One of my fondest memories as a tiny, not-yet- fully-formed Foodie was gliding to the beach in the back seat of the gigantic black and white Buick in anticipation of a fun breakfast. (I was an equal-opportunity anticipator; happily looking forward not only to breakfast, but also lunch, dinner, pizza and/or Taylor Pork Roll on the boardwalk, and maybe a funnel cake.)
Whether it was the long-gone Schumann's in Wildwood, N.J. (in the shadow of the glittering and futuristic Satellite Motel); English's Diner or the Majestic Hotel Coffee Shop in Ocean City, MD; Lyle's in Atlantic City; Libby's Pancake House or Jimmy's Kitchen in Fenwick Island; or The Avenue, Robin Hood (French toast!), Royal Treat, or the pancakes at Crystal in Rehoboth Beach -- it was all good. This still-tiny Foodlette wasn't allowed coffee back then, but I loved the heady aroma as it brewed alongside pancakes sizzling, eggs frying and toast toasting.
Many of the old places are gone. But if the morning lines are any indication, memories are still being made with omelets, bacon, scrapple (you're in Delaware now. Roll with it.) and English muffins. But it can also be fun to think out of the box. (Foodies were invented to help you do that.)
Why not a fresh croissant (maybe stuffed with ham and cheese)? Or a warm, thin-as-air crepe, slathered with pretty much whatever your little heart desires?
It’ll be a challenge to find a croissant any fresher than the ones that Maya Contractor and her husband, Jerome Magnan [pictured, bottom left], bake every morning at Cafe Papillon. Get there early! I stumbled in at about 10 am on a weekday, and about half of the croissants had been scarfed up.
I was fortunate to grab a ham & cheese and an almond croissant, an éclair and a fruit tart [all pictured, right].
The croissants had cooled slightly, and the outside was light and delicately crispy. The gossamer-thin layers were aromatic of butter, quietly crackling as they yielded to the creamy and still-warm ham and cheese surprise inside. The meat was both sweet and savory and flavorful enough to stand up to the melted cheese. The oral symphony of texture, temperature and flavor made for a mouth party to which all should have been invited.
All this, unassumingly tucked away in Penny Lane on Rehoboth Avenue. Who wooda thought!?!
The fruit tart was topped with kiwi, strawberries, peaches and a dark Bing cherry (beware: the pit's still in there!). But the star of the show was the buttery-rich shortbread-like cookie that served as the platform for the custard and the fruit. Again, the contrast of the firm and crumbly base against the milky custard and the fruit slices (shiny with a bit of syrup) should not be missed.
You will never buy another commercial éclair from the grocery store after you taste Maya and Jerome’s. The chocolate topping was like cool, but not too thick hot fudge. The pâte à choux shell was politely small and left lots of room for the eggy vanilla custard filling. None of this sugared whipped cream and corn starch nonsense here. This is the vanilla custard mom used to make (assuming, of course, she knew what the heck she was doing with a double boiler and a whisk).
I staggered over to the savories window. The long line of customers were keeping the four large crepe griddles [pictured, right] busy as one diaphanous crepe after another was poured, raked [pictured, left] into an almost transparent circle, gently flipped, rolled onto a plate, folded and filled with all sorts of goodies. It even smells good just standing there in line.
I donned my Groucho Marx rubber glasses/nose/mustache mask (so they wouldn’t recognize me as the guy who just raided the sweets window) and ducked into the line. I ordered the egg, ham, cheese and tomato crepe [pictured, left] and a lemon crepe. The egg/ham/etc. crepe tastes just like a pizza! The ham is shaved thin, and all the ingredients add up to way more than the sum of the parts. Think I’m gushing? Spare me the frowning emails and go get one. I just know you’ll like it. If you don’t then you can scold me.
The lemon crepe was impossibly light and not at all overpowered with citrus. The hot crepe sported a light dusting of sugar which added a fun little crunch.
Café Papillon has an entire line of savory and sweet crepes, including cheese and walnut, bananas and Nutella (!),Grand Marnier, pretty much anything with Nutella, smoked salmon with sour cream and chives (you’ll never get it on a bagel again), Chocolate and Almonds, just to name a few.
I can’t let you go without telling you about the French baguettes at Café Papillon. One of my big gripes about living here is that it’s hard to get good bread. In fact, long before Maya bought Café Papillon, she used to drive all the way down here from Wilmington just to buy the original owner’s freshly baked baguettes-to-die-for. And she didn’t change a thing when she purchased the business 17 years ago.
Not only can you order all sorts of sandwiches on these elongated delights, but you can actually buy them. An ever-so-slightly warm and crusty chunk of baguette with a schmear of unsalted butter? NIRVANA.
Café Papillon has been in business here in Rehoboth Beach for over 30 years. Apparently they're doing something right. So next time you’re thinking of a big ol’omelette with a mess o’ bacon, or a large stack, change things up a bit down at Penny Lane. Then tell us about your favorites below.
Café Papillon is open from 8am ‘til 11pm all summer. They are on the east side of Penny Lane Mall, immediately to the right of the big Grotto Pizza on Rehoboth Avenue.
They close for the season on Jazz Festival Weekend (mid-October). So get ‘em while you can. They will happily tell you their hours (302) 227-7568. Click here for a look at their menu. (B.,L.,D.) Price range: Inexpensive-.