My students at the University of Pittsburgh recently asked me what an authentic crêpe was like, and I realized I have no good answers. I only have impressions. In my head, it goes like this: a crêpe must have a simple batter made of flour, eggs, milk, and occasionally some sugar, vanilla, or salt. The filings may be sweet or savory, but the crêpe must be folded in a triangle. I’m willing to admit that crêpes are versatile and easily made American, especially when they’re done well, but I’m least skeptical of crêpes when they harken back to Avignon, France, in 2005 when I was taught to flip crêpes by holding a coin in my left hand for luck.
Due to my dealing only with impressions, Au Bon Lieu in Harrisburg, PA, strikes me as the real deal, offering crêpes that are actually hearty, elegant, and soul-friendly. (No ham and provolone crêpe here — that’s for the deli down the block.) The batter is made daily out of unbleached flour, and many ingredients are organic, including many of those pictured above — artichoke hearts, plump olives, basil, fresh tomato, a freshly-fried egg, and herbed feta cheese.
What do I look for in an authentic crêperie? A savory crêpe that is less about avocado and more about shrimp. Sweet crêpes that are less about Nutella and bananas (although definitely include Nutella and bananas) and more about powdered sugar, jams, butter, and honey. (Our dessert was a crêpe with organic honey and pine nuts; also on the menu were sweet crêpes featuring chestnut paste and Belgian chocolate.)
Eating on the sunny front patio facing Third Street, I assert that Au Bon Lieu felt juuuust about right.
Au Bon Lieu
1 North Third Street