Crispelli’s House Salad comes with bread and a red wine vinaigrette. )
It usually takes at least a few months for a new restaurant to settle in and find an audience. Not so in the case of Crispelli's, which struck a chord immediately, drawing crowds from the moment it opened in late February for its Italian-accented menu, comfortable blend of self-serve restaurant and market, and affordable price structure.
It's not difficult to see why. Even after three visits to the good-looking structure on Woodward Avenue just south of 12 Mile, I'm still looking forward to going back. And that's the true test of any restaurant.
The center of the action here is an open kitchen where pizziaolos prepare pizzas to order. In fact, patrons give their orders directly to the pizza maker and watch while their pies are put together.
Options include the excellent thin-crusted style, typified by the classic margherita with roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil, and the salume, topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, cured meats and olives. They may be had in small and large versions, while the deep dish style comes only in large.
Soups and salads, sandwiches, desserts and European breads and beer and wine each have their own stations. At the beer and wine station there are also marinated olives, Brie, Maytag blue, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, and prosciutto and other cured meats. Wine is served in Italian footed glassware, one of many little touches that sets this place apart.
Here's the premise for those coming to dine: Step up to the host stand and be assigned a table, then proceed to one or another of the food stations to place the order. When the food is ready, you are called by name to pick it up. It's a system that has been seen elsewhere, but not with the standards of quality in both setting and fare that Crispelli's manages to achieve.
Pizzas are not the only stars of the show. Soups — including New England clam chowder that has a hint of bacon among the chopped clams and potatoes; home-style chicken noodle with big chunks of chicken and carrots and a hint of tarragon; a traditional minestrone full of vegetables and white beans enlivened with a dash of pesto; and tomato bisque — are the current choices, and none is an also-ran.
Five salads include, of course, a Caesar as well as a Mediterranean salad with fruity kalamata olives, beets, red onion and feta atop a mix of lettuces in lemon oregano dressing, and a composed Michigan salad with generous heaps of bacon, candied walnuts, chunks of poached apple and pear, and dried cherries in a sherry vinaigrette. Salads come in sizes for one or two or family-size for three or four, and they are nicely served in big white bowls with some of the notable house bread.
While there are a couple of garnished entrees each day, they are really not emphasized. This is a place for gourmet pizza, for salads and sandwiches and perhaps for one of the housemade desserts that include berry cobbler, crème brulee and triple chocolate brownies. Everything is prepared under the direction of executive chef Steve Lindemier and pastry chef Timothy Kitzman.
The best seats in the house might be at the high communal table topped with wood from European wine crates — for those who like being in the middle of the action, that is. Tables on the covered patios that flank the main room are more secluded from what can be a hectic scene during prime times in the main dining area.
Is Crispelli's perfect? No, but proprietors Mark Artinian, Joe and Ken Morelli and Glen Willson have done just about everything right in putting together their stylish hybrid. I'd call it almost perfect.