Let Them Eat Crepes: Starving Artist Café Feeds the Masses
Emmy Davis, part owner and crepe-maker extraordinaire
When she was a teenager, Emmy Davis, a Lee native, went to Paris with her father. She loved the city, loved the cafés, but wasn’t altogether sold on one of the country’s staples: crepes. The 33-year-old mother of two long ago forgot her youthful antipathy. She’s back in her hometown serving up sweet and savory variations on the thin French pancake. For the past year, Emmy and her husband Ryan Davis have been perfecting the crepe (and the latte) at their joint venture, the Starving Artist Creperie & Cafe, located in the 154-year-old Bookless Building on Main Street.
The cafe’s tables enjoy a certain insouciance; some spill into the adjacent Good Purpose Gallery (which is usually exploding with bold paintings), some into a hallway that leads to the café counter, some outside, onto the sidewalk, depending on the weather. While you may spot a not-so-starving artist or two in the sun-filled storefront café, the main attraction is the extensive menu which includes inventive, savory crepes such as Green Eggs and Ham (stuffed with eggs, ham, cheese, and umeboshi scallion dressing, $8) and sweeter selections like Pear Ala mode, loaded with pears, tamari almonds, and vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel sauce ($7). The choices easily surpass those of any hawker along the Boulevard du Montparnasse, minus the sidewalk rush and city grit.
“We really strive to do different things,” Davis says. “It’s hard to please everyone but I think we’ve come pretty darn close. It’s something different. Crepes are flexible food. You can put anything in a crepe.”
Which is exactly what she does. From roast beef and horseradish sauce ($12) to marinated tempeh and caramelized onions ($11), Starving Artist offers a multitudinous melange of fresh ingredients; there’s something for everyone, vegan, carnivore, gluten-free or gluttonous. Davis is proud that all of the menu items are made with organic, locally-sourced meat, vegetables, breads, cheese, and other dairy items (like fresh whipped cream, of course), from providers such as Equinox Farm, SoCo Creamery, High Lawn Farm, Woven Roots Farm, Hilltop Orchards, and Berkshire Mountain Bakery, to name just a few on the ever-growing list of wholesome suppliers.
Davis has a simple philosophy: “Keep your friends close and your food closer,” she quips. “We rely on the farmers for the fresh ingredients. It’s a good relationship. And the menu changes as often as we can, based on the staples we have and what’s in season.”
“Crepe artist” Taylor Somerville
The toothsome crepes, which also come in a gluten-free buckwheat version, aren’t the only treats that keep patrons literally lined up out the door, especially at lunchtime. Starving Artist also offers hot paninis, hearty salads, soups and an extensive list of beverages including coffee and all variations thereof, specialty teas from Harney & Sons in Millerton, NY, and fresh juice blends (currently, Davis favors a ginger, carrot, spinach concoction). For breakfast there are also omelets, and there’s a special Sunday brunch menu.
“It’s very much the French café meets the health food café,” Davis says. “There is a real niche for this place.”
The couple discovered this niche practically by accident. Before opening Starving Artist in July of 2011, they operated the Berkshire Green Grocer, a health food store around the corner. Noting the popularity of their shop’s little sandwich bar, they moved down the street and on to their next venture, transitioning from whole foods shopkeepers to crepe restaurateurs. They now enjoy a more central, visible location in the Bookless Building, which is owned by Emmy’s father, Dr. Michael McManmon; the upper floors house his College Internship Program (CIP) which serves young adults with Asperger’s, ADHD, and other learning differences. In fact, some of the students who are enrolled in CIP work in the café, and many stop by between classes to grab a cup of tea or some sustenance, then hit the books at the cozy tables. Davis knows them, and many of her other patrons, by face and by crepe. This, she says, is one of her greatest pleasures.
“I have always had a passion for food. My mom and dad raised us up, all six of us, to be super healthy,” she says. “I know that shows here. I’ve definitely started to see more regulars come back. The challenges are the rewards. I love watching people eat and be happy.” –Nichole Dupont
Starving Artist Creperie & Café
40 Main Street, Ste. 2
Lee, MA, 01238
Monday, Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday (with musical brunch), 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Closed on Tuesdays