Germaine Zimet is a devoted daughter, sister,
wife and mother, as well as an accomplished crepe chef. Combine
those talents and you have The Crepe Factory, the latest niche
restaurant to open on Smith Street.
The Crepe Factory is a family enterprise:
sisters Rachelle and Sabine wait tables while brother Philippe
cooks; their mother, Monique Mendy, who died last month, made
the bright, mosaic tables and their father, who died last year,
is represented in a large painting his children commissioned
in his memory. But it is Germaine, oldest of the six Mendy children,
who is at the helm of this operation.
The Mendys came to France from Senegal
and settled in Normandy to raise their ever-growing family. Monique
loved to cook, so naturally aspired to learning the local specialties,
in particular, crepes. As the children came along, they, too,
learned to cook, and, crepes, of course, were part of their repertoire
"I didn’t know where to get crepes
in Brooklyn, so we opened our own creperie," said Germaine.
Aside from three soups, two salads and some sandwiches, the Crepe
Factory really serves just crepes. The crepes are all made with
buckwheat flour as is the tradition in Normandy – a little off-putting
if you’re only familiar with Crepes Suzettes – the slim white
crepes served flambe with a divine sauce of butter, Grand Marnier,
orange and lemon juice.
There are 12 main course crepe selections
on the menu, from the very simple (crepe with eggs, crepe with
Gruyere cheese, chicken crepe) to the more complicated combinations
like the house specialty "crab supreme" or the "Catalane
Laguna tuna" or the "chicken-apple-sausage" combination.
All the flavors and seasonings are straightforward,
with minimal seasoning and sauces. Germaine encouraged us to
compose our own crepe, referring us to the "additions"
list, from which, for an extra charge, one can add sun-dried
tomatoes or mushrooms or a French ham called "Madrange."
"When I came to the United States,
as soon as I’d tell people I was French, they would ask me if
I knew how to make crepes," Germaine recalled.
On that clue, Germaine, with her brother
and sister, started a catering business, serving mainly crepes.
The business succeeded, and it wasn’t long before they thought
of branching out. It occurred to Germaine that food vendors at
large sporting events must do very well.
On a whim, she called the organizers of
the U.S. Open tennis tournament and asked if they needed more
vendors. Her call came just as one of the key vendors had dropped
out, and, before she knew it, she had agreed to make crepes for
the masses of tennis fans in Flushing, Queens.
With minimal time to prepare, she rallied
her family around her. They put together a temporary crepe kitchen
and madly turned out crepes.
"It was incredibly hard work,"
said Germaine, "but I was proud of us for doing it."
That experience gave the Mendys a certain
amount of confidence and they started to dream of a restaurant
of their own – hence their Crepe Factory on Smith Street.
The dessert crepes are as simple as the
main courses – honey, brown sugar, jam, banana, apple and pear.
There was a pleasant honesty about the food so often absent today,
when every chef seems to strive to further fusion. They’re eager
to add waffles to the menu soon, too.
In keeping with the food, the restaurant
itself is pleasingly simple and clean. An entire wall is exposed
brick. The ceilings are high and the rest is composed of white
walls. The painting the Mendy children commissioned from local
artist Stephen Gaffney to honor their father is a focal point.
It is hard-edged and colorful with symbols from his life – a
snake striped in the colors of Senegal and France wrapped around
a branch, an elephant, the symbol of Mendy’s tribe in Africa,
and the Eiffel tower.
The tables made by Monique are cheerful
and colorful – she arranged broken pieces of purple, blue and
green stained glass then covered them in polymer.
At the Crepe Factory a family is together,
doing what they love best to do.
The Crepe Factory is located at 270
Smith St. between Degraw and Sackett streets. Open every day
except Monday. Accepts American Express, Visa and MasterCard.
For hours, call (718) 237-4444.