The Merry Table Crêperie
43 Wharf St., Portland
I’ve never been to France, but I have seen The Pink Panther three times and I went to Québec on a class field trip in the eighth grade, so I’m pretty much an expert on all things French. When The Merry Table Crêperie opened on Wharf Street in 2008, I was pretty excited. Finally, somewhere I could go smoke Gauloises and watch mimes get trapped in man-sized glass boxes. Or something like that. Anyway, I love crêpes.
As a breakfast guy, I was initially surprised and disappointed that The Merry Table wasn’t open for the morning meal. When I recently heard they’d started serving Sunday brunch, I grabbed my coat and headed for the Old Port with my wife and six-year-old daughter in tow.
We arrived shortly after noon and easily found an open table. Dark, strong, European-style coffee was brought to me in short order. My wife was already fully caffeinated and decided to start the meal with a cup of hot, spicy apple cider instead.
Having previously perused The Merry Table’s lunch menu, the brunch menu looked suspiciously familiar. In fact, it’s the same menu. As in, no breakfast items. No simple fruit or yogurt crêpes, and nary an oeuf in sight. I was a bit bummed, but the lunch options did look tasty, and technically it was lunchtime by American standards. So lunch it was.
My wife ordered a cup of the soup du jour ($3.25), a rich, sweet, butternut-squash curry soup. We all enjoyed the flavor, but agreed that more than a few spoonfuls would be too much.
I started my meal with a cup of lobster bisque ($3.95). After getting the first spoonful, my daughter smiled and exclaimed, “It tastes like biscuits! Can I get this next time?” I tried it next, and immediately understood where she was coming from. To me, it tasted like they melted half a stick of butter, added a cup of heavy cream, and waved a lobster over the top. Not to say it wasn’t delicious, but I would have preferred more lobster flavor. And I would only recommend this bisque to those who have no fear of arteriosclerosis.
The lunch/brunch menu is fairly long. It includes traditional French fare like Beef Bourguignon and Cassoulet, as well as paninis and sandwiches (e.g. Croque Monsieur). But we were there for crêpes and were determined not to be distracted by other temptations.
My wife was in the mood for something savory, rather than sweet, but after the rich soup she wanted something a little lighter than ham and brie, or spinach and bêchamel. Her choice, the Poireaux ($10.95), was stuffed with braised leeks, wild mushrooms and goat cheese. She enjoyed the balance between the earthy vegetables and the tangy chêvre. Mixed field greens on the side were dressed with a light, peppery vinaigrette that offered some relief from the richness of the rest of the dish.
I decided to go all-in with a sweet dessert crêpe. The Automne ($6.95) was stuffed with mascarpone cheese and cinnamon, and served with red-wine-poached pears and apples on the side. The brilliant burgundy-stained fruit, sweet and tangy filling, and tart citrus whipped cream were absolutely delicious. And rich. Very rich.
We were pleasantly surprised that there is a kids’ menu. Like all the options on this menu, my daughter’s grilled cheese panini ($8.95) came with a sugar crêpe. Liberally dusted with powdered sugar, this simple, elegant dessert was designed to show off the humble crêpe in all its glory. Plus, more butter!
From start to finish, The Merry Table did a fine job creating an authentic Parisian vibe. With its old-school, painted-wood sign hanging over the cobblestone alley, and cheesy French pop music playing in the background, this place felt like it had been airlifted from the City of Lights and dropped into the Forest City. And though our meal wasn’t inexpensive by Portland standards, it was a whole lot cheaper than a trip to France.
— Dan Zarin
The Merry Table serves brunch Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.