Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Good taste at Crepetown European Cafe

Restaurants come and go, but sometimes they relocate, expand their menus and grow their business. That’s the happy case with CrepeTown European Cafe & Grill.

Some context: About a year ago we discovered CrepeTown at Burke’s Junction center in Cameron Park. Wife-husband owners Alma and Edi Zildzo had fled the former Yugoslavia and finally settled in Sacramento after a circuitous 15-year journey. They opened their tiny restaurant in 2011 in what turned out to be an under-trafficked area.

At the time of our first visits, Alma described her cooking as “a mix of Yugoslavian, French, German and Italian,” from recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. “Everything is made fresh,” she said. “We have no cans.” None of that has changed at the new place.

We liked our two lunches at the original site, especially the Hungarian goulash, sliced leg of lamb (a daily special), croque monsieur panini (grilled ham ‘n’ cheese), a crepe filled with wine-braised beef and sauteed mushrooms, a vegetarian crepe and two dessert crepes. Those dishes remain on the new menu.

Last summer, an opportunity arose for the Zildzos to relocate to Shingle Springs, the next town over, into a spot formerly occupied by another restaurant. It opened several months ago after a three-month remodel of that space, and with a new emphasis. As manger Cherie Davis explained, “We are still ‘CrepeTown,’ even though we changed our signs to ‘CT European Cafe and Grill.’ (That’s because) we want to emphasize that our menu has a variety of choices and not just crepes.”

CrepeTown 2.0 is larger, brighter and more welcoming than the original. It also has a bigger kitchen, which has allowed Alma to expand the menu and her staff. New items include six omelets, three appetizers (thin-cut onion rings, fried cremini mushrooms, paprika-seasoned fries with garlic aioli), four salads, four burgers, chicken Marsala, pork and chicken schnitzels, and more dinner specials (steak, lobster, lamb, grilled fish). They join sweet and savory crepes, panini, goulash, soups and more ($4 to $14; dinner specials range from $18 to $22).

We dropped by a couple weeks ago and were impressed by the layout (an eight-stool counter, an outdoor patio) and décor (framed paintings, ceramic roosters, real flowers on the tables). Plus the discovery that Alma had brought along her cute collection of salt and pepper shakers in the shapes of roosters and owls, sunflowers and cupcakes.

Service was attentive, as a lunch pal observed: “They don’t ignore you, and they don’t hover; they’re just right there.”

We sampled two dishes. The huge pork schnitzel has been marinated in cream, milk and seasonings the night before, then coated with seasoned breadcrumbs and expertly sautéed ($12). It turned out crunchy-tender and fragrant. The Verona crepe was stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, tomato, htinly sliced red onion and basil pesto, and topped with melted mozzarella cheese ($10). We subbed fresh fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and grapes) for the accompanying potatoes.

One dish we overlooked was “cevapcici,” housemade skinless beef sausages spiced with a proprietary mix and served on housemade bread with condiments. “It’s the most popular meal in Croatia, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Alma said. Next time.

A stop at Wren’s

Horticulturist-photographer Donn Reiners and I were on westbound Interstate 80 when suddenly he pointed to an exit ramp and said, “Turn off here!” In a minute we were in a booth inside Wren’s Cafe, a family-owned breakfast-dinner joint jammed mostly with locals.

Soon we faced plates of fat sausages, a Belgian waffle, scrambled eggs and a pile of crunchy, sliced russet potatoes that had been deep-fried in 500-degree oil. In a flash, the tasty, hearty breakfast was a memory.

On the phone later, owner-cook Kevin Moreno explained that the diner was named after his maternal grandparents, Annie and Luther Wren, and he’s run the show since 1986. Specialties of the house include from-scratch biscuits ’n’ gravy, and soups. One top seller is chicken-fried steak and eggs.

“You don’t see too many mom-and-pop operations anymore,” Moreno said. “It’s good to say I still love what I do after so many years. Lots of people have been very good to me.”

If you’re tired of chain-restaurant breakfast fare, you’ll find a taste of reality at Wren’s. Hmm. That could be its motto.

Wren’s, 1005 Merchant St., Vacaville, just off the I-80 Alamo/Merchant Street exit; (707) 446-4259. Open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sundays.

Prawns to stick with

Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar has been around since 1976, when it opened as a 40-seat diner in San Francisco. It’s grown since then – and become more formal and expensive – with restaurants in the Bay Area and two in our area. We still lament the closure of the Scott’s in Loehmann’s Plaza.

On Sunday, we stopped by Scott’s on the Sacramento River for a tasty appetizer called “crispy prawns.” Shrimp are breaded, skewered and fried, then the skewers are stuck into a wedge of grilled pineapple and served with togarashi dipping sauce. That’s a mix of soy and oyster sauces, sherry, brown sugar, ginger and jalapeño. The shrimp are crisp and dark, the sauce a medley of flavors, the pineapple sweetly caramelized.

“It’s definitely one of our most popular items,” said manager Andrea Drake. We think it’s worth the $12.50 tab. The appetizer is served at both Scott’s locations (they are unaffiliated): 4800 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento (916-379-5959) and 9611 Greenback Lane, Folsom (916- 989-6711).