By: Jason Perlow
Thai and Sushi. They are as different as Asian cuisine and cultures can possibly get. And yet, in South Florida, it’s a given that the two are as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly.
A new chain cafe in Coral Springs, J-Petal, is hoping to do the same thing for Japanese Crepes and Thai Ice Cream.
French-style crepes were introduced in Japan in the mid-1970’s in the youthful Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo’s Shibuya district, known for its casual fashion stores, anime art, and an attractive young crowd.
Looking to put its own spin on the French classic, which is a sit-down meal, Japanese cafes stood the classic dessert on its end, shaped it into a cone, and wrapped it up in paper so you can eat it on the go.
J-Petal brought the Japanese form of the dessert to Brooklyn, New York a few years ago but made changes of their own.
Their proprietary gluten-free crepe batter is cooked in a special pan. Sliced fruit and other sweet toppings, such as Nutella and chocolate truffles are meticulously arranged around the perimeter of the pancake and the entire thing is wrapped up into a cone-shaped bundle.
The sliced fruit when wrapped up in the crepe resemble the petals of a flower. Hence the name of the store.
Once wrapped into a cone, a ball of sweet, flavored iced custard (green tea, chocolate, etc) is then stuffed inside. This is literally gilding the lily.
I’d call this ingenious, but this is not unlike how the original ice cream cone was popularized. Ernest A. Hamwi, a Syrian concessionaire at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, made a type of middle-eastern fried waffle called a Jalebi. He decided to wrap it up like a cornucopia and stuff it with ice cream, and the rest is history. So what is old is new again.
If you want something more savory, an unsweetened version of the crepe batter is offered so you can stuff it with salady-type things and your choice of protein.
The one I tried, the J-Petal Special, is a veritable kitchen sink, with beef, chicken, surimi, shrimp, lettuce, carrot, red pepper, red onions, sesame seed and spicy Japanese mayonnaise.
The crepes, which sell between $8 and $10, are actually fairly substantial and the savory ones make an ample-sized meal for an average adult. A small child would actually have difficulty in finishing one of the dessert crepes, so I would suggest sharing one to start.
The other main draw to the store, Thai ice cream, might be their most popular. Originally introduced into this country via New York City, this frozen treat is also enjoyed in the Philippines, Malaysia, and China as a street vendor food. Several other places in the Broward and Palm Beach area serve it, including Taiwan Ice in Coral Springs, Cool Spot in Boynton Beach and Eathai in Delray Beach.
Flavored ice cream batter, along with your choice of mix-ins, is poured onto a cold metal sheet, where it is spread thin. When it freezes, it is then scraped off with a spatula where it curls up into tubes and is then carefully arranged into an ice cream cup. As with the crepes, it is then topped with fruit and other sweet stuff such as whipped cream and chocolate syrup to complete the dessert.
The cafe also offers popular and refreshing “Light Bulb” drinks which are sweetened with fruit syrup. These are served in transparent glasses that resemble light bulbs and use Thai or Japanese matcha green tea as a liquid base.
1267 N. University Drive
Coral Springs 33071
Mon-Sat: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. , Sat 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.