An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Mar 11, 2014
01:49 PMThe Connecticut Table
Crêpes Make Perk Cafes in Durham, Guilford Destinations; Bargain Dinners a Bonus
Many years ago there was a tiny restaurant in West Cornwall called Café Lally. You brought a bottle of wine, the meal started with cloves of roasted garlic and olive oil to spread on warm bread, and it proceeded on to rustic Italian/Mediterranean cuisine—with so few choices the experience was essentially orchestrated by the chef/owner.
It was a much different bliss than the experience offered by “standard” restaurants, no matter how excellent or accommodating. For control-loving Americans guided by established parameters, allowing a meal to be curated feels as foreign as a restaurant that can simultaneously be different places to different types of guests, and do it all well.
A great coffee-and-sweets stop in the late afternoon that transforms into a dinner hotspot seamlessly feels like a holy grail the initiated might find in Europe, or maybe a cosmopolitan city in the U.S. or Canada. (Above, looking down from the second floor in Perk on Church's hangar-like location in Guilford; photo by Ray Bendici, Connecticut Magazine.)
But in Connecticut?
If you wander into the cozy Perk on Main in Durham, or its sister location, Perk on Church in Guilford, in the morning, you can grab a Fair Trade coffee and muffin or scone to go, but you’ll be tempted to stay for the omelets, breakfast burritos and egg sandwiches.
If you come at lunchtime, there are plenty of tempting soups, salads and sandwiches—along with a long list of sweet crêpes and savory ones, which are the unifying theme of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At a lunch in Guilford, in Perk’s very cool hangar-building site, we had the delicious shrimp Florentine crêpe and the Nathan Hale (tomato, basil and mozzarella), leaving not even one tiny crumb behind.
“Defintely crêpes are our pride and joy. We take them pretty seriously,” says owner Katie Hughes, who opened Perk on Main in Durham 12 years ago (when you couldn’t even get a cappuccino in town) and followed up with the Perk in Guilford three years ago. (Now there’s Perkuccinos; flavored-lattes with whipped cream.)
Her favorite crêpes are The New Classic, with Nutella, bananas and strawberries, (“The first crepe I fell in love with when I went to France”) and the Olive Oyl; spinach, onions, garlic, tomatoes and feta cheese.
As central as crêpes are to Perk’s appeal, the most exciting aspect may be the dinners now being served Tuesday through Friday in Durham; the perfect place for breakfast becomes the perfect place for a casual dinner at a reasonable cost. “Bring your own wine and we’ll have some tasty entrees prepared for you,” Perk’s email newsletter of specials invites.
Recent dinner entrees included vegetable lasagna for $9, the shrimp Florentine crêpe with a side salad for $10, and grilled salmon over sautéed spinach with a salad and more for $13—or “Thanksgiving Dinner” for $10.
That “straightforward” comfort food is prepared by chef Mike Devlin from carefully sourced ingredients that are organic and local as much as possible.
The dinners draw a range of guests, from families on the go to couples on a date that’s as sophisticated as it is affordable. Perk on Main even has live music and open mic nights to spice up its appeal.
And definitely bring the kids—for any meal. Grilled cheese, pizza bagels, and a whole menu of sweet crêpes are just some of the things even finicky children will crave.
Seek out Perk; it will surely be one of your favorite Connecticut dining discoveries. And if you can’t get there easily, Perk can come to you, through its catering, the Crêpe Parties it offers, and, soon, through a new Perk on Wheels food truck.
Perk On Main, 6 Main St., Durham, (860) 349-5335; Perk On Church, 20 Church Street, Guilford, (203) 689-5060. Both are open seven days; Guilford from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Durham from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and until 8 for dinner, Tuesday through Friday. The website for both is perkonmain.com.