Ten months a year, I’m not really big on ice cream or similar desserts. When the weather soars above 100 degrees, however, frozen treats are no longer indulgences — they’re practically necessities. That said, I still look for something a bit more interesting than a typical cone or milkshake. Two spots on opposite sides of the valley offer something a little different.
Crepe Shack & Waffles is tucked away in the northern corner of a massive K-Mart shopping center in Henderson. Its specialty is Japanese crepes ($4.95). Made-to-order from a batter that has no oil or butter, the thin pancakes feel and taste a bit like soft fortune cookies, and are stuffed with fresh fruit and other toppings. Customers can add ice cream and/or whipped cream at no additional cost. They’re rolled like a cone, but the best way to fit everything into your mouth is to squeeze them flat.
Owner Li Hsun Sun, who worked at his family’s restaurants in California’s Marin County as a kid, discovered this particular type of crepe in San Francisco. “I loved the concept because it’s all fresh-fruit based,” he explains. “It’s something really simple and really grab-and-go, and I thought it was something Las Vegas really needed.”
The restaurant offers them in countless varieties. But the key ingredient to all of them is fresh fruit, which Sun admits can be hard to come by in our valley. So he’s formed something of a buying co-op with other small local restaurants, including Bread & Butter and Red Mango. “Whenever one person sees good fruit,” he explains, “we all call each other and say, ‘Hey, this is where you’re gonna get good fruit this week.’” Because of that, available fruits change with the season. (On a recent visit, the store offered golden kiwis and golden raspberries.)
While ice cream is considered an option on the crepes, I wouldn’t visit the restaurant this time of year without including it. So I’m glad it has more than a dozen flavors of Thrifty’s available. Furthermore, if crepes aren’t your thing, you can have any of the flavor combinations on a thick, Hong Kong-style waffle ($5.95) that’s crispy on the outside and cake-like in the center.
If you want something light and refreshing, I recommend a “Tickle Me Berry” crepe, made with an assortment of three seasonal berries (vanilla ice cream goes best in my book). If you’re in the mood for something more decadent, the bananas foster crepe (brown sugar, cinnamon, bananas and caramel) and the Elvis waffle (banana, peanut butter and honey) with cappuccino crunch ice cream are both excellent.
On the other side of town, a new establishment called CJ’s Italian Ice and Custard, directly across the street from Desert Breeze Park, offers some interesting chilly delights. For those unfamiliar with Italian ice, it’s a type of frozen juice (usually fruit juice) with a consistency that lies somewhere between shaved ice and sherbet. Where I grew up in New Jersey it was also known as “water ice.”
CJ’s has more than a dozen flavors priced between $2.60 and $4 per serving. I’ve tasted four. I found both the cotton candy and watermelon flavors far too sweet. Lemon, on the other hand, tastes exactly as I remember it — a combination of tart and sweet. And while mint chocolate chip cream is closer to ice cream than ice, it’s yummy. My only problem with the ices at CJ’s is their consistency. The ices of my youth were more densely packed and frozen, to the point where you had to scrape off each spoonful. The ones here are more user-friendly, yielding easily to a plastic spoon. I doubt newcomers to the dessert will care about that, but for me it’s a bit of a bummer.
CJ’s also offers custard, or soft-serve ice cream, available alone or with any of 30 toppings mixed in. According to the menu, the custard itself comes in 30 flavors. In reality, however, there are only two machines. One offers vanilla and chocolate, or a combination of the two swirled together. The other has vanilla and banana, with a similar swirl option. All of the other flavors are mixed in afterwards. The white chocolate variety I recently ordered was good, but if I hadn’t ordered it, I probably wouldn’t have guessed the flavor — it was little more than a generic, sugary syrup.
I actually prefer the Crepe Shack to CJ’s. But with summer just getting started, I’m glad I have both options available for the next couple of months.
Crepe Shack & Waffles, 10345 S. Eastern Ave. 260-0860. CJ’s Italian Ice & Custard, 3555 S. Durango Drive, 240-1880. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.