Restaurant Reviews

CRISP's Culinary Chaos: Conflicting Combinations and Confusing Seasonings

Want a behind the scenes look at CRISP? Make sure to check out our slideshow.

From the moment the first bite reached my tongue, I knew something was wrong. The pizza was sweet. And it wasn't supposed to be sweet. I looked at the list of ingredients on the menu. Taleggio, spinach, marinated artichokes, crispy onions and truffle oil. None of those things are inherently sweet.

I passed a piece to one of my dining companions and asked him if he tasted something cloying. He did, but even our combined forces couldn't figure out just what in the pizza was making it sweet.

Of course, that wasn't the unfortunate dish's only problem. It seems someone in the kitchen had been taught in some back-alley culinary school that every time you make any sort of cheesy cream sauce, you add nutmeg. Like, a lot of nutmeg. How it ended up on my pizza I have no idea, but it was there. And it was odd.

In fact, I'm generally confused by CRISP Wine Bar & Eatery. The menu is unbalanced, featuring a number of Italian-esque dishes as well as Southern staples like chicken and waffles, brisket sandwiches and beer can chicken. Some things that I ate there were practically inedible. Some things were absolutely stellar. The servers didn't know much about the wine (which is unfortunate at a wine bar), but they were friendly and welcoming. The interior seems made for young professionals to chill with a glass of wine after a day at the office, while the patio is a place to take the kids and chow down on pizza and a pint.

Maybe it's because I'm new to Houston, or maybe it's because CRISP is still figuring out what it wants to be, but after three meals there, I still can't decide whether I liked it or what sort of category to place it in, if any.

In sorting through my experiences at CRISP, though, I was able to come up with a rule for dining there: Don't order anything vaguely Italian, and your meal ought to be pretty tasty.

Conflicting combinations and confusing seasonings appear to be a theme at CRISP Wine Bar & Eatery. The restaurant opened in November 2012 in the Shady Acres neighborhood just south of 610 and east of T.C. Jester. It's a funny place for a restaurant because all of its neighbors are homes and condos, but there it is, nestled in a quiet neighborhood, the perfect spot for folks to meet on a Thursday evening to enjoy inexpensive craft beer and wine with a stone deck fired pizza.

The masterminds behind the place, Al Scavelli, Olsi Lito and Angelo Scavelli, also own and operate three local bars — Pub Fiction, Shot Bar and Celtic Gardens — but it's difficult to picture the guys who dreamed up those places opening CRISP. It's so...well...crisp. Yes, it's still a bar of sorts, but it's a classy space.

My first impression was that it's really lovely. A large mural depicting a pastoral scene in what appears to be Italy covers one full wall, and the rest are exposed brick. The restaurant is dominated by a large wooden bar in the middle of the room that has seats all the way around. It no doubt makes for challenging bartending, but it's great for people watching across the bar.

Another wall features CRISP's much-talked-about Enomatic wine system, which stores each featured bottle of wine at its correct service temperature. The system also allows the wine to be distributed in one-ounce, three-ounce or five-ounce servings, should a diner wish merely to taste many different wines instead of drinking full glasses. Drinkers and diners are encouraged to purchase Tasting Cards that work like credit cards for a wine-vending machine. It's an interesting idea and one that appeals to my indecisive nature.

CRISP has a number of different seating options, including tall bar tables, booths, four-tops and picnic tables outside. The interior is decorated in warm earth tones punctuated by abstract art, small framed black-and-white photographs, and, of course, wine and beer. There are growlers and wine bottles on display all over the place — a not-so-subtle reminder that you're eating at a bar rather than drinking at a restaurant. Further adding to the upscale bar atmosphere are chalkboards featuring nicely handwritten lists of specials and illustrations of wine glasses.

And the specials are numerous. I won't list them all here for the sake of space, but suffice it to say that every day features a special or three. Unfortunately, the one I tried didn't fare much better than the menu items I tried. Monday's Chicken D'Angelo special was breaded chicken atop fettucine alfredo, and like the rest of CRISP's offerings, it confused me. It was greasy and heavy and far too complicated. Why would you serve a heavily breaded chicken breast over another bread product? Why top the chicken with cheese when it's being served with a cheesy pasta sauce? What's with the random dabs of pesto? Aside from the overabundance of nutmeg in the alfredo sauce (which by then was a running joke among my group of diners), the individual components of the dish were good. I just don't understand how they go together.

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Kaitlin Steinberg