Crisp Woodlands opened less than two weeks ago (April 2015) and is off to a great start. Where most new restaurants struggle for the first few weeks or months, this one succeeds. As some locations seem to be less than hospitable to restaurants, this space has a history of being restaurant friendly. After a generous remodel, there are very few traces left of what was previously Black Walnut Cafe. Things like "order here", and "pick-up there" signs have been replaced with an informed and helpful staff. The booth seating area in the bar is the only recognizable item from the building's recent past. The full service bar is surrounded by white marble counter tops for patrons who enjoy bar-side seating. In fact, all of the tables at Crisp feature white marble tops, including the tables on the new and improved patio seating area. The modern looking interior has several interesting features, one of the most remarkable being the two glass enclosed, chilled wine vaults. Capable of storing and displaying several hundred bottles of wine, together they could be called a 'supporting wall' but of course, wine isn't the only thing they do well at Crisp Woodlands.
The service counter has been replaced by an interesting piece of technology which can most easily be described as a Wine Vending machine; The WineEmotion™ Quattro + 4. While all of the wine in house is kept as close to between 45° & 47° Fahrenheit, the eight bottles in this case are hand picked and are ready to be sampled at your leisure. This is especially helpful when you're just not sure what to choose from the dozens of selections, and might not be ready to fully commit to any one bottle. The WineEmotion vending machine is accessed via smart card technology, and dispenses pre-measured amounts of any of the eight wines within its cabinet. While the level of technology to create and operate this equipment is nothing new, this is surely the most unique way to sample wine in The Woodlands.
Did someone say "Double Stuffed?" As guests of Crisp, we were given our choice of appetizers, entrées, and desserts; so we tried - really hard - to not eat too much of any one thing. That, combined with the assorted delicious smells that surrounded us, was simply intoxicating. Our first appetizer was Crisp's Funky Sticks ($11) - the fried Gorgonzola sticks were light, crispy, and very tasty. Accompanied by some baked pears, under a blanket of smoked prosciutto, on top of a bed of baby arugula, this appetizer really hits its mark.
These are the best cheese sticks ever, period. And the pears aren't bad either!
The Saffron Arancini ($11) is a light and crispy dish which features fried risotto balls filled with mozzarella, placed in a bit of orange & thyme vinaigrette sauce that will leave your taste buds wanting more. The risotto balls are flavorful all on their own, and when combined, the sauce creates an entirely new flavor sensation.
The Cluck You BBQ Pizza ($17) is built with beer can chicken, smoked Gouda, pickled jalapeños, grilled red onion and Dr. Pepper® BBQ sauce. Had the chicken and jalapeños been distributed a little more evenly, the flavors would likely have melded better. My personal taste leans more towards a "kitchen-sink" or "supreme" type pizza, minus the mushrooms, so getting bites of mostly cheese pizza just doesn't do it for me. In this case however, the Gouda cheese was an interesting twist giving this pizza a more pie-like consistency. Since we still had other entrées to try, a lot of this one went into a box for later. I think we've all had pizza leftovers at one time or another, and they are usually unremarkable. This one, however, breaks through that barrier and after being reheated the next day, I found it was even better tasting. This is easily a meal that could be ordered in advance and taken home only to be reheated the next day.
Overall, I have to agree with his assessment of the Cluck You BBQ pizza. Since coming to Texas a little over 14 years ago, my appreciation for jalapeños on just about everything has only grown, and having them scattered across this pizza was a nice combination. But I'm also already looking forward to my next pizza at Crisp so I can get a better sense of the flavors in the sauce. Or more appropriately - The Sauce. Owner/Manager Al Scavelli told us a little about great grandfather Casto Caiazza's sauce, and I can't wait to try it without the sweetness of the Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce on this particular pie interfering. But while we're on the subject of family recipes, I have to give an abundance of credit where it's due to the Scavelli brothers' great-grandmother for her crust. Not too dry or crisp, not soggy, this hand-tossed crust was tender without being chewy, and had just a hint of salt. I may have had better - or certainly different - crusts before now, but I've certainly had far, far worse. That might sound a bit like a backhanded compliment, but understand I mean it only in the best of ways. The flavor and texture of the crust - even the next day - was fantastic.
The Melting Beef Short Ribs ($24) served on a bed of soft polenta, topped with wilted spinach, and braised in a red wine braising liquids with butter braised mushrooms, and pickled parsley, were literally soft enough to cut with a spoon. This has to be some of most tender beef to ever grace a table - and the flavor comes through with every bite. The braising sauce was the perfect accompaniment to this tender beef, and left no reason for any added salt or pepper to enjoy. In fact, I found no reason to ever add any of the table-staple seasonings to anything we enjoyed; a testament to the integrity of the kitchen working in tandem with Chef Franz Garcia.
That struggle to not eat too much of any one thing? The struggle was real, friends. I knew I should really stop after a bite or maybe two at most - but the Chicken Saltimbocca ($11) sandwich was fantastic. Everything about it - the grilled chicken (tender, juicy), balsamic onion (sweet, yet biting), the mild mozzarella, more of that fabulous prosciutto, the blended basil/sage mayo, and the best Ciabatta roll I'd ever had - all but begged me to finish it off. Fortunately, my willpower maintained enough strength to hold me back. But I could easily eat this sandwich again and again.
The Seasonal Fruit Crisp ($8) is a generous serving of seasonal fruit - ours had apples, strawberries and blackberries - between a granola crust and topped with grated nutmeg and vanilla gelato. Easily enough for two or possibly three people to enjoy, this hot dessert would go great with your favorite coffee.
Banana Nut Bread is one of his favorite desserts, and the Banana Bread Pudding ($7), served with candied pecans, melted peanut butter sauce and vanilla gelato, is a definite competitor. This particular batch was actually ever so slightly disappointing, though, as (I suspect) it to be leaning on the over-baked side. While the bulk of the serving was soft and fluffy, top crust was a bit tough and chewy; and there wasn't much of a banana flavor. The peanut butter had an earthy, nutty, organic flavor, and the pecans added a nice accent. The gelato on both desserts was mild and flavorful, without being overbearing or too sweet. We both thought it would be a great refresher on a hot summer day.
Crisp Woodlands seating capacity is approximately 200 with about 25% being outdoors in the improved patio area. As was the case when this location was Black Walnut, parking can be a bit tight, but complimentary valet service is available seven days a week. Add to that the knowledge that 3,000 square feet of the rest of the building will soon be a banquet facility for Crisp and not go to some other business competing for the same parking spaces, and the issue becomes moot.
With so much going for it, we imagine Crisp is in for a long and successful run here in The Woodlands. The expansive hours (Monday-Thursday, 10-10, Friday-Saturday 9-midnight, and Sunday 9-10), impressive wine selection, fantastic menu, knowledgeable staff, and central location makes Crisp a great venue for girls' night, date night, business lunches, casual brunches and even a place for a pizza and beer while watching the game. Next time you're trying to decide where you want to go, make sure Crisp is on your shortlist.
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Black Walnut Cafe
BJ's Brewhouse 1st Look
BJ's Brewhouse Strike 3
Brunch at Crisp Woodlands
Fielding's Wood Grill
Dosey Doe Music Cafe
Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
Republic Grill Panther Creek
TGI Friday's The Woodlands
The Black Walnut Cafe
Whistle Stop Cafe