It can be hard to see inside the Portland Street Creperie. The windows are often speckled with a layer of condensation, heat rising off of the griddles wetly knocking against the cold winter chill on the glass. And when they're clear, there's a good chance you're just looking at a small crowd huddled inside, standing room only, all watching the cooks batter up.
"You get to see the crepes made in front of you, so you really get to see the ingredients and the care that goes behind each meal," says Max Cook, who owns and operates the Creperie with his father, Neil. After the ladle is tipped onto the grill, it's hard not to be transfixed by the Zen swirls of the trowels— t-shaped spreaders—as they drag each scoop of batter to a final, thin circumference.
"If you come in a few times, you really get to know the people who make the crepes, to see that they care about the food that they're preparing, and they want you to enjoy your meal and have a great day," Max says.
The Creperie is exceedingly charming. Warmth and a sense of familial conviviality fill every nook and cranny of the tiny space. The menu is split evenly between sweet and savoury crepes, with fruity flavours like lemon sugar and chocolate covered berry, and some salty, earthy notes in combinations of ham and Swiss cheese, and sauteed mushrooms with brie and aioli. Prices never enter the double digits.
"As a family and as a family business we really wanted to support the community and the business community in downtown Dartmouth," says Neil. "It's going to take a lot of hands and a lot of people stepping out to support the changes underway here, and this is our way of not only supporting that change but maybe giving back to the community in a different, non-traditional way, if that makes any sense."
Small business-owners like the Cooks—like Renée Lavallée at The Canteen, Joel Plaskett at the New Scotland Yard Emporium, Charlotte Jewer at Kept and Jane MacDougald at the Dart Gallery—are definitely giving back to the community. Sunny new storefronts and smiling faces downtown have become welcoming beacons signalling a new day for Dartmouth, a string of bright lights chasing away the long, dark shadows cast by years of sketchy reputation.
"Seeing our space develop into something unique and rich, and seeing how it fits in with the community and my idea of downtown Dartmouth, has been so exciting," says Max. "Seeing returning customers, building relationships, and being so well supported and respected gives us a great feeling of community."
The Cooks' idea of Dartmouth is both a positive one, and a realistic one. They know that affordability is critical to their success. "We both grew up in Dartmouth so we know and understand the community challenges," says Neil. "There are people here who can't afford a $20 or $30 lunch, so we offer an option. I don't think we're alone in that in downtown Dartmouth, but we're definitely price sensitive."
Simplicity is also important to the Creperie. "Simple is part of our identity: the menu is simple, the ingredients we use are simple and pure, the tables are simple, the chairs are simple. Simple is where we're at," says Neil. "In the future who knows? But right now it's really about..."
"Working with what we have, with where we are," Max says, finishing his father's sentence. "We just want to work with what we have now, try to make that perfect, make sure we are consistent."
Portland Street Creperie
55 Portland Street, 902-466-7686 Mon-Thu, 8:30am-5:30pm; Fri, 8:30am-7pm, Sat, 8:30am-5pm; Sun, 10am-1pm