French roll-ups

Far from dainty, you can get a man-size meal at Royal Oak's What Crêpe?



Metro Detroit crpêries have found ways to overcome any lingering reputation this French favorite may retain as a wispy trifle, a lady food. Chefs are pouring their crêpes big, stuffing them overfull, thickening them up or serving two together — or using all methods at once. The result is a substantial meal.

What Crêpe? is the area's newest crêperie, in a perfect location. It's in the cute and tiny (there's that lady thing again) former home of Café Muse and before that Café Calypso, by the railroad tracks in Royal Oak. The 22-seat place, which seems all angles and nooks, is graced with dark red walls and photos of French scenes and signs in pretty frames. The mismatched china and chairs are all handsome; a savory crêpe was served, for example, on a yellow plate with paisleys and flowers, its sweet follow-up on a daintier floral pattern.

Most people will find one order of a savory crêpe and a shared sweet one to be enough food. They're not paper-thin, and they come in different styles — one rolled like a burrito, another in a triangle fold, another more deconstructed.

I liked or loved all seven crêpes I tried, with one exception that was my fault. "Mushroom madness," for example, listed on the "favorites" page, was woodsy heaven for a mushroom fan, with shiitakes and Gruyère. It's hard to go wrong with truffle oil, and this madness is drizzled with a "truffle zip sauce" of the oil, soy sauce and butter — fabulous.

The Italian crêpe was just as good, which I ordered despite the mysterious listing of "Italian cream sauce" as an ingredient. (You want to be chary of foods that people from the purported home country wouldn't recognize.) It combined plenty of prosciutto, ham, arugula and Parmesan, and I decided it had a distinctly "Italian finish."

A "wild smoked salmon crêpe" was similarly generous with the eponymous ingredient. (Though I did get a giggle out of the thought of lox trying to swim upstream; shouldn't it be "smoked wild salmon"?) It includes the expected red onion, capers and tomatoes as well as avocado, chives and crème fraiche. 

There are 10 breakfast crêpes featuring scrambled eggs with anything you can think of, including maple syrup sauce, but I went with "My Morning Jacket": ham, asparagus, Swiss cheese and Hollandaise. It's a good thing calories and cholesterol don't count when you're eating out; Chef Nate Rockwell has truly mastered the art of Hollandaise.

I found the sweet crêpes rather less interesting, though they share the rare virtue of using real whipped cream. The crêpe itself seemed incidental to all the ice cream, Nutella, bananas and whatnot going on. Best was simplest: just butter, sugar and lemon — perfectly sweet and tart. You could taste the delicate crêpe itself.

But my dining partner happily finished a roll-up of bananas, chocolate, white chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The mistake I made with my "mixed fresh berries crêpe" of rasp-, black- and strawberries was to ask them to hold the powdered sugar — and how many people would do that? It needed the sweetener to help the tarter blackberries commingle with the other fruits.

When I go back (there's a loyalty program — get your card punched 10 times and the 11th is free), I may try the cooked offerings: Bananas Foster with sautéed bananas, or sweet cheese with sautéed cherries and cinnamon cream cheese.

You can choose to build your own savory or sweet crêpe from a long list of ingredients, with sauces ranging from raspberry vinaigrette to agave nectar to ranch. A number of the choices are vegan-friendly, and owner Paul Jenkins swears the vegan "ice cream" is better than the original.

There are also good side salads — the $3.75 small is pretty big — and soups. My black bean was spicy and not thoroughly puréed, which is a good thing, with a star of red pepper slices on top and a dollop of crème fraiche.

All coffee is French press. Hot chocolate and hot cider come with canned "whipped cream," unfortunately, but they're still good — the cider has a drizzle of caramel sauce, which seems so obvious if you think about caramel apples.

What Crêpe? is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sunday, but anything on the menu is available at any time. Royal Oak residents or workers get 10 percent off. No reservations.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to

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