The restaurant is owned and operated by cousins, Michael Ciciarelli and Nunzio Mele, at least one of which was on site and greeting diners the evening we popped in (I could have missed Ciciarelli). The restaurant is small, and pretty tight- essentially a single room with various sized tables packed in like sardines. Not my favourite way to dine, but it did promote a casual, fun, Italian style atmosphere.
We arrived at about 7:30 to a packed restaurant, but being the only one's "in line", it was only a 10 minute wait. Mele did his best to get us seated promptly, and our server was attentive with waters and drink orders.
The wine list was very affordable, but not particularly exciting (I am pretty sure there is more than one zinfandel). Regardless, we managed to settle on a bottle of red for the table, and a Italian Pinot Grigio for me.
Service was friendly, albeit, maybe a bit pushy with the more expensive main dishes (we were kind of all steered away from the less expensive items like paninis in favour of the pricier main meat dishes and special- this worked out for me because I loved my main, but I think if my dad had of gone with his gut he would have enjoyed his meal more). Further, while the runners were pretty good with the water glasses, our server never popped by the to refill the wine glasses from the bottle. My main issue with the service, however, was the timing of dishes. One of my big pet peeves for restaurant dining is when people receive their dishes at different times. Even if it's only a 2 minute wait, I think it demonstrates a lack of experience. This happened to us with the main dishes (each dish came to the table 1-2 minutes apart), and the desserts (this was more severe, where we had to remind the server about my parents' dessert which was received maybe 10 minutes after ours).
But let's chat about food now, which is honestly, the best thing about The Crazy Tomato.
This is what we tried:
Antipasto Platter (tomato and bocconcini, cured meats, olives, artichokes, roasted red peppers, parmigiano)
This was a nice and delicious starter to share. The menu suggests it feeds two, but I thought it was a fair size, especially when supplemented with the bottomless basket of warm house-baked bread. It wasn't anything innovative, but all of the ingredients were fresh and flavourful.
Spiedini (grilled lamb spiedini with white balsamic reduction)
Even my mother, an lamb-o-phobe, enjoyed these dainty spiedini. The meat was tender with a mild gaminess that was complemented nicely by the sweet sticky glaze.
Grilled Chicken (half chicken topped with wild mushroom brandy jus served with vegetables and crushed potato)
A basic but good main dish. The chicken was juicy and moist, and the potatoes were seasoned perfectly. As the mains started to be delivered, however, I noticed how pretty much everything was garnished the same. Now, I know this is a family establishment, but there is room for a BIT of creativity here, and obviously, some sauces accompaniments complement different foods and flavours better than others. Just something to think about for enhancing the sophistication a bit.
Barese Sausage and Rapini (with roasted red peppers, portobello mushrooms in garlic, chili pepper and olive oil)
This was another good dish. While the sausages were flavourful and nicely prepared, I found the rapini a bit overcooked and spicy. I found myself longing for something sweet or creamy to cut the bitterness and heat in the vegetables. Actually, a bit of starch would have beefed up the dish a bit, because the portion did look a little sad compared with the others on the table.
Build Your Own Panzerotti (with pepperoni, mild sausage and mushrooms)
Mom requested that they go "light on the cheese" and they delivered her request perfectly. This was actually a super tasty panzerotti, with a golden buttery crust that was surprisingly fluffy and light, and an appropriate dough: filling ratio. I would try one of these next time I visit.
Rigatoni al Forno with Stuffed Brasciola and Parmigiano Polpetta
By far, the best dish of the night. This was the special and all I can say is that The Crazy Tomato would be crazy not to keep it on the menu full time. The rigatoni was baked with a creamy beefy interior and a slightly crispy cheesy top. The veal had been rolled around a few spears of skinny asparagus and braised until meltingly tender and succulent. I've never had a "polepetta" (translated as meatball) made exclusively of cheese, but will be sure to seek them out now that I've been introduced. The balls reminded me of dumplings with a salty, pungent flavour, and a sponge-like texture that soaked up all the aromatic tomato sauce on the plate. It was a massive portion, and the most expensive meal of the night ($21 vs ~$15) but by far worth the extra cash.
While it took a while to actually get it, the parentals enjoyed their frozen treat. I had a few bites and thought the quality of the ice cream was excellent- very creamy with big up-front flavour.
Spiced Poached Apple with Vanilla Gelato and Gingersnap
Another special for the night, this was a delicious, light and flavourful dessert that the chef was nice enough to split into two portions for my partner and I. Before it even hit my lips I could taste "Christmas", complete with lots of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and apples.
So for 1 bottle of red, 1 glass of white, 2 coffees, 2 apps, 4 mains and 2 desserts, the bill came to about $200- very reasonable in our experience, and definitely a do-able option for last minute week night dining. Just be aware that the restaurant is small, and does not take reservations for parties under 6 people. I will definitely be back once the staff work out some of the kinks, because as far as simple, delicious, affordable Italian food goes, Michael Ciciarelli and Nunzio Mele have it down- and that's no easy feat.
Where do you visit when you're looking for Italian comfort food?