1425 India Street, Little Italy
Maybe it’s the pale, washed-green cupboards or the mustard walls or the blue-and-yellow tablecloths and olive bowls for sale. This place just feels like a little piece of France.
Right here in Little Italy. Cheeky.
But it’s seductive. ’Course, the oh-so-breathy French music helps. And if you don’t understand, they advertise free French lessons.
“What would you like?” asks this youngish guy with a French accent. Hmm... I’m not sure, except something with heft, ’cause it’s 3:00 in the afternoon and this is breakfast.
Fabrice — that’s his name — says that one of the sandwiches would be most filling. “Or maybe Alison’s Special crêpe. Everybody loves it.”
He’s from Marseilles. His wife Alison is from here. Turns out, this place’s name — Fabrison’s — is a combination of “Fabrice” and “Alison.”
So, he leaves me with the menu. Breakfasts are in the “croissandwich” line (comes with ham, cheese, and eggs and costs $5.50) or bagels ($2 with butter, $5.95 with cream cheese, capers, and salmon) or waffles ($6 with fruit topping or Nutella). The eight crêpes are all $6.95, either savory (like spinach and mushroom topped with béchamel sauce) or sweet (with, say, fruit or lemon and sugar).
Lunches are sandwiches or salad. Natch, the first thing I zero in on is the Niçoise salad. Love that tuna, egg, and caper combo. ’Specially if it has anchovies, too. This doesn’t, but I forgive them. Salads are all $7.50.
Then I think, Hold it, man, I’m really hungry here. Think “sandwich.” And the grabber is Alison’s Special, chicken and cheese with pesto ($6.95). Pan Bagna ($6.95) looks filling, too, with tuna, hard-boiled egg, and olives. But, sorry Alison, I go for the French Delight because it’s stuffed with salami and ham plus lettuce, pickles, and a vinaigrette.
Good choice. So fresh and strong-flavored. I order an oolong tea ($3). Oh, Lord. Too long since I had oolong.
I’m through the first half of the sandwich, lickety-split. Crave that salty ham-salami combo.
Then I make myself stop.
“What’s the problem?” says Fabrice.
“I promised to take half home to Carla, my wife,” I tell him. “Problem is, I’m still so hungry I could eat a cheval.”
“Well, why not have something else, and take half of that home, too?” he suggests.
See, that’s brilliance. I order the crêpe Alison thought up, Alison’s Special. Henri, Fabrice’s cook, sets about cooking it on a big crêpe cooker. “A Krampouz, the best crêpe machine there is,” says Fabrice. “Cast iron, so it cooks evenly.”
Have to say, this crêpe is one for the ages. I see roasted tomatoes, chicken, cheddar, roasted red bell peppers, and green pesto all oozing out. The crêpe itself is quite thick, but man, that’s good.
It seems that “pesto” means “pounded” in Italian. It’s an uncooked sauce from Genoa, made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Wow. That explains the zesty twang. The little vinaigrette salad on the side gives your mouth a fresh feel.
Big, cheerful-looking guy comes in. “Hey, Steve,” says Fabrice. Steve orders one of these latte-cappuccino-mocha-decaf-vanilla combos I’ve never figured out. Runs a software company right here in Little Italy. Cofounder of the technology behind whorunsgov.com, which tells you who the deciders really are, according to Steve. “I get lunches here for our employees,” he says, “about three times a week. They all like that Alison’s Special crêpe.”
“This is what Alison and I want this to be,” says Fabrice. “Not a tourist place, but a café du quartier, where we know everybody’s name. My grandfather had a place like that in Marseilles — Le Bar du Moulin. We had our first baby just after we opened. We’d like to have something like this to pass on to him.”
“So, you actually give free French lessons?” I ask.
“Yes, from 2:00 to 3:00 each Saturday afternoon for beginners, and 2:00 to 3:00 on Sundays for more experienced speakers. It’s going great.”
Why not charge?
“I couldn’t care less about the money. I arrived with $300, couldn’t speak English, wanted to be a cowboy. Had my hat, everything. Was heading for Texas. Then I fell in love, got married. So instead I sold cars, here, for Mossy Nissan. Got enough money to buy a four-bedroom house in Murrieta. Had 14 cars in 13 years. Divorced, sold the house, headed for a Buddhist retreat in England to decompress. Two years. Came back, met Alison. Now I know that, as the Buddhists say, ‘Wealth comes from giving.’ That’s why we’re trying to make this a social center.”
I notice the menu includes invitations to French classes, legal clinics, mommy groups, even open-mike nights, all held right here. These guys are really trying. I also see that they don’t serve wine or beer. “We don’t drink, either of us, but maybe we’ll get a license, once we’ve settled down a little.”
What I like is how Fabrice isn’t shooting for the cool crowd. And he’s keeping prices down. Man, if I could afford Little Italy, I’d make this my local, beer or no beer.
The Place: Fabrison’s Crêperie and Boutique, 1425 India Street, 619-955-8834
Type of Food: French
Prices: Croissandwich, with ham, cheese, eggs, $5.50; bagels with butter, $2.50; with cream cheese, capers, salmon, $5.95; waffles, with fruit topping or Nutella, $6; spinach-and-mushroom crêpe with béchamel sauce, $7.95; lemon-and-sugar crêpe, $5.95; salade Niçoise (tuna, egg, capers), $8.50; Alison’s Special ciabatta sandwich with chicken, cheese, pesto, $7.95; Pan Bagna (with tuna, hard-boiled egg, olives), $7.50; French Delight, with salami, ham, lettuce, $7.50
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday; 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Saturday–Sunday
Nearest Bus Stops: India Street and Cedar (northbound), Kettner and Cedar (southbound)
Trolleys: Blue, Orange Lines
Nearest Trolley Stop: America Plaza