Alma's Kouzine Restaurant
935 N. Beneva Road, Sarasota
954-7171 or almasrestaurant.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.
The name of the restaurant may be Alma's Kouzine, but the sign you want to look for reads simply, "Crepes." The word hangs in a long strip mall adjacent to a Publix, not too far from the killer Puerto Rican joint Sofrito Mama's, and it's that word I'm looking for, after hearing from a reliable source that Alma's indeed sautés up some killer crepes.
Photos from Puglia, Tuscany and Venice crowd the space, alongside images of lighthouses, botanical gardens and more. Pottery Barn-esque light fixtures hang from the soft blue and blond wood walls. Vases with brightly colored fake flowers dot each table.
Alma's has the feel of a small, suburban neighborhood joint. It's early on a Tuesday evening, but men and women filter in and out, greeting servers like they're friends. "I've never had the eggplant parmesan," one man says, as if he's tried everything else. He opts to give it a shot. Alma's keeps its prices hella reasonable—no dish costs more than $10.99—meaning even if you try something you don't like, at least you're not dropping too many ducats.
My wife and son and I are here for crepes, but the menu runs the gamut. Alma's serves tons of breakfast dishes, sandwiches, pasta, salads, steaks, fish and more—usually not a great sign. If you're eating somewhere where the menu comes out in a three-ring binder, run! How can one restaurant have mastered all those dishes?
So while the world's at our fingertips, we stick closely to the touted crepe menu. Alma's does them both savory and sweet, and we're going for both. The savory types range from a mere $6.99 to $7.99 and come with a solid little side salad.
What do we crave from a crepe? Thinness of dough, for starters. The batter should just barely cover the bottom of your pan and should cook in seconds, not minutes. Crispness, too. The edges should be brittle and webbed, and the dough should remain solid enough to hold up to whatever filling you're adding. Some of my most treasured crepe memories don't involve plates; they involve wandering, browsing steaming crepe carts on cold nights and strolling about sipping mulled wine and munching on the pockets of dough. A crepe must be crispy enough to stand up to handheld eating.
Alma's comes through: The savory crepes are brown and crunchy triangles, stuffed with all kinds of good stuff. The "bon curry" ($6.99) includes chicken braised in a mustard-yellow curry sauce, which bathes the protein in sticky goodness. It needs heat (like pretty much every other supposedly spicy dish I'm eating in Sarasota these days), but the dense sauce coats and complements the dough well.
The "French Riviera" crepe ($6.99), meanwhile, features more chicken, mixed up with artichoke slivers, tomatoes and cheese and doused with a white wine sauce. I'd take the curry over this one—the wine sauce remains a little raw, still a little too wine-y, and the chicken tastes tougher than in other varieties. The "jambalaya" crepe ($7.99) skips the chicken and runs with coins of Italian sausage and small shrimp. Cooked-down green peppers and onions offer a sweet counterpoint to the spice of the meat.
On the sugary side, we opt for the "Romeo y Julieta" ($6.99), a Nutella-stuffed item with bananas and strawberries to boot. The dough on this one is softer and less caramelized, more in need of a fork than the others. Tasty, but it didn't make me pass out from too much pleasure, which a crepe with Nutella ought to.
While that dessert may not live up to its promise, overall? I'd say, yes, Alma's satisfied our crepe expectations.