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DTW - Crispelli's, Berkley

Berkleygary and I headed out there early this evening to check out the new spot. Verdict = keeper.
This long vacant Denny's has been totally transformed into an airy, modern open space, lots of open glass, high-tops, communal tables, four-tops all in rustic wood. It's an order-and-take- to your table but is hardly a cafeteria -- reminds me of a very mini-Eataly. There's pizza station where large and small pizzas are made in a wood oven in 10 or 3 minutes, a hot entree area, soup/salad, antipasto area, bakery and a sandwich/panini area. A little confusing when you first get in, but the service is full of good-will and lots of help in negotiating the new space.

We ordered the small white pizza - mozz, extra virgin olive oil, roasted garlic, parmesano reggiano, romano, minced garlic, artichoke hearts -- at $8.50 it was enough for the two of us for dinner. Thin crust, in some places could have been crisper, but the crisp parts had nicely blackened areas and the toppings were great... I added a little extra cheese on top because I thought it needed salt, but a good value and well-made, esp. on night three they were open. I think the pizza will be their strong suit.

Also ordered the Italian panini - salmi, ham sopressta, tomato, mozz, basil...actually I thought the bread was the best part -- nicely grilled and seemed like there was a good toss of asiago or parm on the bread before the pressing. Came with pickle and chips -- a little chewy and also crispy and nicely salty (the chewy and crispy is intentional according to one of the owners.)

You can walk in this place and get a whole meal...get an antipasto w/ a glass of wine, walk out with a great loaf of bread or pastries or sit and bring in a whole meal and eat for an hour. Early evening are lots of families with younger kids, perfect for parents- they can get decent food fast, the kids can eat pizza and they can get a glass of wine and get in and out w/o a lot of hassle.

Service is very earnest. There are some bumps but for being open less than a week, we think they are rocking it.

Great concept and I'm happy this is in our neighborhood. Come nicer weather there are a couple of outside patios which should be way nice for a glass of wine and an antipasto plate. Doing a good job of being almost an all-things-to-all with great design and interior and good to very good food.

VTB, interested in your take!

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  1. I concur. The pizza was very nice -and I suspect it will get better with experience. Also, the ordering and paying system was a bit raw, but happily the workers were all helpful and they will get better with experience. I bought the panini was a little greasy. The desserts - cannoli, tarts, cookies - looked good - maybe next time.

    Crispelli's will be a nice casual spot, right on Woodward south of 12 Mile, without the parking hassles of Royal Oak or Ferndale

    1 Reply
    1. re: berkleygary

      Way to be strong Berkleygary-- just say No to the canoli. Thank you guys for the write up. I'll check it out w/in a week. Glad to hear the liquor license is already up and running. I think in the end I'll still be loyal to antica pizzeria fellini, even though it is a few bucks more. But, who knows.

    2. i've been as well. shared a large thin crust with tomato sauce, mozz, sausage and caramelized onions. it was quite good. i think i may prefer tomatoes apizza but the pie we had was definitely solid. better than most pizza i've had since the move out here. good char. the sauce was a bit on the sweet side and they were pretty heavy handed with the sauce but it was good nonetheless. the layout of the place was a bit strange. essentially like a market rather than a restaurant. i can see the place getting very busy.

      1. Sounds great, walking distance and hopefully cruiser friendly in the summer!

        It sounds like the bread is good and that's what I was really hoping to hear!

        1. Thank you for this write-up! I need to try this place ASAP!

          1. Made it to Crispelli’s today. Will be back many times, which is not to say it is perfect.

            Arrived at 2:30pm today (Sunday) and there were seats available, though the place was congested with eager guests. My kid was “absolutely starving.” Hostess pointed me to the pizza station. There was an unimpressive woman totally chewing out one of the two pizza makers. She was saying the restaurant’s overall process flow was confusing and stupid. The pizza maker was trying to help her get thru the process but also trying to convert her opinion into one that appreciates the logic of their process. Needless to say, the pizza maker did not possess the psychological skills to transform her thinking/attitude. The line started to grow. Finally, the two agreed to disagree and the customer went off in a huff.

            Flustered, the pizza maker turned to the bunched line. I had been in the front of that line all the while. Apparently, the pizza maker thought his partner did or would take my order, so he started chatting with the third guy in line, whom he recognized. The partner assumed the pizza maker rightfully had me, and that the pizza maker was just taking a second to chat with his buddy. So, the partner took the second guy in line.

