Stepping into the former Neely’s Barbecue Restaurant on Jefferson feels, for a moment, like entering a little place on the Left Bank of Paris. Soft French music plays, there is a cheerful “Bonjour!” greeting at the door, and the floor is covered with French tiles.
You’ve arrived at Monsieur Demarcus, French Crêperie.
The Monsieur Demarcus of the name refers to owner Kevin Woodard — Demarcus is his middle name. Starting at McDonald’s in high school, he worked his way up through several well-known local restaurants.
His ambition was to own a food truck. Unable to do that due to regulations, he left, first to Florida then to New York City, where he did soul food catering in Harlem. A French chef convinced him to come to work making crepes. Woodard tells the story of the first approach, when he heard the word “crepe” spoken with a French accent and took offense, thinking the chef was calling him a “creep.”
A couple of years ago he came home to open Le Crepe du Vin in Bartlett. Although it opened to excellent reviews, he found most of his clientele was coming from other areas. Plus, because of the small size, he was unable to qualify for a wine license. The former barbecue spot on Jefferson offered a big enough spot to grow and a more central location.
Crepes, very thin French pancakes, are often thought of as desserts. But in France, they are also served with savory fillings as a first course at dinner or as a main course for lunch.
And there’s a long list at lunch to choose from. At one lunch we had a tough time deciding but wound up with two winners. The first, The Lourdes, was filled generously with asparagus, Swiss cheese, avocado and roasted tomato. It was a great combination. The second, The C’est Magnifique, boasted sautéed mushrooms, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and caramelized onion.
Both had obviously been filled, then heated on a griddle, toasting the outsides slightly and assuring perfectly melted cheese inside.
Although we both had vegetarian versions, there’s no shortage for those wanting a little more protein. Ham, chicken, bacon and turkey, eggs and salmon all find their way into other crepes.
On another visit we were tempted by the non-crepe part of the lunch menu. We started with soup. There are two on the menu. I had the French Onion Soup, an excellent version topped with a thick baguette toast mounded with Gruyère cheese. It had been melted in the oven, giving the cheese that authentically stringy character that makes real French onion soup a challenge to eat and remain ladylike. My husband had the vegetable soup. It starts with a vegetable broth. An assortment of vegetables is sautéed first, then simmered to order in the soup. Most of the vegetables were agreeably crisp, although the carrots and green beans could have used a bit more time on the fire.
I had the Pique-Nique Sandwich. Turkey, slivered apple, Brie and caramelized onion are served on an excellent crispy baguette. I found out later that the bread is made in-house, which would explain the crunchy crust. It came with a small salad with a berry vinaigrette. My husband opted for The Autumn Salade, with fresh orange, raspberries, blackberries and goat cheese, with the same berry vinaigrette.
In the evening the dinner menu has several ambitious dishes, including Canard Cassoulet, which I ordered. Although it was not an authentic French cassoulet (which takes days to make properly), I certainly had no complaint with the beans and vegetables bathed in a rich flavorful broth, nor with the well-seasoned duck breast that had been sautéed, sliced and fanned out over it.
My companion was equally satisfied with The Jean Baptiste, a bed of coconut rice topped with jerk-seasoned and grilled tilapia and banana-pineapple salsa. There was plenty of jerk seasoning, which he loved, but for those who are more sensitive to spice — like me — it might be a little too hot.
I rarely opt for dessert, but with the list of dessert crepes, there was no way I could resist. On each occasion we split one. Those sampled included the Orléans, with fresh strawberries and blueberries, raspberry sauce and whipped cream; and the Nancy, with fig jam, slivered dates and goat cheese. Both were delicious, but my favorite was the Lyon, filled with toasted coconut, bananas and a caramel-y dulce de leche sauce.
Service is cheerful and competent. I loved the little bits of French thrown into the service — “Je m’appelle Roy,” our waiter told us (“My name is Roy.”) There’s an occasional glitch, which might be expected in a very new restaurant, but beyond having to ask for a fork for dessert, we had no complaints.
Everything is made to order, so for some dinner items (notably the cassoulet) there might be a wait that we aren’t accustomed to. But we were warned when we ordered that that would take longer.
Wine and beer licenses have been applied for but not yet granted. Until then, you may bring your own with no corkage fee.
Monsieur Demarcus French CrÊperie
Address: 670 Jefferson.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday brunch.
Reviewer’s choice: French onion soup ($8.50), Canard Cassoulet ($24), Pique-Nique sandwich ($10), The Lourdes savory crepe ($12), Lyon dessert crepe ($8.50).
Alcohol: None, no corkage charged for B.Y.O.B.