Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz is a busy, relatively unglamorous commercial part of town. Tire repair shops. A supermarket. A dance studio. And lots of busy traffic. The Crepe Place is one of several restaurants in a two- or three-block stretch of Soquel, and from the outside, it looks just like all the rest. A green awning, a battered antique statue by the front door, a blackboard where the menu is listed. Nothing special. But when you walk in, you instantly realize that this is a classic Santa Cruz eatery. Funky, casual, eclectic, very personal and cozy. It feels like coming home, assuming home features Tibetan prayer flags, mismatched furniture, and completely random décor that somehow all ties together to make the Crepe Place feel welcoming, intimate and interesting all at the same time.
This place is an institution – it’s been in business since 1973. They really, really know what they’re doing, and part of what they do is just plain relax. There’s no ceremony, no pretension and when you get right down to it, very simple food. But this being Santa Cruz, the land of hippies, surfers and the counterculture, the people-watching is great and the message of the Crepe Place is “relax, enjoy, take your time and take it easy.”
The Crepe Place is on Soquel Avenue right down the street from Whole Foods and Rite-Aid, just before Seabright. There is usually a fair amount of street parking, and the Whole Foods lot, which is immense, is a block away, so parking isn’t a problem, ever.
Address: 1134 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
- Mon – Thu, 11 am – 12 am
- Fri 11 am - 1 am
- Sat 9 am - 12 am
- Sun 9 am - 12 am
Take your pick. This place is big, and most of it is outdoors. There’s a bar in front, with a small stage/dance floor, and live music almost every night. There’s a funky, wood-paneled inside dining room, decorated with everything from old boxing posters to bowling trophies, with big windows that look out onto the patio. And then, in anything close to good weather, there’s a huge outdoor seating area, with several different sections, heat lamps, a grape arbor, all surrounded by bamboo and all kinds of plants. It’s lovely, and in good weather, paradise. And, again, this being Santa Cruz, you can linger over your meal for as long as you want. This is definitely not a “hurry up” kind of place. It’s a neighborhood place.
The wait staff is cheerful, eclectic, and fast. They know what they’re doing, even if they may have piercings, glitter, floor-length skirts or tattoos.
This place is not cheap, but it’s not too expensive, either. $60 - $70 for two, including drinks. The portions are large.
It’s called the Crepe Place for a reason – they make something like twenty different kinds of savory crepes, from The Crepe Gatsby (sautéed chicken breast, sun-dried tomato pesto, spinach, feta & mozzarella cheeses, mushrooms, scallions, tomatoes, and garlic) to The Mama Mia (marinara breaded eggplant, spinach, fresh basil, walnuts, white cheddar, mozzarella & cottage cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes & garlic) and everything in between. You can even design your own crepe if you want. They also offer the usual range of appetizers, and really fresh, really immense salads, as well as an impressive dessert menu, and a full bar.
This is ultimately pretty simple food. Although each crepe has a number of ingredients, there’s nothing tricky about the preparation, or the presentation. It’s very straightforward, using fresh ingredients, and basically designed to be a great place to go if you’re pretty hungry. If you’re the Prince of Gourmets, you might want to go elsewhere, but if you want a healthy, satisfying meal that’s just plain good, and sometimes surprising, this is your place. Everything, by the way, comes with unlimited bread – small loaves of warm, fresh bread, served on a cutting board – all you want. As I said, this is a good place to be hungry.
We ordered a Crepe Fredo dinner (a crepe with Blue Point crab, spinach, white cheddar cheese, Swiss Gruyere, mushrooms, onions and herbal seasonings, topped with Alfredo sauce), which means it comes with a salad, and the a la carte Jambalaya Crepe (bay shrimp, Andouille sausage, mozzarella & white Cheddar cheese, mushrooms, scallions, bell peppers, olives & garlic, topped with Creole sauce). There are no sides, but on the other hand, you don’t need them – these are really big crepes, and they are more than a meal. You’ll probably end up taking leftovers home with you.
These crepes are good and satisfying, but they’re also clearly sort of assembly-line cooking, in which the cook obviously puts a group of ingredients in a sauté pan, heats everything up and combines it, wraps it up in a crepe, and out it goes. The sauces tend to be a little bland and a little industrial – the Alfredo sauce was a little tired, and the Creole sauce, while spicy, was also a little watery. What makes it all work is the combination of ingredients and the variety. This is hearty, interesting food, but not at all about the complex interplay of delicate flavors, or anything like that.
The dessert crepes are especially interesting. Along with the usual sweet crepes, they usually offer one special. When we visited, it was a butternut squash crepe – cubed squash, prepared with a lot of butter, chopped walnuts and brown sugar, and served with ice cream (if you want it). An interesting, creative twist on some unexpected ingredients, with a great result.
The Crepe Place, ultimately, is a real surprise for the first-time visitor. It’s like visiting the big, rambling home of an artistic friend. Relax, take your time, eat a nice big meal in the Santa Cruz sunshine, and think about how maybe you kind of actually like patchouli and Indian-print skirts. It’s that kind of place.Published On: Thursday, June 6th, 2013