French Fusion Invades Downtown

Printed by ABQ Free Press: March 9, 2016

Walk into Breve Crêpes & Coffee (400 Gold SW), and you may feel you’ve stepped out of downtown Albuquerque and into a café in southern France.

Sunlight streams in through an all-glass front facade, setting upholstered seats aglow. Burlap coffee sacks and jars of freshly cut flowers hang above tables. Behind the counter, the baristas’ aprons match the wall — an expanse of Yves Klein blue that’s reminiscent of the Mediterranean.

And, of course, there’s the heavenly scent of coffee and crêpes.

Espresso machines are now relatively commonplace in American cafés, but Breve offers an even rarer sight, a genuine crêpe griddle. The cooks spread batter over its 16-inch surface and flip with with a careful flick of a spatula. The resulting tissue-y gold pancakes are crisp around the edges but thick enough n the center to support your choice of toppings.

Which toppings, you ask? Co-owner Mandy Garrison addresses the topic over a macchiato: “The Nutella crêpes are very popular. And all of the fruit, any combination you can think of.” Berries, bananas and Nutella?! Vive la France!

Examine Breve’s design more closely, and it’s plain to see Garrison and partners Billy Nguyen and Teddy Friedman are doing more than merely emulating chic French eateries. Bagels, complete with green chile cream cheese, are also on the menu.

The potted succulents rep the Southwest, not the south of France. Alongside the Nutella sits Skippy peanut butter and a bag of mini-marshmallows. This is still America, y’all.

“More than being anything in particular — French, Italian, whatever — I want it to be a welcoming experience,” Garrison confirms. The priority here isn’t tedious authenticity; it’s sensory pleasure.

One glance at Breve’s Instagram feed (instagram.com/breve) reveals how breathtakingly bouquet-like their creations are. That unparalleled visual component is thanks to chef Friedman, who brings more than a decade of culinary experience to the Breve team.

“We’re always looking for inspiration,” Friedman says. “We’re going to do crêpe cakes as well — layered crêpes with buttercream frosting.” She’s also experimenting with a crêpe cannoi and sushi-like mini-rolls.

Given how protective the French are of their culinary customs, what would they say about this sort of experimentation? When an online photo of crêpes stacked and cut cake-style went viral recently, French commenters reacted with shock and horror. BuzzFeed France declared it “un crime international” against crêpes.

Friedman and Garrison don’t care about such snobbery. They believe Burqueños are ready to embrace new twists on an old-world favorite. And it seems they’re right. Within an hour of their grand opening early on Saturday, Feb. 27, every seat in the house was filled.

When I joined the line, it was all hands on deck as staff hustled double time to meet demand. Despite valiant effort, a single griddle can cook only one crêpe at a time, and some of us waited a full 15 minutes for our orders. “Oh, well,” I thought, “there’s nothing more French than leisurely service.”

Then Friedman finished my order and delivered it with an apologetic grin. “Sorry it took so long. Thanks for waiting!” Let’s face it: There’s really nothing more American than service with a smile.

So, is it more French or American? On first bite of my crispy-soft pancake and its melting Nutella, it was clear that Breve offers the best of both worlds. As for the wait, don’t fret: Friedman assured me they’re getting a second griddle soon.