Paul Pluska took some time out from busily readying his new crêperie on Winslow’s Madrone Lane to tell me about his plans for his authentic French-style Bainbridge Island eatery.
Pluska, who opened the popular little crêperie at the Kingston ferry terminal in 2003, has had his eye on Bainbridge Island for a long time. He said that in fact when he returned to the Northwest from eight years living in Europe and decided to go into the crêpe business he originally planned to open a place on Bainbridge but the right spot didn’t present itself at the time.
After over 10 years of bringing excellent crêpes to Kitsap County and getting great feedback as a mobile crêpe vendor at many Bainbridge Island events, from Taste of Lynwood to the Harvest Fair, Pluska and his wife Heather Pluska finally found the stars aligning to open a full-time Bainbridge crêperie this spring.
Pluska told me he was inspired by the opportunity to locate his eatery in a prime spot at 143 Madrone Lane next to Mora Iced Creamery, with encouragement and help from owner Linda Brandt. He likes the pedestrian-friendly area and the fact that people can take their crêpes and espresso to sit outside in tables in front of his establishment or in the communal seating. For those preferring to sit inside, the Pluskas will have indoor seats for about 15.
J’aime Les Crêpes on Bainbridge, scheduled to open May 1, will offer more than the Kingston crêperie, which the Pluskas also will continue to run. Pluska explained that the Kingston location is driven by ferry traffic patterns. Likening it to the tides rolling in and out, he said that crêpe lovers rush in to get their rolled up meals to go, setting a frantic pace that lets up briefly between boats. On Bainbridge, Pluska looks forward to a steadier flow of business that will allow him to spread out his offerings on large plates and offer some 40 types of crêpes, from savory to sweet, using three types of batters: sweet, buckwheat (naturally very low in gluten), and gluten-free. Authentic Italian-style espresso and soft drinks also will be offered.
How did Pluska get into the crêpe business before it became the craze that it is today? As a professional drummer with the NATO band, he performed jazz around Europe at major political and international events. In France he found himself eating crêpes every day, stopping at little shops and street vendors and chatting with the owners and cooks. A dream to start his own crêperie was forming, and he began collecting advice, recipes, and authentic crêpe-making equipment, which he eventually hauled back to the States.
“When we started in Kingston there were only two other crêperies around. It exploded a few years after we opened, and people were calling me from all over asking for lessons and help,” said Pluska.
But Pluska had learned the real deal from the French, and his adherence to authentic Brittany/Normandy-region crêpe making, which uses the traditional, healthier buckwheat batter, has earned him KING5 Evening Magazine’s Best Crêpes Western Washington title for several years.
Although Pluska has been known to say all of his recipes are his favorites, he admitted that he loves the savory French classic with the crêpes complet filling of Swiss cheese, ham, mushroom, spinach, and scrambled egg. For sweet, he likes the dark chocolate crêpe with “a good cup of Italian expresso.”
I asked Pluska about the physical art of crêpe-making, and he laughed, pointing out the difficulty of training staff to spread the batter just right using flat “rakes.” He said his best crêpe makers are tennis players, who seem to have a natural wrist movement that suits the work. He is so committed to hiring great staff that he has trained a cadre of high school and college young women to cook, drawing from tennis teams when he can.
He pointed out that crêpe making is a performance, and that is why he has his round griddles in full view at the front counter with a glass window.
Pluska hopes to start an exchange program with crêperies in France whereby a few crêpe makers from his business go to France to cook and some from friends’ crêperies in France come here.
J’aime Les Crêpes will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., possibly extending to later hours this summer. Customers can expect to hear real jazz, as in John Coltrane and Miles Davis, when they come in.
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Photos by Julie Hall.