The Crêpe Escape
You may say, “Later, alligator,” when leaving this charming crêpery and sandwich shop in Wheeling, but you’ll be back again and again.
I think most would agree that crêpes are not standard restaurant fare in West Virginia—and that’s definitely part of Later Alligator’s appeal. It is a fresh and unique take on the casual sandwich shop, and you don’t need the streets of Paris to experience the delight of freshly made crêpes—just visit Wheeling’s Centre Market Historic District where owner Susan Haddad spent three years transforming a 1869 building that was once a saloon into a bustling lunch and dinner spot.
“I originally thought that I would open up a coffee shop, but we had two coffee shops in the area, and I didn’t want to open a run-of-the mill type place. The Centre Market District had a fish market, a deli, a Lebanese bakery, and I knew I needed a hook. I had traveled to France when I was younger and loved crêpes,” Susan explains. So she decided to introduce a crêpe and sandwich shop to Wheeling.
“At first it was really hard. Everyone said, ‘Don’t do it.’ They wanted meat and potatoes and hamburgers, but I went with my gut,” Susan recalls. So she hired a chef, contacted Krampouz, a company that makes authentic crêpe griddles, and found out that they had a booth at the National Restaurant Association’s upcoming convention in Chicago. She and her chef hopped on a plane, practically snuck into the convention, and practiced making crêpes in front of thousands of people with an instructor who spoke in broken English. “When we first opened, only a handful of people understood what a crêpe was. Now it has caught on,” Susan says. Crêpes are France’s answer to fast food. Crêperies, stalls, and carts serve them on every street corner. The whisper-thin pancake is folded over an assortment of savory or sweet fillings.
At Later Alligator, popular savory choices include the Aesop’s Feta (cheddar, onions, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, tomato, and feta cheese), Pesto Chang-O (marinated chicken, pesto, tomato, onions, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese), and American in Paris (turkey with creamy Brie and tomatoes). Or try a sandwich from the menu’s extensive list. You can’t go wrong with any of the choices, but a few favorites are the Shrimp and Avocado (marinated shrimp and sliced avocado with lettuce and tomato on a toasted Kaiser bun with fresh tarragon dressing), Mae West (mozzarella, tomato, and basil on garlic bread with pesto), and the Reuben (lean corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on marbled rye). The signature Tomato Basil Soup topped with puff pastry is an absolute must. Finish the meal with a cup of French-pressed coffee and an artfully folded sweet crêpe, such as Last Tango (chocolate hazelnut Nutella with seasonal berries and freshly whipped cream) and Strawberry Fields (fresh strawberries and freshly whipped cream). Or try Monkey Business (bananas with cream cheese, honey, walnuts topped with freshly whipped cream) or Raisin Cane (caramelized apple with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and granola).
The restaurant’s atmosphere is worthy of its own story. Susan did much of the work gutting the building herself. “I took out four drop ceilings until finally discovering the original ornate tin ceiling,” says Susan, who combated extensive water damage. From ripping out plaster to repairing damaged tiles to installing the bricks in the outdoor courtyard, she’s done it all. And after three years of backbreaking renovations, the resulting exposed brick walls, soaring tin ceilings, and creative use of salvaged materials have transformed the restaurant into a charming venue that is comfortable and inviting. Susan’s collection of Wheeling Steel artifacts and antiques adds a decidedly local touch, and the outdoor courtyard provides a popular al fresco dining option.
Add a taste of France to your dining repertoire by scheduling a trip to the Centre Market District in Wheeling to enjoy this delightful restaurant. It will surely become one of your favorite culinary destinations!
Later Alligator, 2145 Market Street, Wheeling, WV 26003; 304.233.1606