            By now (while simultaneously trying to mind my 5 year old), I was beginning to realize what may be happening with the queue snafu, but I couldn’t get the pizza makers’ attention. Now, the customers who had gotten bumped ahead in the order queue are giving me the “stink eye” because I’m not physically moving forward along the process such that they could move in behind me to get a closer look at the available toppings they will wish to call out.

            I lean way over the glass and shamelessly start waiving my arms until I finally get someone’s attention by the dough, and I genuinely/unconfidently ask, “Am I correctly following the process?” Now, the people in line behind me think about as much of me as I had thought of the woman in front of me (serves me right). The first pizza maker then apologizes to me and takes my order while simultaneously apologizing to the guy behind me who now has his prep stopped half way. While the pizza maker was apologizing to that customer he starts screwing up my order, but I don’t say anything because at this point I don’t really know whose order he is making and I can’t get his attention, anyway.

            Finally, I make it to the end of the pizza station where I also order a combo house salad & cup of minestrone for $6 (not sure why the takeout menu says $8). Along the way, I’ve noticed that there is significant variability, from pizza to pizza, in the amount of red sauce applied (all from the same single ladle, so what's the problem?), and that there are crappy industrial black olives as well as artisan oil cured black olives available for the pizzas, so specify wisely.

            A register prints my bill, and I get out my money, but I’m told that I should take the bill to another register. As I headed to the other register I took the bait and bought more stuff. An overpriced bottle of water, and a nicely priced Michigan Brewing Company Mackinac Pale Ale on tap, as well as some German potato salad (which was good, but I don’t know what possessed me to buy it...shame on me).

            I passed up slices of fire roasted flank steak and cedar plank roasted salmon because both looked overcooked (don't kill animals and then disrespectfully blow the prep). I also passed up miscellaneous average looking Italian packaged grocery items because there’s just no reason to buy those in a restaurant (plenty of Italian markets in DTW--- we’re not in Topeka).

            The salad ingredients were standard: crisp lettuce blend, cherry tomato, garbanzos, cucumber, lots of romano cheese, industrial black olives and a crostini, with a perfect simple red wine vinaigrette. I will definitely order these fresh salads in the future. The minestrone was fine, but its character didn’t live up to my high expectations, which had been raised by listed ingredients such as “pesto” and leeks.

            I won’t dissect the pizza making, as that can get controversial. Just suffice it to say, I loved it. Very comparable to the highly regarded Fresco Wood Oven Pizzeria in Rochester MI, and I think many may give Crispelli’s the edge, head to head. Topping tips: I was underwhelmed by the sausage—will go with salume next time, but the caramelized onion was very good. The sparingly applied fresh mozzarella seemed good to me (not an expert), though I was surprised it didn’t exude a copious amount of water (is that a sign of inauthenticity?). Will order double cheese next time, even if “that’s not how they do it in Italy.”

            Crispelli’s is very attractive inside and out, and has unobtrusive TVs. It is going to obliterate its neighbors, Uncle Andy’s pizza shop, as well as the Panini Press. Sad, but true. Just a matter of time. The crowd is a nice mix of Berkley families, along with a smattering of Royal Oak Yelpers and young, smug, macho, first generation Mediterranean guys who have beautiful American girlfriends whom they ignore whilst discussing European motocross amongst themselves and their friends working at the restaurant. You know the types. And, yes, I speaking in unabashed jealousy.

            Wine is sold by the glass ($6) and by the bottle ($14). Some of the same wines, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle reds, are sold at Costco for only about 25% less. Thus, I find Crispelli’s wine markup to be very reasonable.

            I also want to compliment the cashier, because after I signed the credit card receipt for my kid’s bottled water, I asked, “For future reference, would I be able to get iced tap water?” She profusely replied that she’d gladly credit my card back, and go get me a glass of free ice water. I of course didn’t take her up on the hospitable offer. I asked if the many employees accepted tips and she said it was not allowed. I further asked whether they were even prohibited from taking tips at the beer/wine station, and she said thought it was prohibited, but didn’t know for sure. Any of you know (there’s a spot for tips on the credit card receipt)?

            Addendum—Sorry for bouncing back and forth from present to past tenses. I’m too lazy to fix at this juncture (wine and daylight savings time effects?). Also please don’t think I’m crying about Crispelli’s process somehow being convoluted. I was distracted and unlucky. Next time will be smooth.
            Agree a very good value; hope everyone checks it out!!!!

