Crips's chicken pesto pizza.
Crips's chicken pesto pizza.
The black pepper scallop pizza.
The black pepper scallop pizza.
Meat lovers pizza.
Meat lovers pizza.
Crisp's pizza oven.
Crisp's pizza oven.
Crisp Pizza Bar, 1323 E. Brady St.
Crisp Pizza Bar, 1323 E. Brady St.

In search of the perfect pizza: Crisp Pizza Bar

Half restaurant, half lounge, Crisp Pizza Bar, 1323 E. Brady St., was opened three and a half years ago by owners Rob Settecase, Ian Pesch and Chris Grant. None of the owners was there on my visit.

Upon entering, you’ll notice the wood-burning oven directly across from you churning out Neapolitan style pizzas, typically hand-tossed with a crisp and chewy crust. On your left is a full bar where patrons were playing bar dice and socializing.

Tables and booths filled most of the space on the main level, as well as the upper level, which is which also has a bar and is wide open in the center, providing a view of the main floor.

I was impressed by the number of customers during what I consider to be a slow business period. Two separate groups of seven guests entered while my friends and I waited for our pizzas.

Other than pizzas, the menu at Crisp includes standard appetizers, sandwiches, soup and five "signature salads" such as the walnut apple chicken made with an organic spring mix, rosemary chicken, dried cherries, candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and a balsamic herb dressing.

Crisp also serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., including dipped brioche french toast topped with mixed berries, beer-braised corned beef hash, various omelets and a breakfast pizza with scrambled eggs, bacon and green peppers on top of sausage gravy and the Crisp signature crust.

The pizza is what brings most of the restaurant business in the door.

There are two whole pie crust sizes – well, sort of. The personal pizza ranges from 10 to 12 inches and the large ranges from 20 to 22  inches in diameter.

All crusts are hand-tossed and baked Neapolitan style in the hot wood-burning oven. Crisp is also one of the few places I’ve encountered that offers a Gluten Free crust. 

Pizza slices are sold daily for $3 in five variations: pepperoni and sausage, mac n' cheese, five cheese, BBQ chicken and the Slice of the Day, which was Sausage Supreme on the day we visited.

Pizzas can be made to your preference of toppings or you can choose one of several categories, such as red Meat Selections, Chicken, Vegetarian Selections including a cheese-less Vegan Pizza and the Crisp Signature Pies.

Personal pizzas start at $10 plus $1 for each additional topping. Large pizzas start at $20 plus $2 for each additional topping.

Crisp Pizza Bar provides its pizza diners with a vast array of options. There are eight different cheese options alone, including feta, goat cheese, Asiago, Fontina and fresh mozzarella.

Vegetable toppings include portobello mushroom, roasted red pepper, asparagus, artichokes, potato and basil.

Proteins include chicken, Italian sausage, pepperoni, capicola ham, blackened chicken, prosciutto, Nueske’s bacon, pancetta, shrimp, scallops and soppressata, a very spicy salami and a rare find at local pizzerias. I think I’ve only found it here and at Mozzaluna.

My friends and I decided on the chicken pesto, the Meat Lovers, and the black peppered scallops pizza from the Crisp Signature Pies menu.

The chicken pesto is topped with fresh tomato slices, diced chicken, fresh mozzarella, parmesan cheese, fontina cheese and toasted pine nuts over Crisp’s house-made pesto sauce.

I enjoyed the flavors of the three cheeses and the tomato slices, and I thought the pesto sauce had a nice subtle flavor, but I would have liked a little more of it. The chicken lacked flavor and would have benefitted from some seasoning.

I was most excited about the black peppered scallop pizza but was disappointed that it didn’t deliver the flavor punch I was expecting.

This pie was topped with diced scallops, finely diced basil, a balsamic glaze, pecorino, parmesan, truffle and a garlic cream sauce.

I didn’t see nor taste black pepper on any of the pieces of scallops. On one slice I could taste the basil but not on another. The truffle and garlic flavors were also too subtle for me to notice.

The balsamic vinegar was generously applied and provided most of the flavor for the pizza. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the ingredient I was excited to taste.

Finally, we found what we were looking for with the Meat Lovers pizza, topped with Crisp’s red pizza sauce, diced mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, pancetta and soppressata.

Each meat topping provided great flavor. The pepperoni and sausage each brought a level of spiciness to the pie, but were outdone by the heat and flavor of the soppressata. Even the pizza sauce seemed to have a bit of spicy flavor to it. This pie was our unanimous favorite.

The three pizzas shared a couple of common characteristics. First, the pizza crusts were crispy, chewy, and delicious with a little cornmeal dusting the bottom of the pies. Second, there seemed to be a lack of balance of flavor among the three, as if the toppings were carelessly applied. Maybe they were busier than usual and the pies were made in a rush.

I would like to go back and try the truffle roasted potato and bacon topped with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and Nueske’s bacon over fontina cheese, parmesan cheese and white truffle cream, then topped with fresh basil and balsamic glaze.

The Prosciutto di Parma also caught my eye, topped with asparagus, spinach, fresh and diced mozzarella, artichoke hearts, and "D.O.P. Prosciutto."

The D.O.P. is an Italian acronym for Protected Designation of Origin, which is certification of regional origin.

The Crisp website lists several local suppliers for their ingredients, such as Grande Cheese, Nueske’s Smoked Meats, Growing Power, Papa’s Pepper Company, Greco & Sons who provided the Italian sausage and Lakefront Brewery which strangely appears on the list.

Speaking of Lakefront Brewery, I will say that I was pretty impressed by the selection of beers on the menu, which may or may not be as a result of World of Beer located across the street.

While I wasn’t wowed on my visit, I would be willing to go back and try a few other pies and explore the beer list. Besides, that intersection of Arlington and Brady is one of the most popular entertainment destinations in town, is it not? Perhaps our paths will cross.

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