Elegant crêpes and crisp, addictive waffles are the stars at an easy-going new café on Court Street in Carroll Gardens.
The Park Bench Café and Crêperie, which has been open since last fall, offers both sweet and savory versions of the old-world treats, made, stressed owner Frank Settecasi, based on Belgian recipes in his wife’s family.
The results, not surprisingly, are delectable. On a recent visit, I tried several of the eatery’s offerings and was delighted by all, with the Liege Waffle ($5.50-8.95, based on toppings) absolutely blowing me away.
The waffle I enjoyed was topped by fresh strawberries, whipped cream and an artful drizzle of chocolate sauce. The surprise was the caramelized sugar atop the thick, dense waffle – it took a satisfying confection into a whole other realm of deliciousness.
In fact, said Settecasi, the waffle is a complex creation, made from a yeast dough, not batter, that has been kneaded, a far cry from the standard American waffle.
The crêpes, too, were sensational. The Nutella Crêpe with Strawberries and Bananas ($7.20) came out as a triangle of sweet goodness, garnished with whipped cream, with Jackson Pollack-like squiggles of Nutella across its surface, and strawberries peeking out at the tip.
The savory crêpe, filled with roasted peppers, tomatoes pesto and mozzarella ($6.95) was thin, with golden brown mottling, and exquisitely rolled. Even better, its beauty was far more than skin-deep; with just the right amount of filling, the crêpe delivered a powerful flavor punch.
I also sampled one of the eatery’s panini ($6.95-$8.95), crisply pressed bread filled with chicken, mushrooms, spinach and cheddar cheese and flavored with chipotle mayonnaise. The hint of smoke provided by the chipotle was a perfect complement to the other ingredients, from the earthiness of the mushrooms to the gooey cheddar.
Finally, I tried two of the restaurant’s changing selection of gelato flavors, Cotton Candy and Stracciatella, made by artisanal gelato producer MaximoPino.
Both were dense and creamy, the Stracciatella studded with bits of chocolate. But, it was the Cotton Candy that grabbed my imagination as it teased my palate, a taste of childhood morphing into a treat fit for an adult.
Yes, as it melted in my mouth, the gelato revealed the slightly grainy texture of cotton candy on the tongue, as the fluff of pure sugar reverts to crystals – a sensation remembered from halcyon days long past in the amusement park of my youth.
That bit of Americana notwithstanding, the vibe in the café is distinctly European. It is, as Settecasi noted, a place where locals “come in with laptops after school,” enjoying a treat as they surf the net.
And, in fact, it fits in well. “There’s a very strong French culture in the neighborhood,” noted Settecasi, something, he said, that he, and his wife and son were unaware of when they set up shop there but which, as it turns out, has made a bon marriage for the fledgling family-owned-and-operated business, especially given that, “We’re one of the only crêpe places in the area.”
In that respect, Settecasi said, it appears that the Park Bench Café has filled a niche, something that pleases its founders. “We want to be known for our crêpes, waffles and panini,” he noted. “It seems like what we are offering is working, so why not stick to it?”
THE PARK BENCH CAFÉ & CRÊPERIE
489 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.