Berkley area diners get lucky.
Four investors with a wealth of experience in restaurants decided that a long-abandoned Denny’s in Berkley — Woodward at 12 Mile Road, to be exact — would be the perfect spot for a joint venture. They guessed right. Crispelli’s Bakery & Pizzeria has been bustling since opening in early March.
Every element is spot-on here, from fresh, tasty food for dine-in or carry-out to updated retro decor, affordable prices and responsive, capable staff. Doors open at 10 a.m. daily.
General manager Ron Nussbaum keeps the place humming, but the partners are hands-on, too, starting with owner Mark Artinian, founder of Bosco Pizza Co. The other bus-iness leaders are Glen Willson, owner of Willson’s Pub ’n Grill in Commerce Township, and Joe and Ken Morelli, pizza pros who’ve operated multiple Papa Romano’s stores.
Crispelli is a “fast-casual eatery” — a growing industry concept, according to Willson. Instead of table service, guests order at separate counters designated for pizza, salads, soups, sandwiches and bakery. It’s a cafeteria, Italian-style, where food is made before your eyes. Guests check out at a central pay station.
People like the system, he said, because “you’re in control of your time when you’re here.”
The pizza oven behind a white marble counter is front and center at Crispelli’s.
“We have the first natural gas stone oven in Michigan,” Willson said. “It was designed in Italy and assembled in San Francisco.”
The Morelli brothers developed their own dough for the oven, turning out two sizes of Authentic Italian Thin Crust (East Coast-style) pizza or the Deep Dish (Detroit-style) variety. Topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and up to three toppings, pizza comes hot to the table in a paper bag.
One of six available gourmet pizzas, White Pie is really delicious. Spread over the thin crust are mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, Parmesan Reggiano and Romano cheeses, roasted garlic and artichoke hearts. Two other gourmet pizzas are Mediterranean, including chicken and feta cheese, and Margherita, with tomatoes and basil.
Four soups are available, including Tomato Bisque, which has Roma tomatoes simmered in chicken stock, onion, garlic and oregano with a hint of cream. My minestrone was chock-full of veggies in a savory broth featuring white beans, pasta and pesto.
Get different tastes and save money with a combo: cup of soup plus half sandwich or half salad (Caesar or house only). My colorful Crispelli (house) salad was dressed in a light-tasting, red wine vinaigrette.
My favorite among Crispelli’s five deli sandwiches is flank steak on sourdough bread. Panini sandwiches are grilled with Parmesan butter. My friend enjoyed her grilled vegetable panini, but wished for roasted red peppers.
Timothy Kitzman, director of baking, rises early to make artisan breads and other leavened goods. He has years in the business, as does Executive Chef Steve Lindemier, whose resume includes Ellwood Bar & Grill (Detroit) and Bay Pointe Golf Club (West Bloomfield).
Gourmet and convenience items, including beer and wine, are sold in Crispelli’s marketplace. Once an expansion is completed across a covered alley, guests will be able to sit with an alcoholic beverage.