September 14, 2011

Crespella Cafe Shows Promise But Doesn’t Meet Expectations

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Crespella Cafe, located at 113 South Cayuga Street, is a fairly new and unique addition to Ithaca’s local food scene. As an avid fan of all things associated with breakfast or brunch, my interest was immediately piqued by their tagline: “Breakfast, Lunch and More”.

In order to reduce my usual twenty-minute decision-making process, I took the liberty of checking out their online menu beforehand. I had initially assumed Crespella Cafe to be a chic cafe-cum-bistro serving an elegant variety of brunch fare more akin to that served at Carriage House Cafe or Cafe Dewitt — “Crespella” is, after all, the Italian name for crepes, a dish I consider to be slightly classier than the humble pancake. However, the real-life menu options suggested that Crespella is taking the direction of a diner rather than a chic bistro. Furthermore, the competitive eating challenges that the cafe has dubbed “Legend Makers” hinted at a more rambunctious concept than the relaxing brunch café.

Crespella Cafe boasts over fifteen different pancake flavors, ranging from the classic French vanilla and blueberry to more adventurous choices like cookie dough, pumpkin chip and coconut. Fortunately, the cafe allows customers to choose up to two pancake flavors with each order. I ordered two short stacks — $6 each —  made up of three silver dollar pancakes each, which gave me the option of four pancake flavors. Like any experienced pancake-eater, I was expecting a thick, fluffy stack of hot-griddled pancakes, topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or dusted with snow white icing sugar, and served with a generous serving of syrup.

Unfortunately, Crespella Cafe’s versions of my beloved breakfast treats did not live up to my idealized visions of them. The root beer flavored pancake was dry and chewy, and the red velvet pancake resembled a flat version of its original self—a cake. And while the apple bacon flavored pancake was good, it was also forgettable. The only pancake flavor that stood out was the German chocolate, a rich chocolate-y pancake with crushed almonds, coconut and chocolate chips generously dispersed throughout the batter. However, it still lacked the irresistable fluffiness that marks the best pancakes. For a product that is touted as the cafe specialty, the pancakes were a disappointment.

The meat and cheese frittata — $11 — was yet another unsatisfactory dish. What was supposed to be a thick, fluffy and moist serving of baked omelet turned out to be flat and bland. Instead of being moist and thick, it was chewy, dry and greasy. The frittata was served with a side of home fries that resembled an unsuccessful attempt at house-made chips—the potato slices were too thick to be fried to a delicate crisp, and ended up as a greasy and soggy starchy discs.

The Full Monty — $11 — is advertised as a very hearty take on a stuffed French toast, but in fact is little more than a deep-fried ham and cheese sandwich. This calorie-laden heap is definitely not for the faint-hearted or health-conscious. A thick and crunchy batter encased the entire sandwich, which was filled with a generous serving of salty bacon and cheese and served with a side of maple syrup. This was a sandwich I could imagine ordering at Jack’s Grill as a late night, post-party snack, but certainly not something I was expecting from a brunch café with a daisy as its signature image.

Maybe it was the lackluster atmosphere caused by a relatively empty, sparsely decorated, monochrome dining room that dulled my dining experience. I could blame my overly high expectations for the letdown; Crespella Cafe had big shoes to fill when faced with my brunch expectations. Nevertheless, they did promise exceptional food, boasting an executive chef with pastry and dessert expertise, and failed to deliver. While I won’t be returning anytime soon with the expectation of enjoying light, brunch fare, I might pluck up the courage to challenge one of the two legend makers — maybe seeing a girl wolf down two large pizza-sized pancakes and a 16-ounce glass of whole milk might create some much needed-excitement for this little cafe.

Original Author: Ethel Hoon