            3 Replies
            1. re: VTB

              Nice report VTB, as expected! I was awaiting your take on it...glad you agree it needs some finessing, but it's a good place that's a keeper. Your reports are always great reading... thanks.

              1. re: VTB

                Nice report, VTB. I hope they don't kill Panini Press, but Uncle Andy's pizza was not very good the last time we had it (admittedly a long time ago but it was so bad we swore "never again")

                I walked over there Saturday to get a loaf of bread and thought the setup was confusing. I think they need to reassess, or sign it better

                But the loaf of rustic Italian bread I got was damn good...crusty with a nice sourdough tang (makes me wonder if I ended up with the bread I ordered!)

                1. re: coney with everything

                  coney with everything, I couldn't agree with you more, I don't hope...I personally don't think they will kill the Panini Press and I hope Andy stays too. I must say that you don't see two of the same types of food establishments (two pizza shops, two panini shops and two sub shops etc.. (just different concepts) in the same strip center. I would be surprised if that did not cause conflict during the building of Crispelli's. Those two establishments are totally different than Crispelli's sadly they now have to compete with the big neighbor who offer a number of choices and two of the choices happen to be the one thing that they do the panini press does great panini's and Andy's has been around servicing the berkley pizza carry out business with great pizza (I think) for a few years.

                  I too have been to Crispelli's with my family and we found it a bit confusing also, I also thought it was loud (but it was crowded so that could have something to do with it). They did a great job with the building you would never know it was the old Denny's. My husband and I had the white pizza pie and split a salad which were both really good. The kids split a blt sandwich. I hope all three establishments succeed being a Berkley resident. I say let the little neighbors and big neighbor all be successful!

                  When you want the not so fancy pizza and want the comfort of eating at home, I suggest you give Andy's another try. If you want a panini, stop by the Panini Press and either dine in or carry out (it's not near as loud as Crispelli's). I know when I want a not so fancy pizza and want to stay home I will continue to go to Andy's and when I want a panini in a quieter less hectic environment I will go to Panini Press, or I will grab a white pizza pie and eat amongst a nice mix of Berkley families, along with a smattering of Royal Oak Yelpers and young, smug, macho, first generation Mediterranean guys who have beautiful American girlfriends whom they ignore while discussing European motocross amongst themselves and their friends working at the restaurant, (nicely put VTB) at Crispelli's. Much success to the new neighbor on the block and continued success to the old neighbors on the block!

                  Coming Soon to the competition in the neighborhood is Keith Crane and Curt Catallo’s Vinsetta Garage, just south of these three neighbors, I hope they don't do panini or pizza (carry out or fancy) as these three establishments do, only time will tell. Catallo owns two other restaurants Union Woodshop (barbeque restaurant) and Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen restaurant both in Clarkston.

                  Stay Tuned the competition is about to get bigger!!!

              2. Have had 2 good meals there. My question is whether anyone remembers the name of the restaurant that was on that corner years ago, before Denny's and before the strip mall was built.

                1. Thanks to the excellent write-ups here by berkleybabe and VTB, I was totally aware of the concept and ordering system, so I wasn't confused by it at all. And, I went at around 3:00 PM today (Saturday), so it wasn't busy, and there wasn't much of a line at any of the stations.

                  So the keys to Crispelli's are:
                  1) Know what to expect (regarding the concept/setup), and
                  2) Go during off-hours so you don't need to wait in a long line at every station.

                  That said, the food was totally the low point for me. My husband and I each had a pizza -- his a thin cheese, mine a thin salume. Neither pizza was very thin at all -- about on the order of a Jet's thin/hand-tossed or Hungry Howie's. Definitely not Italian-style; a good 3x thicker than at Fresco or Apizza. The ingredients were sort of mediocre -- GFS or mass-produced stuff, not anything real special. The salame, for example, tasted like regular ol' American white bread grocery store salami; nothing Italian or elevated about it.

                  Eh, it's an alright place, and if it was the only place around that did thin crust pizza, I'd be a regular. But for me, there are places nearby that do thin crust more to my liking.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jjspw

                    Wow, interesting. Not our experience, but probably not unusual in a first month's debut of a new restaurant. Thanks for your candid and personal review. Not what several of us have experienced, but I totally respect your most recent review. Hope you get back there again and post again and see if things are different.

                    1. re: jjspw

                      i freakin liked it a lot...got a pizza marghertia, nice char on the crust, lacking a bit of chew though. Decent tomato sauce with fresh and low moisture mozarella. No sogginess at all.

