MEET YOUR MERCHANT: Nevada City Classic Cafe captures feel of European bistro soiree
Nevada City Classic Cafe
216 Broad St., Nevada City
Hours: 8:30 am to 2:30 p.m, except Wednesdays
Open for Victorian Christmas evenings
Open all Wednesdays Dec. 11 through Jan. 1
Live music and tapas: First Friday of each month, from 6 to 9.30 p.m. Reservations recommended.
He was a mechanical engineer in Sacramento working with a team to send a man to the moon. She was a professional dancer in Paris.
How could they have known that years down the road they’d fall in love and open a small cafe in Nevada City? Yet for Kirk Valentine and Genevieve Crouzet it all somehow seemed predestined.
Twenty five years ago, Genevieve arrived in San Francisco alone with no money and an adventurous spirit. There was a certain freedom of expression that came with being away from her home country, she said. The fact that “the pursuit of happiness” was defined as a fundamental right in the U.S. Declaration of Independence only seemed to confirm that she had found a place that would support her quest to freely follow her dreams and passions.
“That’s what I came here for,” she said. “I found that here. I came to San Francisco to be a healer and became a massage therapist.”
On one particular night she met a mechanical engineer, and they seemed to have a certain chemistry.
“To me, our love felt like an ordained thing — I saw a vision of it,” said Kirk. “After I met her I went to my kids and said, ‘I’ve got to have this woman in my life.’”
‘SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT THIS PLACE’
The two went on to marry, and were eventually drawn to the magic of Nevada City, a town where a rich history, art and freedom of expression all seemed to intersect to form a deeply connected community.
“I love Nevada City — I’d always felt there was something special about this place and wanted to be part of it,” said Kirk. “We both loved food, so the idea of having a restaurant appealed to me.”
In 2004, Kirk and Genevieve bought a small diner on Broad Street and renamed it the Nevada City Classic Cafe. They had one main goal: the food always had to be “really good,” and the two vowed to listen closely to customer preferences, including using organic ingredients whenever possible, as well as offering gluten and lactose-free options. They also knew they would serve breakfast all day. A welcome addition to the traditional American cuisine was Genevieve’s French influence, such as her small crepes, mostly meat and potatoes, based on the recipes she grew up with in her family kitchen. They were an instant hit.
Today other crepe favorites include the “Classic California,” which includes French crepes, poached eggs, tomatoes, avocado, honey ham and homemade Hollandaise; The “Veggie’s crepe,” which is filled with sautéed onions, red pepper, mushrooms, tomato, fresh spinach, melted cheddar cheese and topped with hollandaise and sprinkled Tarragon; and two “Fruits crepes” filled with homemade whipped cream topped with fresh seasonal fruits, accompanied by two eggs, bacon or pork sausage and potatoes.
More traditional favorites include huevos rancheros, classic eggs Benedict, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, French toast and more.
Savory crepe choices include prime rib, “Holiday Turkey,” “Simply Mushroom,” “Genevieve’s Special,” which boasts one crepe filled with caramelized onions, sautéed organic chicken and melted brie and sprinkled with tarragon, and others.
‘now IT’S MY HOME’
Initially self conscious of her limited English, Genevieve said at first she felt shy and tended to stay in the back, while Kirk — affable by nature — engaged more with customers. But slowly things began to change.
“After about a year, people kept saying to me, ‘You should come out into the dining area — we want to meet you,’” said Genevieve. “I began to realize that I can do it, it’s a small place. The atmosphere really grew on me, and now it’s my home.”
Four years after opening, in 2008 — just as the economy was beginning to tank — Genevieve and Kirk decided to “try something fun,” and began opening the cafe on select Friday nights, serving wine, beer and a selection of tapas, which are a variety of small European-inspired savory dishes. Their chef since the day the cafe opened has been the versatile and talented Alfonzo Torres, was also enthusiastic about the idea.
Genevieve was also eager to find a group of musicians who could recreate the festive sound often found in the small bistros of her home country. That’s when she met musician Maggie McKaig, a member of the band Beaucoup Chapeaux, who shared Genevieve’s vision. The band’s performances at the Nevada City Classic Cafe were well received and described by one writer as “part Parisian bistro and part Italian café, Greek taverna and Bulgarian kafana, Piaf singing in Albanian while dancing tango, music antique and modern re-imagined for you to fall in love with.”
Musicians Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald had something similar to say: “Beaucoup Chapeaux has created a very magical niche with this music. It’s a feel, an ambiance, something lovers can whisper behind and get up and dance to. It is so much Parisian Bistro or Italian Cafe, part circus, and is very eccentric.”
FESTIVE FRIDAY NIGHTS
The band, the food and the festive, soiree atmosphere quickly made Friday nights at the cafe a popular night out, a phenomenon that has continued for the past 11 years. Currently, the evening cafe is open the first Friday of the month, but plans are in the works to expand the schedule due to its popularity.
“We provide the food,” said Genevieve. “But the music and the people make for a very happy experience. That’s why people keep coming back.”
“There’s a very special energy here,” echoed Kirk, who has been known to grab his wife and dance with her between tables. “It’s a very special place. The whole atmosphere is somehow greater than sum of its parts.”
Seven years ago, Kirk was forced to slow down due to medical issues, and suddenly Genevieve became the face of the cafe, forcing her reluctantly into the forefront.
“I already loved it, but I was shy,” she said. “But then I had to step forward. Slowly I began connecting with people and my English started to get better. That’s what it’s all about for me — connection.”
Today, Kirk insists his wife is a key reason the Friday music and tapas events have endured.
“I see it all the time,” he said. “The customers come here because of Genevieve’s spirit.”
“This was initially Kirk’s vision, but I have grown to truly love it,” said Genevieve. “We are the same when we say the world would be a better place if everyone could find something as rewarding as this. If you find what you like, it’s not work. It’s another level — there’s a lot of love. I never thought I would have a cafe, but I love it. I will go on until I cannot go on anymore.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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