Before I get too much grief for calling the area in which Crisp has opened "the Heights," I'll say that it's more accurately the Shady Acres neighborhood that's the owner of this neat, tidy and -- so far -- supremely useful new addition. It's also one of the few recent cases in which a Houston restaurant has opened ahead of schedule (a whole month, in this instance), which leads me to believe that -- if nothing else -- Crisp knows what it's doing.
That shouldn't be surprising, considering Crisp's ownership: Al Scavelli, Olsi Lito and Angelo Scavelli, the trio who also own and operate three of the city's most successful bars, Pub Fiction, Shot Bar and Celtic Gardens. But looking around the chic, trim Crisp, it's hard to tell that it even came from the same people who brought Houston a Wheel of Fortune-style spinning shot selector.
It's equally difficult to recognize the building that Crisp's owners have transformed into a wine and craft beer bar/low-key Italian restaurant had you not driven past the old Shady Grocery at the corner of Bevis and 23rd Street prior to its renovation. Its has been so thoroughly and thoughtfully repurposed that you could be forgiven for thinking it a brand-new building entirely.
Inside, Crisp features a welcoming bar area with enormous, padded stools (which I noticed because of my own somewhat large, padded butt, which often finds barstools far too small to be comfortable) ringing a Cheers-like bar, complete with brass fittings and cheerful barmen. It's also the first instance I've seen so far of a hybrid beer and wine bar that seems to take both very seriously: There is an Enomatic wine system in place which provided a very clean, crisp glass of Santola Rose, as well as a cask system which poured a fine, creamy version of Saint Arnold's seasonal Christmas Ale on my first visit.
Although flights of the 22 varieties of beer are available on flight paddles every day that Crisp is open, you can get the entire flight of four different 5-ounce pours for only $6 on Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. And deals for wine are sweet, too: Order any pizza all-day Tuesday and get 25 percent off your bottle of wine. Regular weekday happy hours offer the best of both worlds: $2 off any glass of wine or pint of craft beer, which would mean you're only paying $4 for excellent brews like Stone Pale Ale and Green Flash IPA.
What I tried from the short-and-sweet menu was no slouch either. Like the beer list, which is helpfully organized by ABV (that's how strong the beer is), the menu features six main sections: appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and large plates. Although it may seem like a lot, Crisp fits the dishes onto one, skinny menu page, back and front -- and many of the signature dishes like the Beer Can Chicken are repurposed into other menu items, such as the Cluck You BBQ pizzz and the Beer Can Chicken Pot Pie that's a special on Fridays. I tend to like this, as it shows the kitchen is eliminating food waste and is generally proud enough of an item to feature it across the board.
A friend and I eagerly dug into a fondue of taleggio cheese with roasted mushrooms and "nutmeg-scented spinach" to start and found that -- while it needed some serious stirring for the various ingredients to incorporate -- the final blend of flavors was incredibly compelling. The soft, naan-like flatbread it came with was a serious step up from the lifeless shards of pita or tough rounds of French bread that are normally served with such dishes.
Also enjoyable were our entrees: His, a salmon sandwich ($10) that came with a very large chunk of fat, fresh fish topped with a creamy basil-sage aioli and helped along with peppery arugula. A cup of blue crab bisque that came on the side skimped a bit on the crab, but the bright, roasted red pepper flavor of the creamy soup was unimpeachable.
My main dish was a Blue Southern Belle pizza ($15) covered with gorgonzola, peaches, more arugula, a "Texas sweet tea syrup" and -- inadvisedly, on my part -- prosciutto. The prosciutto had turned tough and jerky-like in the oven, and I regretted my last-minute decision to add it to the pizza, but not the overall decision to order it.
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While Crisp has some serious competition in the area already with well-established wine bar The Corkscrew, new craft beer spot Witchcraft Tavern and popular restaurants such as Hubcap Grill, I'm not worried about it finding its niche. Crisp seems to me the type of place that will take all comers, with its warm interior and huge, inviting patio. It's tough to pay enough attention to three different areas of service -- food, beer and wine -- but so far, Crisp seems to be doing all three right.