A simple food invented on the rocky moors of northwest France has become a culinary favorite all over the world.
The crêpe, a staple of French dining, has been pleasing palettes for centuries. Originally called galettes, which means flat cakes, the thin, little pancakes are served with sweet and savory fillings.
This international delight has now made its debut at the Broad Street Market, with locals jumping on the crêpe train. Open only a few months, Bon Appetit Crêperie has introduced central Pennsylvanians to this French treasure, quickly garnering a faithful following.
Husband and wife team Shawket Mourtada, originally from Liberia, and Lalla Mourtada, from Mali, wanted to own a business that would reflect their love of food and of their culture. Mali, an African nation, is a former French colony, and Lalla grew up speaking French and eating crêpes.
“I would go to France in the summer, and there are crêpes on every corner,” Lalla said. “We decided, why not offer these in Harrisburg?”
Shawket visited Paris this past summer. After his return, the couple decided that owning a crêperie would be an excellent choice.
The Mourtadas left no crêpe unturned as they developed their business and their menu.
“We worked on the recipes for months and would fill up these gallon jugs with different batters we created and mixed up at home,” Shawket said. “We would just try them out to see what worked.”
It turned into a family affair.
“My mother, who is a good cook, came from Boston to help us,” Lalla said.
Both admit it took them awhile to figure out how to make the perfect crêpe.
The equipment can be tricky to use, but, through trial and error, they were able to figure out their recipes. They now own four French-made crêpe makers, which are in full use in the brick building on market days. Their system allows them to make one flat cake and then transfer it the iron beside it to keep it warm. Their stand has glass windows that allow customers to watch the process from beginning to end.
Their crêpe menu is divided into two categories—savory and sweet—and the names that accompany the recipes are as interesting as the recipes themselves.
For instance, the “Sea Master” (a savory crêpe) is stuffed with smoked salmon, capers, scallions and cream cheese. The “Campfire” (a sweet crêpe) has graham crackers, mini-marshmallows and Nutella spread topped with a chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. There are 15 crêpe recipes to choose from. Customers also have the option to “Be the Chef,” which lets them choose their own spread, fruits and toppings.
The Mourtadas get a lot of their vegetables and milk from vendors in the market, so crêpes are both local and fresh. They are considering rotating menu items to reflect the seasons. The two also speak various African dialects between them, as well as Spanish, Portuguese and French, which helps when greeting the market’s increasingly diverse customer base.
Things have moved quickly for the newly minted crêpe-makers.
Next up are some ideas that include weekly posts on Instagram to pick a crêpe from two or three options that will be that week’s special, as well as someday, they hope, expanding to other regional locations.
Shawket and Lalla are trying to improve every day and to educate their customers about their favorite cuisine. Along the way, customers can line up to watch the crêpes being made and, best of all, chomp into the end result.
Bon Appetit Crêperie is located in the brick building of the Broad Street Market, Harrisburg. For more information, visit their Facebook page: Bon Appetit Crêperie.