On the forum/cyber-asylum Philadelphia Speaks, a post titled “Yupsters take 52nd Street” discusses the opening of Rue 52, the new coffee-and-crepes operation across the way from Malcolm X Park in West Philly. The conversation, of course, turns from the caffeine station to gentrification and what the nascent signs of rebirth on this once-thriving, now-dilapidated commercial corridor portend. Writes one Doubting Thomas: “Does anyone seriously believe 52nd Street is going to be gentrified anytime within the next 25 years?”
Mahari Bailey does. “A coffee shop is one of the symbols of revitalization,” says Bailey, an attorney-cum-developer whose real-estate boutique owns Rue as well as a few other spots along 52nd. “We started with one building, a hair salon. Now the café. And we have a pet store coming. We want to rebuild the area and bring it back to what it once was.”
He’s betting West Philly has an appetite for crepes. On a recent cold, gray morning, customers trickled in like coffee through a drip. Most grabbed bananas, muffins and joe to go from the long glass-and-wood counter up front, waiting out the less-than-snappy staff on mod sofas. In the rear dining room furnished with arty French movie posters and European-fit tables and chairs, one guy wearing burgundy scrubs and a cappuccino mustache ate a crepe.
Despite Rue’s thematic Francophilia (hours listed bilingually, a Tumblr billed “nouvelles”), the crêpes are not so true to form, based on the same batter for both sweet and savory versions and overstuffed to American portions. That said, crêpes are like pizza in that even an average one is still pretty great, and Rue’s proved no exception. The classic trifecta of Nutella, bananas and strawberries (the Ben Franklin) absolves all wrongdoing in its warm, gooey embrace. Apples and caramel had the same effect, and were surprisingly less sweet than you’d think.
For the South Street Special, shavings of ham laid down with cheddar and chipotle mayo, a double dose of smokiness that cut through the unstoppable ooze of melted cheese. The chicken, tomato and honey-mustard Cosby had the same cheddar overload, a fact less troubling than the crepe’s spongy, precooked protein strips, a win for Jim Perdue and a loss for the rest of us.
Rue might have glitches, but Bailey has faith in 52nd Street.
RUE 52 | 503 S. 52nd St., 215-476-9835, caferue52.com. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Crêpes, $7-$8.