2248 30th Street, San Diego
Sorry, Carla. I’m in love. With Madeleine. Whoever Madeleine is.
It’s Thursday morning, South Park, the sun’s coming and going, but that’s okay. Here on the dogleg between Fern and 30th, life feels good. You get the feeling South Park is happenin’. Trying new things.
Like, a few months ago, somebody took this old corner house at Juniper and 30th, slapped some new timbers on it, daubed them dark red, and turned it into a little French-style crêpe place. Every time I’ve trundled past while aboard the #2, I’ve been desperate to get off, stick on a beret, and go order a crêpe suzette. With a heavy French accent, natch.
Today — what the heck — I decided to get off the bus.
“Hey, babe.” (This is me on the cell to Carla.) “I’m going to that Café Madeleine. Think you’d love it. Outside café, bakery, crêpe place. French!”
“Well, whatever else you eat,” says Carla, “you know what you’ve gotta have, right?”
“Duh, French-roast coffee.”
“At a bakery called Café Madeleine? No, get some madeleines! The cakes! I love madeleines. My daddy used to buy them for me. He told me that King Louis XV of France named them after his cook. You’ll recognize them. They’re shell-shaped. Bring some home.”
“Oui, oui, cherie,” I say.
The house is mainly green and brown, the shop frontage deep red with gold writing on it, and red umbrellas at the half-dozen white marble-topped tables outside, green ’n’ cream wicker chairs around them. Yeah! Not your usual bendy white plastic garbage. Inside, it’s light greens and creams on the walls, with a curly, ornate gold mirror. A kind of shelf — massive, made of varnished wood — hangs from the ceiling above the counter, a 3-D carved letter M in one of its nooks.
First thing you realize is they have no kitchen. Just a station where two busy cooks prepare crêpes and panini and salads, while a very French-looking gal works the counter. Flavia. Brazilian, turns out. And, yes, in front of her, under glass, there’s what they call their “Viennoiserie,” filled with croissants, fruit tarts, brioches. Guess the city of Vienna must’ve been Cake Central, back in the day. And I see rows of golden, shell-fluted little cakes. Have to be the madeleines.
People are lining up behind me. Flavia needs me to order. She points to the black, Art Nouveau–style board on the wall. “We have crêpes, savory or sweet, panini, and salads,” she says.
The “crêpes sucrées” look pretty good. There’s one with chocolate and banana for $6 or with fresh berries, raspberry jam, and whipped cream for $6. Or orange, grapefruit, and cream ($7) or even a pear and cinnamon ($6). Honestly, I’m more into the idea of the “crêpes salées,” salty or savory choices, like chicken with béchamel, blue cheese, pear, and walnut ($7, yum, that sounds great), or the prosciutto with béchamel, emmental cheese, tomato, and olives ($8). Oh, gosh. They also have a beef with horseradish, caramelized onion, and tomato for $9, and a smoked salmon with cream, capers, red onion, and pepper ($9). You can add an egg to any of these for $2 more. Or you can have the same choice of fillings in panini for the same prices. They all come with organic greens. Oh, and there’s two salads: baked goat cheese with honey, lettuce, and Dijon vinaigrette ($8) and arugula with blue cheese, chicken, walnut, pear, and vinaigrette ($8).
Jeez. I could go for any of these. “Guess that chicken crêpe sounds good,” I finally say. “And add the egg.” That ups it to $9.
“Good choice,” says Flavia. “That way the egg oozes over everything. And to drink?”
She hands me a steaming coffee in a cute china cup with a saucer. There’s a label on the cup. “Illy.” Aha. Italian. I take it outside. This is really good joe. Cup’s kinda small, but Flavia promised endless refills. For $1.75, I ain’t complaining.
I sit down at a table on the sidewalk, and, five minutes later, have at my crêpe. Have to confess, I’ve always found crêpes a little flappy, too rubbery for my tastes. But mine arrives hot and tender, with chicken, sliced pear, and salad on top. Inside, the egg, creamy béchamel, walnuts, and blue cheese add tang and gloop. Bottom line: it’s a delight, even though, yeah, I wish I’d had the prosciutto or the beef for more gutsy flavor.
Turns out, this place is run by Christine Perez, who’s the wife of Jerome Gombert, the Parisian king of the Vagabond Restaurant, around the corner. Which explains a lot. Because this café really feels French. And, from the non-rubbery lightness of the crêpe, to the complex flavors wrestling inside, it tastes French, too. Just add a beret and an accordion and you could be there.
Half an hour later, I’m back on the bus. Decide to taste just one madeleine. Mmm…spongy inside. Could get used to these. But I roll up the bag tight. Sigh. Gonna be a long ride. ■
- The Place: Café Madeleine, 2248 30th Street (at Juniper), South Park 619-544-1735
- Type of Food: French
- Prices: Chocolate and banana crêpe, $6; fresh berry crêpe, with raspberry jam, whipped cream, $6; orange, grapefruit, cream crêpe, $7; pear and cinnamon crêpe, $6; savory chicken crêpe with béchamel, blue cheese, pear, walnut, $7; prosciutto crêpe with béchamel, emmental cheese, tomato, and olives, $8; beef with horseradish, caramelized onion, and tomato, $9; smoked salmon crêpe with cream, capers, $9 (add egg for $2); same fillings in panini, same prices; baked goat-cheese salad with honey, vinaigrette, $8
- Hours: 7:30 a.m.–3:00 p.m., daily
- Bus: 2
- Nearest Bus Stop: 30th and Juniper