Bonjour. First piece of advice for all non-culinarians: Don’t walk into Betsy’s Crepes (127 N. Front St.) and ask for a “Creepy Suzette”—I have no idea what will appear on the plate. But learning the lingo beforehand is a real treat.
A crêpe, pronounced “krep,” is a very thin pancake that can be made with a variety of different types of flour. It’s often stuffed with sweet and savory fillings and then folded into a tasty little package. (Voila! You’re officially French; class dismissed.)
Once upon a time on Front Street lived a retro, blues-inspired diner named Nick’s. When their doors closed, locals didn’t exactly fall into bouts of sadness over the loss—but it was one less place for Bloodys and breakfast bowls. Enter: Betsy’s Crêpes. A spinoff of the original location in Southern Pines, Betsy’s is one of downtown’s newest brunch (and breakfast, lunch and dinner) havens. The décor is updated to mirror the café’s Parisian charm and they’ve got a menu to match. While she probably could have gotten away with coffee as the sole brew, owner Betsy Markey knows her audience and branched out with full liquor service, several craft taps, and—wait for it—a Bloody Mary bar. (Bets: On behalf of downtowners everywhere, thank you.)
Sometimes my job requires me to indulge at odd hours. Good thing I’m a professional. So, I started drinking vodka on a Tuesday morning after strolling into Betsy’s to fill my belly with folded delights and tomatoe-y drinks. In anticipation of the make-your-own Bloody Mary experience, I called ahead to verify this wasn’t just a weekend treat. Unfortunately, however, the waitress informed me that since no one had ordered it all morning, the components were stored away. I suddenly felt stuck between a rock and a spicy place. She must have sensed the disappointment on my face. “You know what,” she said, “I want you to have the full experience. I’ll set it up for you.” (One point for Betsy’s; three cheers for vodka.)
Speaking of vodka, clarify with the server the type of vodka preferred before she grabs a glass. I may still be broke but I’m no longer in college, so the days of house liquor are far behind me. I unexpectedly received well vodka. The server missed the opportunity to upsell, and I opted for Absolut anyway, despite the pre-emptive pour. While I appreciate the gesture of assembling the station, yesterday’s citrus and too-short celery slices deflated my satisfaction. The small green stalks soared to the bottom of my pint glass instead of standing tall with leafy hair waving about. Hopefully, they put a bit more thought into the alcohol accessories for the rowdy Saturday crowd.
As for the set up—there’s everything from Zing Zang to Worcestershire to Old Bay to Sriracha. I surprised myself with my stellar shaking skills. I’ll admit, DIY is fun, but I can see this “craft your own cocktail” concept getting out of hand on a busy weekend.
Since Tuesday had just become a boozeday, piling on the carbs seemed mandatory. Like my friend Nelly says, “Batter, batter up.”
Betsy’s offers several selections of crêpe batter—even two gluten-free varieties for those who can’t tolerate wheat. I kicked it off with the huevos rancheros, a spicy mixture of scrambled eggs, cheddar, black beans, and chorizo. I opted for plain batter as to not overwhelm the bold ingredients. Its flavor tasted airy and light. The pico’s red onions could have benefitted from a finer dice, but the citrus and acidity complemented the smoky sausage. To put it simply: This is a breakfast burrito vacationing in France. And it’s a great saucy pair for the Mary.
I moved along to the Renoir Crêpe, a mixture of ratatouille and goat cheese, wrapped up in buckwheat batter. This French Provençal-stewed vegetable dish traditionally tastes earthy with verdant notes of thyme and bay. I’m goat cheese’s number one fan but its mild creaminess conquered the veggies and caused them to lose their flair. They tasted underseasoned and there was no garnish in sight. Transforming the goat cheese into a creamy finishing sauce or dusting the dish with fresh herbs might have brightened things up a bit. The buckwheat batter, however, had a nice bite and notes of nutty toasted bread.
The Monte Crêpe featured a folded blend of ham, chicken, cheddar, and Swiss. Artistically, the plate boasted a tangy web of raspberry and honey mustard. Despite the stunning presentation, the chicken tasted out of place; I hoped for a bit more ooey gooey-ness from the cheese, too. The whole wheat crêpe had a wonderfully dense texture and richness. The accompanying mixed greens were a welcome light side, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a from-scratch vinaigrette in sight. Don’t worry, Betsy, the housemade pickled red onions saved the salad.
I’m a cheese-for-dessert type of person, so the Le Sweet Gabby had my name all over it: brie, brown sugar, strawberries, and honey. The sweet juicy berries woke up the buttery brie and the sticky honey synchronized each component into perfect harmony. The waitress recommended the Hungarian batter and the spicy hints of cinnamon sparked the crêpe to life.
I didn’t go after any of the truly sinful creations, like Oh My Sugar—ice cream, brownies, and chocolate sauce. But, seriously, who wouldn’t want all of those things in their mouth at the same time?
What I appreciate about Betsy’s is their ability to stay within their niche, yet be flexible enough to tweak their design toward their audience. The principles of French food are grounded in simplicity, quality ingredients and butter as the North Star. As long as Betsy’s adamantly sticks to that principle—while folding up high quality crêpes—we’ll keep coming back for more.