Skillfully composed crêpes strut their stuff at Rooster

A bright new light has emerged on the Downtown dining scene. Rooster is a hip eatery just a couple of blocks from Washington Avenue. Dave Bailey, who also owns Baileys’ Chocolate Bar in Lafayette Square, opened Rooster in November, offering sandwiches, soups and salads. But it’s the crêpes with inventive fillings that make you want to crow, “Rise and shine!”

Rooster takes its name from the national symbol of France. When Bailey was presented with more than 200 potential restaurant names, he laughed out loud when he read “rooster.” “It was just perfect,” he recalled.

Rooster gives a serious twist to the standard crêpe fillings, and the shotgun space reflects its urban surroundings – it’s sophisticated without being stuffy. The dining area is cozy with both high-top and café tables, as well as counter seating. The former barbershop (its mirrors remain) and an old bar have been transformed with warm red and butternut squash-colored walls, green tile floors and art deco fixtures. A sun mosaic nearly dances on the floor.

The menu takes a little focus – crêpes are grouped by predominant ingredient: egg, bacon, goat cheese, ham, brie, chicken and sirloin. The friendly folks behind the counter will take your order then you can have a seat and enjoy fair-trade organic Kaldi’s coffee or an espresso drink.

With attention on farm-fresh and locally raised ingredients, Bailey elevates the sometimes predictable combinations of ingredients in his crêpe creations. Take the Missouri-made German-style sausage and Vermont Cheddar crêpe ($6.95). It seemed like an odd pairing – a heavy sausage with a light crêpe – but this worked beautifully. The sharpness of the Cheddar played well with the mix of spices in the sausage. And it wasn’t just a few thin slices of sausage, either. There were at least a dozen generous pieces.

What stood out the most was how “fresh” the sausage tasted. Fresh isn’t usually a word I’d use to describe sausage, but the quality of the meat definitely comes through. Bailey gets his pork, beef and chicken from small-scale farmers. “The better the ingredients and the closer to home, the better the outcome,” he said. This crêpe is so tasty you just want to savor it in your mouth, instead of swallowing each bite.

The crêpes themselves are light and not drenched in sauce. Instead, swishes and dollops of flavor decorate each plate: a bit of Rooster sauce – a sweet, spicy mayo – was the perfect accompaniment for Bacon No. 1 ($6.95) with the slight bitterness of baby arugula and the sweetness of caramelized onion. Generous slices of thick bacon lend a smoky flavor. Horseradish adds a zing to the thinly sliced, tender sirloin, fresh mushroom and nutty Asiago crêpe ($8.45). And a trio of sauces – a green chile chutney, a tamarind chutney and a spiced cider – enhance the Brie No. 3 ($8.45) with roasted apple, a combination that is creamy, tart and tangy.

And then there are the dessert crêpes – rich and decadent – which I suggest sharing. The chocolate and Grand Marnier ($5.95) was a classic combination of a deep, dark chocolate and the brightness of orange, although it wasn’t overwhelming. When my fork pierced the peanut butter cup ($6.75), the scent of peanut butter wafted up. Rooster uses organic smooth peanut butter and dark chocolate to create this incredibly sinful concoction. The whipped cream was almost too much.

While each crêpe is plenty filling, the salads are definitely worth trying. The Mixed Greens No. 1 ($7.25) is a taste-tingling blend of roasted beets, Black Diamond Cheddar and spiced and toasted pecans drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. The deep, autumnal flavor of the beets with the bite of the cheese and nuts is wonderful.

Rooster rewards its return customers with stamp cards for both crêpes and coffee drinks. I was so enthralled by the crêpes, I missed sampling the sandwiches, which gives me even more reason to return to Rooster. And then there’s the promise of a new sausage and apple crêpe on the menu ...