Geppetto was the toymaker in Pinocchio, but locally it’s now the name of an eclectic Butler Street café.
Geppetto’s first line of charm is its decor, which is part art installation, part toy-shop whimsy. And part hipster — this is Lawrenceville, after all, and barn wood is inevitable. Here, it’s applied judiciously between a silvery corrugated-steel bar back and the storefront’s old tin ceiling; little potted plants and miniature bikes deliver the message that Geppetto is both fashionable and friendly. On the whitewashed opposite wall, wooden marionettes hang from astronomical iron light fixtures by local metalsmith John Walter. A eclectic array of books is suspended by twine from the ceiling, with Pinocchio hanging lowest; the back of the space opens up a bit and has a coffeehouse feel with local art, turquoise faux-finished walls, and a flock of colorful children’s umbrellas seemingly floating above the tables.
It’s a great decor, kid-friendly without being cutesy and with plenty to intrigue adult patrons. Similarly, the menu should have something to please everyone, of every age, without being officially partitioned into “regular” and kids’ sections. After all, who says children can’t dig a ham-and-Gruyere crepe with honey aioli, or that adults don’t want to indulge in a s’mores milkshake? All the menu categories — crepes, waffles, French toast and panini — are foods that can be topped or filled with ingredients either savory or sweet.
These include: bechamel, sriracha and pesto; also, maple syrup, Nutella and dulce de leche. But not all together. Geppetto leaves its quirkiness on its walls; flavor combinations are uniformly copacetic, and execution is top-notch. The crepes had the sturdiness of buckwheat flour without the dark color; they were big and both tender and slightly chewy, satisfying in both their savory and sweet guises.
The chicken-and-Gruyere option featured tender, moist roasted chicken, thoughtfully diced into small pieces, caramelized onion and melted cheese, all folded into a crepe that had been drizzled with a “homemade spicy sauce,” which seemed a lot like a sriracha aioli. It wasn’t really very spicy, but it had just enough kick to keep the other, milder ingredients from completely blending into one another. The side salad of field greens with cherry tomatoes and a light vinaigrette was excellent, as well.
If the house recipes don’t appeal, you can create your own in the crepe and waffle categories from a dizzying array of sweet and savory options. Bacon and goat cheese was blissfully simple, the crumbled cheese softened but not quite melted by the warm crepe, the bacon thin and crisp in good proportion. Our only quibble was that the bacon would have been better crumbled or diced, as the chicken had been; whole strips were tricky to cut within the tender crepe.
French toast, made with Mancini challah bread, was the epitome of the genre, soft but never soggy, with some crispness at the edges and the character of the crust maintained, but only just. The batter was eggy enough to make its presence felt, but still played nicely with syrup and whipped cream. Those with a serious sweet tooth can try more elaborate concoctions, such as s’mores-stuffed, and for the traditionalist, there’s a Monte Cristo. Our Merry Berry waffle was also superb, its crevices capturing Nutella and whipped cream rather than the traditional butter and syrup.
Panini were made on a flat roll similar to a ciabatta, but less crusty, which was good, since the softer crust took on the crisp ridges of the press more readily. Melted butter enriched the flavor but also made for messy fingers. All options looked pretty good, including pesto chicken with avocado and goat cheese, but it was sriracha chicken that won us over. There was enough sauce for some fire, but not so much it leaked out the sides, while melty Gruyere and sweet, intense caramelized onions rounded out the flavor profile. This was an outstanding sandwich.
Geppetto is open for breakfast and lunch, meals at which stimulating beverages are key. Featured are La Prima coffee, a wide variety of teas and some far-from-rote milkshakes, such as tiramisu, s’mores, strawberry cheesecake and Nutella. And just in case your sweet tooth hasn’t had ample opportunity to be satisfied, gelato from Mercurio is on offer, as well.
Geppetto Cafe is a delightful antidote to the recent proliferation of darkly lit, self-important gastropubs in Lawrenceville and elsewhere. Appearances aside, the food is seriously good.