If you want it done right, do it yourself. At Josephine, the pâtés and the wines are all made on the premises, with outstanding results. And co-owners Jeanine Henson and Bob Zagar work the floor themselves, resulting in professional, knowledgeable, caring service.
They’re serving a short menu of French or French-inspired dishes that begins and ends with crepes but also includes onion soup, coq au vin and beef bourguignon.
Forget preconceptions about crepes. Many crepes places recommend you order three, including dessert, and that’s still not much food. At Josephine, an entrée crepe is both filled and topped with goodies, and, with its sides, it’s plenty for a meal. All crepes are made with buckwheat batter, which gives them more body and more flavor than most.
You’ll start with a glass of house wine, of course. “Wine is always a work in progress,” says Henson. “I’m still perfecting it.” She uses varietals grown in Michigan to make a cabernet, a chardonnay and a semi-dry “Great Night White” similar to a Riesling, and she plans for a pinot noir.
I loved the $7 cabernet. As I searched for a descriptive word, Henson suggested “earthy.” I thought “bite-y,” which is how I like red wine. The $6 chardonnay is softer, less crisp than I prefer but still very good.
Dinner starts with an “amuse” (short for “amuse bouche” — a tiny, free appetizer that arrives as soon as you do and amuses your mouth while you decide what to order). One night we had a cucumber slice with garlic-Parmesan mayo; on another an endive leaf with roasted pepper mayo.
The pâté platter is generous and top-notch. The offerings, which include cheese and a sinus-clearing honey Dijon, change according to chef John Wiggins’ fancy. We had a mild seafood pâté and a pale, smoky pork-mushroom that reminds you why pâté never goes out of favor. A coarse, housemade whole-grain mustard is admirable but perhaps a bit much for a mild pâté.
Another appetizer, escargot atop new potatoes, was the only true loser I tasted at Josephine — no flavor in the snails and precious little in the potatoes. (I believe that conveying garlic butter to the mouth must be escargot’s only proper function.) Shrimp bisque is thick unto paste, rich and creamy.
That whole-grain mustard turns mild and just perfect in the sauce for a chicken-asparagus crepe. This is a favorite of Josephine patrons, and mine too. The wild mushroom crepe tastes wine-y, although it’s really made with chèvre and a balsamic glaze. The beef bourguignon (beef cooked with Burgundy and mushrooms) crepe is the most substantial, both tender and rich, although it’s odd to think of a crepe as hearty.
All crepes come with highly flavored butter-sloshed green beans and fresh fruit.
Josephine also serves a handful of non-crepe entrées. Coq au vin (chicken baked in red wine with pearl onions and mushrooms) is all it should be — essence of bacon permeating throughout and the intense flavor that only long, slow cooking can elicit. The vivid sauce will make you eat all your semi-mashed potatoes. A vegetarian pasta special one night made good use of sweet roasted tomatoes. Other choices are filet with blue cheese and red wine demi-glace or sea bass saffron meunière.
It would be wrong not to finish with a dessert crepe, specifically the classic, crêpes Suzette. Henson flames the crepe tableside with Grand Marnier, and then squeezes half an orange over. Other choices are mixed berries and Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread. Predictably, the Nutella crepe just tastes like Nutella; it’s a flavor not subtle enough for a crepe, really.
Josephine serves brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. No steam tables here; you can order homemade corned beef hash, filet and eggs, blinis, cheese blintzes, mimosas, any of the nighttime crepes, and lots of twists on eggs Benedict. Eggs Norwegian, for example, uses smoked salmon; eggs Josephine slips avocado and tomato under the hollandaise.
Josephine’s tables are set appealingly, with fresh flowers, and the walls are covered with work by local artists. It’s not to my taste — too much like those big-eyed waifs that were popular back in the ’70s. But all pix are for sale, so if you like it, you can take some home.
Open for dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.