Creperie de la Mer: ‘Crepes by the Sea’

Warm Hint of Paris in Beach Haven
By MARIA SCANDALE | Jul 13, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The scene couldn’t have been scripted more beautifully in an indie film.

Enter the cozy creperie, and the buttery baking smell envelops warmly, like the smile of the Islander chef who has returned home, now owner of the café with his wife from Paris whom he met and married in the British Virgin Islands.

Say hello to the stars, John Albright and Nadia Benchohra Albright at Creperie de la Mer, at 126 North Bay Ave., Beach Haven.

The crepe recipe is hers, and we stand watching him expertly coax the batter into golden folds, “on the first take,” as they’d say in the movies.

Customers sharing the long, French country-style table by the window are saying “mmm” and “delicious” and “bon,” and tell us they’ve not had better crepes in Europe.

Sweet or savory crepes can go out with beverages such as French pressed coffee from Italian beans, loose-leaf English breakfast tea, Perrier, or fruited water from a very cool glass jar.

After getting your fill of watching while they’re made fresh in front of you, hot crepes can be eaten there or taken to go, at a perfect price. Customers at the table on this Thursday afternoon enjoyed the $5- $8 sweet crepes and got $10 savory crepes for lunch.

“I’ve had crepes in Paris, (and) St. Maarten, and they’re just as great here,” praised Shantha, of Pearl Street. “Fantastic! I had the brie with the pear, walnut and raspberry vinaigrette; it was so delicious. And the ham and cheese, so wonderful!”

Kate Parsons, who lives outside of Philly, added, “I lived in Europe for five years. And these were excellent crepes, the best!”

Nadia Albright, saying thank you, “there is no compromising,” pointed out French friends also at the table. “There can’t be better critics than French people,” she remarked, “because you can’t mess up your crepes with French people.”

Frenchwoman Joëlle Klein, who owns the boutique *Share with… LBI in Haven Beach at 111th Street, took a bite of her smoked salmon with lemon dill creme fraiche in order to review it. “The dough is very good, because it’s buttery, like in France.” Her entourage also liked the salmon because it was “very fresh.”

“So, John, what’s the secret to perfect crepes?” we asked as we ambled back over to the cooking station behind the counter.

“The pan being hot enough; butter, butter, butter for the flavor; and the timing,” he listed.

“Lots of practice,” was the rest of the answer.

For all their graceful manner, John and Nadia are really down-to-earth people launching this venture. John calls it “a work in progress” – “We’re just starting the season. We opened, literally, the Friday of Fourth of July weekend.

“It’s been pretty fun so far ... and we’re reaching some goals,” he said. “We kind of put it together on a shoestring budget, but it came out okay, and we’re happy with it. We’re hoping that people will discover us and be happy with it, too. It’s something different. I think it fills a little niche.”

Tracing the Origin

Of an Idea

Locals of early middle age remember Albright from his lifeguarding days on 119th Street in Long Beach Township, where his parents had a house; and then from later, when he owned C’est La Vie restaurant on LBI.

He honed his restaurant skills starting at age 14 at an alphabet soup of larger, popular establishments here, working his way up from dishwasher. Work ethic is part of this business, too. And the other way of becoming a good chef is in his resume as well: a top school – Johnson & Wales – and impressive experience  – The Four Seasons Hotel, where his crepes were first mastered.

For the past decade, friends online watched with envy as he did what chefs can do, take their skills to somewhere tropical and live the good life while creating good food. But Albright’s time on Tortola was a step beyond. As a professor of culinary arts at H. Lavity Stout Community College, his culinary hospitality department was teaching local students how to step up to the plate, so to speak.

“I taught the kids how to cook, how to do food and beverage operations. Because within their tourism bureau, they were trying to train the local kids for the jobs, as opposed to ex pats coming from other countries to do it,” Albright explained. “They were trying to take care of their own. Some of them have opened up their own restaurants, or are working for the bigger hotels down there.

“I loved teaching. It’s really cool to see your students being successful.”

The students loved crepes. “So, I made them every night, and I told Nadia, ‘If we ever leave here and do something else, I’m going to open up a creperie.’ And here it is, the little dream came true.”

They want to operate year-round, adapting the crepe fillings seasonally like he did at C’est la Vie – and keeping them 90 percent gluten-free.

Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., six days, but closed Tuesdays. They will also be open some evenings on busy weekends. The phone numbers are 609-709-7316 and 609-709-7444.

Inside, decor is a rustic seashore/French-tiled kitchen behind the counter, but also with Nadia’s touches of Victorian fabric wallpaper softening the north wall, where her photographs will be hung. She’s also a photographer.

As we were reluctantly getting ready to leave this visit, Nadia summarized the feeling they’d like to impart in the space they have.

“In France we say, ‘a la bonne franquette.’ It means, sitting down to eat with family and friends without the bells and whistles, in a nonpretentious way.”

John elaborated, “Like, with the butter dripping, just enjoying it.”

Nadia polished it off. “It’s more about the experience than the presentation.”

In our experience, we found both.

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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