By Ann | October 3, 2013
Brittany is a region of fresh breezes, rocky coastline and green pastures, a contrast of lush farmland and wild sea. It’s also extremely vast, too big to visit in its entirety over a weekend, or even during a two-week vacation. But if, like me, your focus is on food — specifically, Brittany’s signature butter-crisped crêpes — then you should head west, to Finistère, a département famous for its fine, lacy pancakes.
In Brittany, a savory crêpe is actually called a “galette,” and it’s made of blé noir –buckwheat flour — which has a pleasantly rough, nutty, graininess. Fillings vary wildly, from ham, cheese, and egg (the famous “complète”), to andouille (another tripe sausage), to tender leeks cooked in cream. Traditionally, however, Bretons eat their galettes plain, brushed with salted butter, accompanied by a bowl of lait ribot, or buttermilk — and that’s my favorite way to eat them, too. The word “crêpe” refers to dessert — a sweet, thin pancake made of white flour, drizzled with chocolate sauce, or honey, or salted butter caramel, or — well, the possibilities are endless.
Where to eat crêpes and galettes in Brittany?
There are crêperies scattered throughout Brittany and it’s hard to find a bad one. My suggestions focus in and around Quimper, the capital of Finistère.
Au Vieux Quimper (20 rue Verdelet, Quimper, tel: 20 98 95 31 35) is located just off Quimper’s renowned Place au Beurre (butter square) once the town’s dairy-fat marketplace, now transformed into Crêpe Central. The dining room has lace-covered windows, tables and chairs in honey-colored wood, and ceramic bowls filled with hard cider, while the menu features delicate buckwheat galettes stuffed with gut-busting combinations like bacon, cheese, and mushrooms cooked in cream.
Chez Mimi (Rond Point du Moulin du Pont, Route de Bénodet, Pleuven, tel: 02 98 54 62 02) is in a small village near Quimper, a cheerful spot with a thatched roof and casual dining room where locals gather to tuck into a weeknight “galette complète” (ham, egg, and cheese), and schoolchildren clap their hands and exclaim over a “bonne beurre sucre” — a simple dessert crêpe brushed with salted butter and sprinkled with sugar. Try the housemade gros lait, a thick, tangy, yogurt.
Crêperie l’Epi d’Or (19 route de Quimper, Pleuven, tel: 02 98 54 88 32) dishes up buckwheat galettes, paper thin with edges like fine lace. The menu offers an array of fillings, but I loved my plain galette, at once crispy and chewy, savored with a bowl of buttermilk.
Ferme de Kerheü (Kerheu, Briec, tel: 02 98 57 92 67) is not a crêperie, but a local organic farm that produces beurre de baratte, butter made from soured cream and seasoned with coarse, gray sel de Guérande. This soft, salty, tangy butter has a flavor reminiscent of toasted hazelnuts and is the secret to a truly delicious crêpe. If you’re lucky enough to find the farm (I got horribly lost), stop in and buy a few sticks to bring home.
Where to sleep and shop in Brittany?
Manoir de Lanroz (282 chemin de Lanroz, Quimper, tel: 06 86 43 45 93) is one of my favorite bed and breakfasts in France, housed in an gracious family manor that resembles a castle. The rooms are decorated with antiques, windows offer views of a sparkling lake, breakfasts are generous, and the owners, Monsieur and Madame de Brommer, are exceedingly kind.
The Armor Lux factory store (21-23 rue Louison Bobet, Quimper) offers an array of Breton mariniers (striped shirts) in more variations than you could possibly imagine. Prices are a little more expensive than you’d expect from an outlet shop, but the classic blue-and-white with three-quarter sleeves is irresistible (they even make them for babies). The perfect place to indulge your inner seafarer.
Hungry for more? Today’s post is a companion to my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, a food memoir that Peter Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, says is “very elegantly served. A really tasty book.”
And more from the series, Where to Eat in France.