THE ORIGINAL SUZETTE was a picture-perfect bohemian paradise: a storybook warren on NE Alberta where happily rumpled Joanna Newsoms and Bob Geldofs walked down a crunchy garden path, ordered plump, delicate crêpes from a hidden trailer, ate them in a whimsically decorated 100-year-old carriage house, and smiled contentedly to hippie skiffle. Then, like a child-friendly and Nutella-forward Brigadoon, it was gone, never to return. Not to our friends in the Northeast, anyhow.
Although Chez Panisse-pedigreed chef Jehnee Rains has received ample press for her work with Suzette, the cart's reopening as a full-fledged restaurant on SE Belmont is noteworthy because of the fundamental transformations of the concept. Intelligently designing a dining experience means orchestrating hundreds of details we notice and don't notice, and Rains has created a space that evinces genuine compassion for all involved. The menu is the right size for the kitchen, the staff is the right size for the room. There could legally be more seats, and there could conceivably be a niçoise salad or steak haché, but there are not, so that even during the crush of a Sunday lunch the fluidly served capacity crowd is no louder than a gently warbling creek.
What one might not have noticed on first pass? Watch Rains work her station in the compact, open kitchen she built. Notice the economy of movement, the time-saving layout she may well have been refining day after day while cooking in an Airstream. Look more closely. Do her aubergine clogs match her crisp, clean sweater? Why, yes, they do. Does that matter? I don't know, but she seems at peace in a demanding spot, and the purposeful, home-like calm that radiates from her central node in the restaurant imbues the space and its people with confidence in their leader. This is difficult to achieve in a cart.
I could gush endlessly about the importance of coordinated footwear, but Suzette has so much more to offer. The only entrée dish, the sweet or savory crêpe ($6-8), is no timid affair here, and is just as her fans fondly remember from NE Alberta: The butter-kissed, tender batter is griddled just blonde and carries a payload that would satisfy all but the most grandstanding of trenchermen. Savory fillings are comfortingly traditional, ranging from a slightly salty domestic prosciutto and Gruyère—the apotheosis of the form, in my estimation—to variations on jammy, marsala-soaked melted figs, wilted-in-the-dish fresh spinach, onions caramelized to the brink of structural collapse, thick, flaked smoked salmon, sautéed mushrooms, and warm goat cheese. Add an over-easy egg for a dollar and complete the breakfast sketch. If your bairns are along, teach them well the simple pleasures of sweet house-made marzipan with honey, or egg and jack; there are no smashed Butterfinger bars or bloomed lumps of Optimus Prime-shaped chocolate to be found on the kids' menu ($3.50).
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options feature prominently in the assortment. Rains coaxes enough flavor from her figs, onions, and mushrooms to approximate the richness of a classic crêpe—and swaps out cheese and crème fraîche with a smooth roasted garlic and chickpea spread—but diners on restricted diets may find the sweet side of the menu more rewarding.
As one would hope, the namesake crêpe suzette ($7) is a beautiful thing. Executed flawlessly, its picture-perfect supremes of orange are expertly free of any rind, pith, or seed and bursting with fresh citrus flavor. They are strewn with a lavish hand over a plain sweet crêpe, which is then treated to a generous saucing of Grand Marnier, the raw taste of alcohol carefully flamed away so that only the mature orange essence of the liqueur remains. The amandine ($7.50), a gestalt-attaining marzipan crêpe completed with hand-sliced and toasted almonds, wildflower honey ice cream, chocolate sauce, and cider-poached apples, showcases Rains' meticulous care with the simplest of ingredients. The gem-like fruits that appear in her desserts are lovingly manicured, marinated, cooked to fork tender, and displayed with artful pride.
The sleeper hit of the menu is Suzette's house-made ice cream. If you do not sense much room at the inn after the sizable entrée, at least do yourself the favor of sampling a two-scoop bowl (mixing encouraged). Available during our visits were wildflower honey, cinnamon, and crème fraîche varieties, and each succeeded at isolating and subtly amplifying an idealized yet still-natural form of its signature flavor.
A compact but sagely edited menu of bistro wines, beers (draft and bottle), and ciders is well matched to the food. Happy-hour offerings ($3 crêpes, $1 beer and $4 house wine) hint at the pleasures of the full menu.
Suzette, a victory in any incarnation, is an embodiment of vision, persistence, and considered hospitality. Relax in the company of your companions, enjoy this sturdy bistro fare, and smile as you realize that in a carefully designed, unguarded moment, the wine has washed over you just so.