Savoring Oh Crêpe

A new restaurant has opened in a space where a series of cafes have come and gone, in the middle of Main Street in North Adams, as the town makes an effort to revive and Downstreet Art brings pop-up galleries to storefronts nearby. Oh Crêpe, the newest presence in town, may have found the ingredients to become a fixture.

Books line the yellow walls so that sitting at a light table I am eye-level with Jessamyn West’s “Leafy Rivers” and Mark Hadden’s “A Pot of Bother.” They belong to the Berkshire Emporium, the antique shop that surrounds the cafe. The wooden counter runs the length of the compact space with tip jars intriguingly labeled “deep space” and “deep sea.” This place has a playful inventiveness in it.

On one end of the counter an old metal milk can turned into a water cooler, and on the other, filling me with admiring glee, three flavors of Assembly Coffee roasted locally in the central Berkshires. They also have a gluten-free cooking space.

It’s a sunny space with colors that could have come from the crêpe of the month listed on the wall — lemon curd and whipped cream. The crêpe has raspberries and mint too.

I’ve followed a recommendation from a local to Oh Crêpe Cafe at 57 Main St. in North Adams, and the crêpe in front of me is sunny too: Mountain Girl eggs, Cricket Creek Farm cheese, fresh spinach and bacon. This is the kind of place that relies on fresh ingredients and presents them simply. The eggs are rich and buttery, the cheese sharp, the spinach plentiful, the bacon lean and the crêpe itself soft, light, faintly sweet and faintly tangy. Together they are splendid comfort food.

Finding new local ingredients has become a summer quest, co-owner Benjamin Lamb told me later. Well after I sampled his fare we met near his office in the Paresky Center at Williams College. He and his wife, Emily Schiavoni, live in North Adams and opened Oh, Crêpe together at the end of April.

He and Emily have wandered farmers markets and talked with friends looking for local sources — skyr and butter from Gamelgarden, muffins from Cakes by Reba, blueberries.

“One of our main objectives is to leave as many dollars as possible in the local radius,” he said.

They want to supply as many local ingredients as the seasons allow and keep prices low enough for their neighbors to feel comfortable.

“If locals can’t afford to eat locally, then what does local mean?” he said.

In a space where many restaurants have come and gone over the years (the Appalachian Bean, the Cup and Saucer, Petrino’s …), Lamb and Schiavoni are attracting a crowd of all ages, tourists and locals, and watching the word spread by word of mouth and social media. They find energy downtown, he said, and they want to be part of it.

They have built community with technology and a sense of humor — run an Indie-go-go campaign raising funds and local support and started a friendly and informal crêpe-of-the-month contest, inviting people to submit their own ideas for the menu. So far Lamb and Schiavoni have chosen their favorite idea from those they can make practical in their restaurant, he said. Moving forward, they plan to choose their top three recipes and put them to a Facebook vote.

Their sense of community runs deeper than social media. They both work and live it. Lamb is a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts alum, a member of the North Adams City Counsel and the Assistant Director for Student Organizations and Involvement at Williams College, where he has also supervised the college’s coffee bar in Goodrich Hall. Schiavoni is the Director of Residence Life at Southern Vermont College and has a great deal of experience mentoring staff, Lamb said.

At Oh Crêpe he hopes to foster community between high school and college students and people in town. The books on the walls, he added, belong to the Emporium, the antique shop surrounding the cafe. The two shops have developed a symbiotic relationship: People coming into one will often end up in the other. Oh Crêpe has already grown a regular crowd, he said, coming in for morning coffee over the newspaper.

Some people have had a crêpe here for the first time, he said. Crêpes are not common, but the idea of a pancake or a tortilla often feels familiar.

tourists from as far away as Alaska

from Canada who know crêpes well and like what they taste here

“We’re on Main Street,” he said. “We’re a place where people will stop in. The staff have to be cheerleaders for the city.”

Later I tried the lemonberry crêpe of the month that won the last contest. The tang of lemon, blandness of cream, tart-sweet berries and sharp mint blend together into something rich and suave and unexpected. I’ll go back for more.

A version of this story (updated here) ran first at Rural Intelligence. Many thanks to editor Lisa Green.

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