I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Physician, Poet, Writer
Buenos Aires – Long hair, skin tight jeans, quiana shirts open to the belly button, the Magic Pan. Those are the 70s I remember. My hometown of Ann Arbor had few restaurants that were open all night – mostly coffee shops, and maybe the IHOP, and then came the creperie. Right there in between downtown and the university campus, on the second floor of a shopping mini-mall, they opened a 24/7 Magic Pan serving up dozens of different types of crepes filled with all sorts of fun things. When the bars shutdown at 2 we’d all head there and indulge in things like chicken and spinach crepes in cheese sauce followed by some sort of chocolate and ice cream extravaganza that we’d have to share. The chain was close to nationwide at one point, and then simply disappeared in the early 90s. I hear Richard Melman of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group has revived them, more or less, with changes sure to make them into something different than they ever were.
So it is with great pleasure that I can report to you that the Magic Pan still exists, right here in Buenos Aires. It goes by a different name, and it’s not a chain. We were out shopping the calle Murillo leather district – if you don’t know it, it’s a three block strip, with trips onto the side streets, in Villa Crespo, that’s packed with one leather goods shop after another, and some great bargains. Our visiting friend (going on two weeks in the living room) wanted to buy a leather jacket and some souveniers for friends back home. But before we plunged into the world of tanned hides of cow, sheep, and giant water rat (Argentina is famous for the mottled leather from the carpincho, which as far as I’m considered is a giant water rat), we were hungry. We’d done that looking into each place as we walked from the Malabia subway stop thing and one or the other of us rejecting it when I finally said “Enough! We’re going in the next place we see.” I get cranky when I’m hungry.
As luck, serendipity, and/or fate would have it, the next spot on the block was Lo de Carlitos, Scalabrini Ortiz 114, which looked like a modern, shiny clean café, with a more or less open kitchen – a young man cooking away behind a large glass window. And there we were, back at the Magic Pan (at least for me), without the faux French country inn decor. Page after page of the menu offered up combinations of panqueques, slightly thicker than a traditional crepe, but nowhere near what we think of as a pancake. You can select from any of the several hundred combinations offered (most of which are named after various Argentine historical figures), or make up your own from any of dozens of ingredients that include different cheeses, vegetables, sausages and cured meats, other meats, eggs… the list goes on. The crepes are quickly cooked to order, and you can watch yours being made should you desire to do so (also various combinations for supremas, hamburgers and lomitos are offered, should you for some bizarre reason want a sandwich rather than a crepe). They’re filled, and served – the table preset with the ubiquitous mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and salsa golf bottles. Not necessary, the crepes are just darned good on their own, and worth making the trip even if you don’t need to buy any leather.