IT WOULD TAKE a Venn diagram to accurately describe NE Alberta's Suzette. Somewhere in the intersecting ovals of café, cart, and restaurant, you'd find a small area (let's shade it mauve) denoting the quirky little Northeast Portland crêperie.
The best way to wrap your head around the place is to imagine a café, situated in a tastefully appointed shed on the set of a Fellini film, supplied by a mobile kitchen operated from a sleek Airstream trailer. The whole place has the feel of a semi-permanent gypsy encampment, as if at any moment the lovely chef, Jehnee Rains, might hitch up her trailer and move on to some small troubled town, which will rediscover its zest for life through a series of silly misadventures involving crêpes.
After walking to the window of the Airstream—past the patio, under the arbor, and along a pebbled path beneath a colorful Aztec-inspired mural—one might be too distracted by charm and quirk to concentrate on ordering. But once an order is placed, diners are ushered into a café-type dining room shelter to be waited on by congenial staff.
The space, essentially a refurbished garage, does well to elevate Suzette from cart-dom to something more. More what? It's hard to say. Unlike a coffee shop, patrons do have the benefit of laidback table service, but unlike a restaurant there is little formality. However you frame it, the space is comfortable. It's not uncommon to have a nice chat with your server while sipping coffee made to order, or a tart homemade spiced cider, or refreshing lavender lemonade.
Suzette's crêpe menu is part soberly savory, and part sweetly exuberant. Here we have the typical assortment of smoked salmon, Gruyère, prosciutto, and sautéed mushrooms wrapped in folds of buckwheat crêpe, alongside a selection of tempting dessert crêpes (often paired with homemade ice cream) with ingredients that range from lemon butter to Nutella. Non-crêpe items include quiche Lorraine, French onion soup, a salad with apple and candied nuts, and often an assortment of small pastries.
It's safe to say that Chef Rains has it locked down. The French onion soup is a rib-sticking, just-thick-enough concoction with bold onion and a touch of sweetness. Topped as it is with a large baguette round and a thick melt of Gruyère, the warming, fatty soup works well to combat Portland drizzle.
The quiche Lorraine is very good, with a flaky, buttery crust and a filling that manages to be both light and satisfying. Delicious bits of bacon, onion, and thyme are distributed evenly throughout for consistent flavor in each bite.
Suzette's savory crêpes are a surprise. Often, savory crêpes are too subtle, the flavors too muted, like a whispered apology. Suzette's savory crêpes don't apologize: They are thunderous and bold, with flavors as big as the crêpes themselves. The smoked salmon option is simply stuffed with fish, caramelized onions, goat cheese, and spinach. You find each ingredient in every bite, from first to last, tucked inside the substantial buckwheat crêpe.
That burly buckwheat is used in each savory option to good effect. Of particular note are the prosciutto and sautéed mushroom permutations. In each, there is no skimping on filling. The amount of meat is nearly startling in the prosciutto crêpe. And in the case of the sautéed mushroom crêpe, the mushrooms ooze from the interior with a mixture of goat cheese and a gravy-like mushroom sauce—all, of course, drizzled with white whorls of crème fraiche.
The boldness is echoed in Suzette's dessert crêpes. The eponymous crêpes Suzette is a fine example, with big sweet and sour tones from Grand Marnier and mild little orange wedges. It's a tad disappointing that the crêpe's flaming preparation is reserved for Chef Rains, in the confines of her trailer, but nonetheless the dish is delightful.
However, it does not hold a candle to the wow factor of the chocolat crêpe: Nutella wrapped in a delicate chocolate crêpe is startlingly rich, nearly overpowering. The texture and depth of each bite is offset by crunchy candied hazelnuts adding higher sweet notes. The coup de grâce, however, lies in the homemade cinnamon ice cream that offers bright, cooling respite, and incongruously cuts through the heavier notes with its horchata-esque tones. Fan-fucking-tastic.
It's hard to find a misstep at Suzette. On one occasion, the salad was a touch over-dressed and just this side of oily. On another, I hadn't finished my soup before my crêpe arrived, causing me to abandon it before the crêpe cooled. But these are admitted nitpicks. In truth, Suzette is nearly perfect for what it is: an immense amount of charm, and an immense amount of flavor, folded into a quirky eatery by a talented chef.