There's a stretch of Park Avenue, roughly between Goodman and Oxford, that might be considered a sort of pan-European hideaway. Roam Café, with its vaguely Italian theme and its ardently Italian Vespas, holds down the spot at 260 Park. The dearly departed but not forgotten Dutch Market used to occupy the house across the avenue at 257. And since last December, Italy has France and Greece for neighbors — although in the real Europe they aren't the same place.
In December 2011, Dimitra Apostolopoulos, a chef with decades of experience cooking both on the line and as a personal chef in New York City, decided that she was tired of life in Manhattan and relocated to Rochester to be closer to her son, and perhaps more importantly, her toddler grandson. Apostolopoulos told me that what she wanted when she made the decision to open Delish Bakery at 266 Park was the opportunity to "create my own things," to experiment with new ideas and new presentations, and to become the pastry chef that she was clearly born to be. So, this chef of a certain age, who learned her trade under the tutelage of her uncle in Greece, set out to open that most French of institutions, the crepery.
Greek heritage and French food run counter to reason — most restaurateurs draw on their heritage first and their training second. But Apostolopoulos didn't want to open another Greek restaurant, or another Greek bakery for that matter. And let me assure you that until she talks to you and you hear her accent, you'd swear that she was born in France and trained at the Cordon Bleu. Her restaurant and her food are that French, and that good.
Apostolopoulos makes her crepes the way that they are made in creperies and street stands all over France. They're created on a 15", perfectly round crepe griddle, spreading the batter (she does both regular crepes and slightly more dense buckwheat) with a thin spatula and doing the seemingly impossible as she loosens the nearly diaphanous pancakes delicately off the flat-top, turns them, and then fills them with either savory or sweet ingredients as suits your fancy. I will confess that in three visits, I never got around to trying out the sweet crepes, even though she adds to the usual roster of nutella and cinnamon sugar ingredients like apples, caramel, and an enticing-sounding combination of caramel, chocolate, and walnuts that she appropriately calls a turtle. (Sweet crepes range from $5.25 to $7.25.) The problem was that her savory crepes were too good, and entirely too filling to permit me to follow them up with something sweet — and crepes don't reheat well.
Instead, I was completely taken in by crepes with ingredients that would give those tradition-bound French folks apoplexy. The ham and cheese crepe sounds pretty French (I can't even tell you the number of times that this was a staple of frugal dinners when I was a much younger and poorer college grad swanning around France on a Eurail pass and a quickly declining pile of francs), but a Frenchman would never have thought of including scrambled eggs in the mix. (Savory crepes range from $7.95 to $8.95.)
And I'm sure that the folks in Paris would positively faint if you suggested that you might put sausage, cheddar, eggs, and salsa inside a crepe. The results are wonderful, substantial enough to be meals (plural) in themselves. Order a strawberry chicken salad ($8.50) and one of Apostolopoulos' Parisienne crepes full of tender sauteed chicken, mushrooms, and bechamel, and you and your companion will have a dinner fit for French royalty. The multitude of fresh blueberries, strawberries and mandarin orange slices are dressed with a tart and sweet raspberry dressing, deftly balancing the rich, creamy goodness of the crepe.
Even the more outre combinations of ingredients work well. A buckwheat crepe, wrapped around turkey, sauteed spinach, cheese, and cranberry sauce, was the very essence of fall, reminding me that Thanksgiving is only a couple of months away. The sausage, cheese, and egg crepe with a surprisingly spicy salsa might ruin you for Western omelets forever.
But if you take a look around Apostolopoulos' shop it's immediately clear that pastry work is her first love. The large display case at the rear of the dining room is full of the sort of things you'd see in an alternate-history version of Paris. You'll find bright green pistachio cookie whoopie pies, which are essentially macarons on steroids. Cups of chocolate and raspberry crème, layers of ethereal mousse alternating with almost toothache-sweet buttercream and a swirl of raspberry puree to keep it from tilting over the line from just sweet enough to too-sweet. Slices of chocolate cake that look like they were cut from the fabric of midnight with a laser. And adorable little jars full of cake and pie with raffia ribbons tied around the lip.
Jars of cake and pie? Yup. Jars. One of Apostolopoulos' whimsical creations, cake or in a jar might be the coolest idea I've seen in dessert in quite some time. Take her excellent chocolate cake or lemon coconut cake and layer it in a Mason jar (although, in fact, she uses Bell jars) like an English trifle, screw a lid on it, and you have the perfect picnic dessert or hostess gift. And unlike so many gifts that come in jars, this one won't be around for very long — the contents and the deceptively diminutive-looking serving invite you to dig in and then scrape the glass bottom. Apple pie in a jar is equally cute and tasty, the filling closer to the French tarte tatin than gooey American apple pie, while the crust itself is almost cookie-like in its tender sweetness.
You will not be hungry when you leave Delish, but as you settle up, be sure to snag a jar of the chocolate-strawberry or chocolate-banana spread by the register. It's good on everything from toast to ice-cream, and may be best eaten one furtive spoonful at a time.