What: Café Zope
Address and phone: 344 N. Fourth Ave., 623-3700
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, with extended hours Fridays and Saturdays for as long as customers come through the door.
What was ordered: Ham & Brie Crepe ($7.25), Roasted Chicken & Lingonberries Crepe ($7.25), Italian Soda ($2.95) for a total of $18.86 including tax, well within our Cheap Eats goal of a meal for two for less than $20.
Comments: Fourth Avenue has seen its share of postage-stamp-sized cafés come and go, but this little creperie and espresso shop is something special.
There’s a meticulous, artful quality in the simplicity of Café Zope, which seems to capture all of the elements of a European cafe save the cigarette smoke.
What you see is what you get, as the clean lines and airy, calming layout are mirrored in the precise, quietly profound fare.
Don’t settle for the small, yet comfortable interior seating if there is a free table in the rear patio. The small herb garden and wood tables, chairs and fencing give off a vibe not unlike that of a Japanese rock garden, an ideal setting in which to savor the savory crepes.
The Ham & Brie crepe floored us. The teaming of the thin-sliced ham, mild brie, roma tomatoes and organic baby spinach leaves surrounded in the expertly crafted crepe was a mesmerizing melange. The crepe itself was expertly crafted, with just the right crisping and browning on the exterior and a delicate, spongy pull to its interior. Even the sprinkling of fresh ground pepper was impressive, as if the grains were individually counted to complement the crepe with just the right heft of heat. It’s the kind of culinary experience that puts the brakes on the frenetic, workaday pace you take for granted, slowing every part of your routine to a crawl.
At first glance, the post-card-size crepe would seem to be underportioned for the $7.25 price, but as with the best that Europe has to offer, it’s not about quantity, but rather quality. Though you finish the crepe wanting more, you feel as though you’ve gotten every penny’s worth of value and then some from the experience.
My companion was equally enamored with the Chicken & Lingonberries crepe. Though the chicken breast had a redeeming depth indicative of slow, careful roasting, I found the lingonberries to be teamed with the chicken in a ratio that somewhat overwhelmed the chicken and the crepe with its tangy, jammy power. As my companion noted, if you’re not fluent in lingonberry, this creative coupling may not be the crepe for you.
We couldn’t leave without sampling the scones, and both varieties held to the standard this four-month-old café seems to set with every part of its operation. The Nutella and Chocolate Chip variety had a clean glaze that gave a fritterlike appeal to the scone. The Nutella was judiciously incorporated, contributing a carefully gauged essence of sweetness that nicely played off the chocolate chips, with the texture of the scone itself riding a good balance that was ever-so-light crumbly yet not dry.
Similarly, the Orange Cinnamon scone had just enough of its advertised ingredients to make their presence known without compromising the easy charm of the scone itself.
Café Zope features a variety of sweet, Swedish and savory crepes ranging form $3.25 to to $8.95. A savory variety with smoked salmon, scallions and cream cheese served with dill sauce is on my short list. Another savory crepe with curried garlic shrimp, spinach and tomatoes drew a rave review from a friend.
This is not just another cute, little café on Fourth Avenue. This is one of those places you take those friends of yours who are so hard to impress. If they’re not overly impressed with Café Zope, I’m not overly impressed with your choice of friends.
Service: Order at the counter and the food is brought to your table.
Children’s menu: no
Web site: cafezope.com
Most recent health inspection: A “good” rating Jan. 13. Critical violations were reported for food separation, packaging, segregation and substitution methods not preventing food and ingredient contamination, and for foods not correctly date marked.