                    2. I'm convinced that Molly Abraham gets half her ideas from 'hounds ...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Markcron

                        probably does...there's no other detroit foodie website, hell there's barely any bloggers

                        1. re: Markcron

                          But, hey, Molly is our kind of people and WE read HER, right?

                        2. Finally made it over to Crispelli's today. My parents had decided that that's where they were going to have lunch after church, and I decided to join them. I'm actually very surprised that it's taken me this long to get there, but I have to be honest: I forget about this place every stinking time I'm hungry. It's just not "on my map" of places to go in that area, because it had been vacant for so long, and while it *wasn't* vacant, there was no pull for me to go to a Denny's, anyway. Thus, many trips down Woodward after having eaten, noticing the parking lot at Crispelli's, and saying "Nuts!" to myself. No longer...gave it the college try today.

                          I must say, almost in spite of myself, that I was impressed, as were my parents. I fully admit that I was quite leery of the $9 price tag of the BLT. It was going to have to be some BLT for $9, I'll tell you what. I got that, my mother got the Reuben panini, and my father got the Italian panini. We were all given the option to choose between a bag of potato chips and a mandarin orange salad. All of us went with the salad.

                          And what a salad it was! We were honestly expecting a little cup of salad with a couple of pieces of mandarin oranges on the top. You know, the kind of thing that, when you talk about it *technically*, it could be seen as, yes, a "salad". Not this bad boy. This thing filled half the plate, was gorgeous in its ingredients, and there wasn't one part of it that didn't *command* me to say, "Well, now the $9 price tag is justified!" Different types of lettuce, thinly shaved (and tasty) purple onion, some jicama shavings, *really good* mandarin oranges (why can't *all* mandarin orange slices be like this?), and a very light dressing which perfectly set off the ingredients themselves. Considering that this was a "side item" (couldn't find it on the menu, though...), it was far, far better, and bigger than any of us ever expected. We left *none* of the salad on any of our plates. Good stuff, Maynard.

                          As for the sandwiches, those were pretty good, too! My BLT started with a nicely flavored thick-cut bacon, and thankfully, they didn't skimp on it, either. I *hate* it when BLTs are light on the B. It could have been a bit crispier, but that's just my personal taste, and it was still plenty good. The sourdough it came on was just fine, too, and had been decently toasted. The veggie ingredients were good, too, though the tomato (understandably for this time of year) wasn't all that flavorful. It's hard to find tomato that's truly good outside of summer. I ate the entire thing, and it was pretty decently sized, especially when coupled with that salad. Did I say that I liked the salad?

                          My mom's Reuben was the winner between their two paninis. My dad's Italian just wasn't doing it for him as much as he wanted it to, but he figured (rightly) that that was probably his fault...he should have just gone ahead and gotten the Reuben, which my mom shared with him. They liked both sandwiches, but the Reuben (for them) was the clear winner. I was actually surprised that my dad ordered the Italian...not a standard order for him, so it isn't Crispelli's fault that it didn't necessarily resonate with him. Still, he recognized that it was a quality sandwich.

                          The service was very good, too. The hostess didn't realize that we hadn't been there before, and when she did, she apologized for not explaining things to us. She quickly did so, and let it be said: it's still confusing, especially when trying to dine with multiple people wanting things from multiple stations on one check. It's not a "Hill To Die On" issue at all...it's just somewhat of a confusing principle. To the person, every employee was easy to deal with, and most if not all were smiling, and happy to answer questions. This makes a confusing place a *lot* more easy to deal with, at least IMHO. Too, they were willing to let my mom try a piece of Italian meat whose name escapes me at the moment, and I tried some NE clam chowder (will definitely be having some in the future) and a bite of the tuna salad (while fine, I wasn't in the mood for it today). These are the signs of a well-run establishment of this type.

                          Lastly, one of the nicest things about the place is that the stench of Denny's is *completely* gone. I mean, gone Daddy gone, your love is gone, gone. If you hadn't known that the bathrooms were at the front, you wouldn't recognize the place as having been a Denny's. It's nice, it's not too loud, it's family friendly (though that doesn't necessarily appeal to me all the time), and while it's a bit on the confusing side, in the end, the quality and taste of the food justifies whatever confusion there is to be had, as well as the price.

                          It's certainly different, but for a place that doesn't fit the mold, they're certainly running it well, and they've got a repeat customer in me. Now that it's officially on my radar, I can definitely say that I'll be back. It's nice when things are better than expected!