Meet Your Merchant: Cafe gives diner fare a French accent
Behind an unassuming facade on Broad Street, Nevada City Classic Cafe throws a French twist into a traditional diner menu.
Sure, you can get your scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy or cheeseburger. But patrons can opt for more adventurous fare with an order of crepes or even the classic “petit dejeuner” of baguette, cafe au lait, butter and jam.
And on Friday nights, the tiny space transforms into a Franco-Spanish bistro complete with tapas, wine and live music.
The fusion might seem odd, but it works, a testament to the verve of owners Kirk Valentine and Genevieve Crouzet. The world travelers moved to Nevada City in 1999 and purchased the cafe in 2004.
The restaurant is Valentine’s third career – he got his start in the 1960s at Aerojet.
“I loved being in the aerospace industry, sending men to the moon,” he said. “That was an incredible time.”
Valentine took a sharp left turn to run a sailing school, Tradewinds, for more than four decades before his move to the Gold Country.
“I went around the world to exotic places,” he said. “That was my life, playing in the water.”
Crouzet’s journey was no less eclectic. The French native studied physiology before joining a modern dance company and then moving to San Francisco – where she met and married Valentine – to study massage therapy.
“We came up here looking for a place to educate our son, a small community,” Valentine said.
The adventurers found their true home here, they said.
“People travel because they’re looking for something,” Valentine said. “When you find what you want, there’s no reason to leave.”
“I found my roots here,” Crouzet said. “France was not my place … My spirit is not French, my spirit is Californian.”
Initially, the couple planned on putting a bakery in the space that had been occupied by Moore’s Cafe, Valentine said. But soon the duo realized it would be better to preserve the traditional diner, which had been in existence for 50 years or more.
The couple opted against a big changeover when they bought the restaurant in 2004, beyond putting up a new sign and diversifying the menu. To this day, even many locals are not aware of the change in ownership, Crouzet said ruefully.
“It was a greasy spoon,” he said. “People came in here for a traditional breakfast – it was a staple for a lot of people.”
Valentine and Crouzet upgraded the classic menu items with organic or natural ingredients whenever possible, then introduced crepes – initially at breakfast and then for lunch as well.
“Now, it’s our second most popular menu item,” Valentine said with pride.
One of the cafe’s most popular innovations has been the Friday tapas night, when the cafe offers a bistro-style menu, a glass of wine and live music for the bargain price of $9.99.
“The music has really brought people out,” Crouzet said.
“It’s been extraordinary,” Valentine said. “Everyone who comes in has thanked us, has said Nevada City really needed this.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4229.
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