Thin-crust pepperoni pizza and an ice-cold Peroni? OK, OK … twist my arm.
There’s not exactly a shortage of Italian eateries in Wilmington, so when I spotted a new restaurant sign with the image of the Statue of Liberty between the words “NY Style: Pizza, Pasta, Subs,” I didn’t immediately jump for joy. After sampling just one single-topping slice from this Market Street spaghetti spot, I can say without hesitation: Crispino’s is worth jumping for.
Don’t trust me? That’s fair. I get it, dear readers: You don’t even know my real name, so go ahead and trust your peers. One skim through the interwebs, while searching for Crispino’s critiques, will lead to rarely a negative comment. Also “best pizza in Wilmington” comes up quite a lot, for that matter. Quite the accolade for a newbie.
Seems like with more northern transplants moving to our neck of the woods, Wilmington is upping its pie game. For many of us Southerners, even bad pizza is pretty good pizza. And bad pizza is often drunk pizza, which means I’m really not judging the quality of cheese or how yeasty a dough is when I’m simply trying not to drop the damn thing on the street after a night of imbibing.
With having just watched a documentary on pizza several days before my review, personal expectations were slightly elevated. From the first look at Crispino’s simple pepperoni slice sitting atop its metal dish, I could tell I was looking at pizza perfection. If a thick, chewier crust is your slice, take their Sicilian for a ride. If a New York-style crackly thin-base is what you’re after, Crispino’s classic won’t be a let-down.
I flipped over my fresh-out-of-the-oven slice, gave the sturdy bottom a flick, and was immediately pleased with the golden-brown crust. Although other local pizzerias produce a decent thin crust, they also pile on the toppings and create a soggier, doughy surface that sits heavy in the stomach. Crispino’s has all of the components of a light, satisfying slice: a crisp infrastructure ideal for folding, a light but zesty sauce, and just the right amount of mozzarella. Throw on a few pepperonis for an added unctuous bonus of grease; it’s an expert harmony of finger-licking and crust-snapping. There are plenty of specialty toppings to go around, but with a dough this good, I suggest keeping it simple.
Owner John Crispino put over a year of time into renovation and staff training and it shows. The interior isn’t trying too hard to push its Italian café-ness—no red-checkered tablecloths in sight. Overall, the dining area is clean, spacious and straightforward. Ordering is counter-style, but, thanks to a fridge full of beer and a small, elegant lineup of wines, diners can go from quick lunch date to intimate Italian evening with the pop of a bottle.
As for service, the younger girl taking our order was new and we happened upon the register on her first day. Even with a handful of menu items and a few substitutions, she handled it like a pro. The employees gave a nod to the homemade items and happily nodded “yes” when we asked if there was a real Italian in the back—friendly folks all around.
The prices? Beyond reasonable for a place serving mostly from-scratch cuisine. Folks will pay twice as much downtown for a similar menu item that’s likely not made in house. Six dollars for a hearty meatball sub from a real Italian? Yes, please. The generously sized 6-inch sandwich (only $10 for the full foot) comes on crusty, Italian bread, smothered in marinara and mozzarella. I saved the majority for lunch the next day, and it was just as good if not better reheated.
When I hinted toward ordering eggplant Parmigiana for dinner, the girls behind the counter rave of its freshness. Sold. I swapped the pasta for a salad with Caesar dressing. Heads up, side-Caesar lovers: Diners can only order a large, but Crispisno’s will hook it up with a smaller version of the house and put the dressing on the side. The mixture is creamy and peppery and—although it seems to be missing the sharpness of raw garlic—it is light and hits the spot.
The thin, layered eggplant slices are delicately breaded and juicy on the inside. There is no skimping on the portions here. The Parm platter comes in a round tin-foil container (great for reheating) and touches every side of the to-go vessel. Cheese, freshly fried and baked eggplant, and a zippy red sauce that could have easily fed three people for $12? That’s what’s up!
My husband, half-Italian blood and a true noodle nerd, zoned right in on something his mama used to make: pasta with garlic and oil. This Italian classic may sound mundane, but true aglio e olio ain’t easy to pull off. It requires expertly al dente pasta, a heavy but not overwhelming amount of aromatic garlic and superior olive oil. He opted for the addition of broccoli (as noted on the menu) and grilled chicken for a boost of protein. The fruity, rich olive oil coated each thin strand beautifully and finished with a savory, garlicky bite that kept both of us going back for more. My husband did feel the need to add a pinch of salt (and I wouldn’t have minded seeing some fresh parsley), but the broccoli was tender, the noodles cooked flawlessly, and there wasn’t a trace left in sight.
Most importantly, I’m certain my mother-in-law would have given her sassy Italian stamp of approval. Grazie, Crispino’s!