a few overcooked rubbery bays in a soupy sea of white sauce. What came instead were four bronzed sea scallops, atop a crepe folded over roasted fennel and apple.
There are sweet crepes for dessert, and the chocolate/hazelnut is very fine. But there are sweets beyond crepes as well, including a delicious almond cake.
The liquor licence is a recent acquisition and the wine list is likely a work in progress. Service was kind, if a bit scattered.
I am told the creperie is busy at lunch. It was certainly quiet at our dinner. But I would venture the space, which feels like an upscale cafeteria, colourful, with lots of windows, works better during the day. It could use some cozying up on a wintry night. The lights could be dimmed, some drapes and more candles added.
So, if you don’t live in Almonte you might not make a special trip for the dÃ©cor. But that’s okay. It’s the food that’s worth a detour.