The Corner Creperie is the kind of place that’s perfect for lunch with my girlfriends or an afternoon writing on my laptop. It’s the kind of agreeable, cozy, locally owned cafe that will appeal to nearby Creighton students, foodies who want to try something new and downtown businesspeople looking for a quick lunch served with a jolt of caffeine.
That’s because the tiny restaurant, which opened in December, serves a menu of tasty Parisian-inspired street food that I haven’t found anywhere else in Omaha. It also serves delicious, strong coffee and coffee drinks using locally roasted beans. And it does it all in the style of a true neighborhood joint.
The cafe, on the corner of 24th and Chicago Streets, is modern in design, with lots of white, sleek metal chairs and huge windows overlooking traffic-busy streets. Wood tabletops, colorful art by Iowa City-based artist Bekah Ash and the whir of a cappuccino machine warm it up, though, and make it more welcoming than anything else.
Owner Derek Olsen and his wife, Didi, opened the restaurant because they wanted to try something different, Derek told me in an interview after my visits. He was transitioning from a longtime career that required a lot of travel and the couple had a new baby, so family time was a priority. They’d thought about a restaurant before.
“We had crepes in the back of our mind,” Derek said. “We’d tried them in San Francisco and Seattle and a couple places overseas. And we didn’t see them anywhere in Omaha.”
Didi is a Creighton University alumna, and the corner bay in the bottom of a mixed-use building right on the edge of the campus felt right. The couple worked with Brian O’Malley, a chef and instructor at Metropolitan Community College’s Culinary Institute, to come up with a lunch and dinner menu that has both sweet and savory crepes.
Crepes, French for “pancakes,” are a light, paper-thin version of a traditional pancake that can be made with sweet or savory batter. Dessert crepes usually are spread with jam or chocolate or filled with fruit, then folded and served. Savory versions can be filled with various meats, cheeses and vegetables and topped with sauce for a first or main course.
The chefs at the Creperie make the thin pancakes in the front of the restaurant on two large, circular griddles. They pour the batter onto the hot surface and as it spreads they smooth it round and round with a thin wooden spatula.
As the batter sets, they carefully peel the cooked side from the griddle and quickly flip it over. It’s quite a feat of engineering, and the results were great. Our warm pancakes were thin, delicate and fully cooked every time.
All the crepes come with a mixed green salad topped with a light yogurty dressing.
I loved the grain crepe, filled with quinoa, chickpeas, charred scallion and a sweet pepper puree. Like many of the crepes at the restaurant, this one played interestingly with both texture and flavor: Nutty quinoa, crisp scallion, sweet, chunky sauce and chewy chickpeas made for a memorable meatless choice.
The steak crepe had nice chunks of seared flank mixed with roasted cauliflower, bitey pickled shallots and a horseradish crema that added a subtle but noteworthy tang. The pork crepe got deep flavor from a spread of silky confit tomato alongside pieces of braised pork belly, cheddar cheese, arugula and a tangy, buttermilk-based sauce.
The hen was the most standard of all the meat crepes I tried. Its mild filling of roasted chicken, melted leeks and vinegar from Nebraska-based George Paul Vinegar was simpler than the others, though I did like the crunch of walnut bits inside.
The least warm of the warm crepes was the egg crepe, which on the menu is described as deviled egg filling but in reality is more like cool egg salad spiked with ham, gouda cheese and scallion. The filling was nicely spiced and tasted good, but the mixture of a cool salad inside a warm pancake felt a bit off to us.
That said, don’t expect your crepe to be steaming hot. We expected ours to be hotter than they were — my husband, especially, said he’d have liked his hotter — and when I spoke to Derek Olsen, he said the restaurant will make the crepes steaming hot at a customer’s request though it will take a few extra minutes.
Instead, the crepes are meant to be just warm, closer to room temperature. It’s how the crepes the Olsens ate outside of Omaha were served, and it also makes for a product that the chefs can make in fewer than five minutes for the on-the-go students they envision as the restaurant’s main customers.
And speaking of students, it’s worth nothing that the Corner Creperie doesn’t mess around when it comes to coffee. All of the drinks I had — a brewed coffee, a cappuccino and a latte — were strong, rich and bold. They came served piping hot and delicious. I’d stop by again for a coffee to-go without hesitation.
On one visit, my husband and I tried the soups with our crepes. I liked the broth, served every Monday, which had a nice lemony flavor along with chunks of tender chicken and lots of barley. The onion soup, served daily, tasted more bland and less rich than I expected but I figured out why: Instead of being made with beef broth, like I thought, it’s made with leek broth and includes caramelized onions, shallot and tarragon. It could have used some salt, and there wasn’t a salt shaker on the table for me to salt it myself.
When I asked Derek about the soup, he agreed that sometimes it needs more seasoning, including salt. They’re still perfecting the vegetarian recipe.
I had the cheese crepe for an early weekend lunch that was really more of a brunch. I liked the big chunks of roasted apple mixed with quark and cheddar cheeses and crispy shredded bacon. It struck me as more apple than cheese, but I can’t complain about that.
The fruit crepe — the only cool one we tried — was delicious. Peaches that the restaurant pickles in house are combined with mild vanilla quark cheese and crumbles of delicious clove-scented shortbread. It was sweet but not overly so and the interesting flavor of the spicy peaches and the almost-savory cookie bits assured that I ate more than my fair share.
Almost everything the restaurant serves is made from scratch, Derek said, including sauces, pickled condiments and the pancake batter itself.
The Corner Creperie pays attention to detail. It shows in the creativity of the crepes, the thoughtful presentation of the food and the modern-yet-comfortable atmosphere. Put it on your list of places to try.
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