Taste Test: The Skinny Pancake
60 Lake Street, Suite 1A, Burlington, 540-0188
The Skinny Pancake
A few months ago, I had a lumberjack for the first time. Too much information? Well, consider that the lumberjack in question was a crêpe the size of a vinyl record folded over slices of Vermont ham and cheddar, with the optional smattering of tart apple slices. Sitting on a lower Church Street bench beside the cart where the salty-sweet concoction was made, I devoured it and licked the last bits of cheese from my fingertips. Then I went back for dessert.
In France, crêpes are a fast-food staple for urbanites on the go. Here, they're more rare. But judging by the success of Burlington's The Skinny Pancake cart, where I got my first Lumberjack, they've got legs.
By last June, the crêpe cart's trio of twentysomething owners — Middlebury Collge grads Benjy Adler, Jon Warnow and Mike Rimoin — were ready to add more stable digs. They opened a café in the Lake & College building on Burlington's Waterfront. But the cool new space, with an exposed-ductwork ceiling and tables made of reclaimed wood, came with a few challenges. Until they could install a range hood, the owners offered a limited menu. Once the hood was in, they added items slowly, giving their youthful staffers time to adjust to whipping up unfamiliar dishes.
Come autumn, the full menu was up and running, and the Skinny Pancake entrepreneurs branched out by instituting "Folk & Fondue" nights on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At 5:30 p.m., they bust out the Sterno and offer oozing pots of melted cheese accompanied by cubes of Red Hen breads and side salads. Chocolate and maple dips are available for dessert. The bands show up a few hours later.
On a busy Saturday evening, my party of four began by sharing a couple of unique and appetizing Skinny Pancakes. The chicken and wild mushroom "Crêpe Cake" ($9) was a wedge-shaped "tall stack" layered with a poultry and 'shroom combo smothered in Mornay sauce. The French-Mex "Crêpadilla" ($7), which combines fresh salsa, avocado and cheddar, was a hit, too. For a solo diner, the Duclos & Thompson ground beef we added ($2.50) would have made it a meal.
Next up: Wood Creek Farm steak frites ($21), the one entrée that doesn't involve crêpes or fondue. (A few classic bistro side dishes are also on the menu.) The local, dry-aged meat, which arrived on a generous bed of perfectly skinny, golden French fries, proved toothsome indeed. Unfortunately, though we ordered it medium-rare, only the barest hint of pink remained. Our side salads were dressed with pleasant maple-apple-cider vinaigrette and topped with local chèvre, grape tomatoes and crêpe chips. While the chips were fun, they came off as unnecessary in salads meant as a light counterpoint to a bunch of filling, flour-heavy fare.
The fondue comes in five flavors: the "Traditional Swiss with a Vermont Twist" (two-person serving with salads, $18.50) and four variations thereon. The basic blend incorporates Jarlsberg, Swiss Gruyere and Vermont Gruyere. We bypassed the tempting pesto and wild mushroom varieties to settle on a pot that comes topped with bleu cheese and a side of cider to swirl in tableside ($22.50). The cheeses were well chosen, and the cider added a barely detectable sweetness, but the flavor of white wine in the mixture was overpowering. It diminished as the fondue sat over the candle, but the blend would have been better balanced with less booze.
Too full for another round of fondue, we finished off the evening with a couple of sweet crêpes. Both the "Choco-Monkey" ($6) and "Hot Apple Crispy" ($6) were perfect. The former was smeared with Nutella and topped with slices of banana. The latter was a cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled wrap stuffed with lightly cooked apple cubes and topped with whipped cream.
While our server was thoughtful and attentive all evening, a few details went unnoticed. My glass mug of peppermint tea came with aromatic loose leaves in a bag — much classier than the foil-wrapped kind. But when my tisane had steeped to the point of perfection, I realized there was nowhere to dispose of the bag. By the time my tablemate located a dish and returned to our nook, the brew had reached Altoid-level strength. Our water glasses could have used a bit more attention, too. And the food, as I'd noted on previous visits, took its time getting to the table.
There's a lot to love at the Skinny Pancake — aside from the food, the localvore ethics, eco-friendly facility and friendly staffers are all in tune with Vermont tastes. Vegetarians will find a plethora of meat-free dishes (vegans can get theirs with a wrap that includes chickpea flour and olive oil in place of the animal products). Portions are ample, and these dudes really know their crêpes, from the delightful savory combinations, such as the "Cheesy Pesto" ($6.50) and "Garlique Chic" ($8.75), to the scrumptious dessert selections.
The Skinny Pancake does have a tendency to get too creative, though. One example is the beautiful-looking "Lake Monster Roll" ($9), filled with smoked salmon and served maki-style with ginger-soy dipping sauce. All of the ingredients were topnotch, but the cold crêpe didn't do them justice as a traditional nori and rice wrapper would. Similarly, the crêpe known as "Coconut Curried Potato" ($7) has great flavor, but it's a starch bomb: Not only are the potatoes wrapped in a flour shell, they're on "a bed of white rice." (My blood sugar goes wonky just thinking about it.) A few things in the world should not be wrapped in crêpes.
But if you want to experience the many things that are better with 'em, The Skinny Pancake is worth visiting.