day twenty-three: crespella cafe

June 10, 2011 § 4 Comments

Crespella Cafe, which just finished hanging and painting its sign this past Sunday, is an Ithaca first. Despite its understated look (white daisy on black background, Copperplate typeface for the menu and logo) and reasonably classy-sounding menu offerings, it may be the only restaurant in Ithaca to offer competitive eating challenges. From their website:


PANCAKE STACK CHALLENGE: Two large pizza-sized pancakes to be eaten in under an hour and washed down with a sixteen ounce glass of whole milk. Finish it and its $12. Don’t clean your plate, $25.

ULTIMATE HUNGRY JORDAN CHALLENGE: A triple-stacked monster version of the Jordan (a triple BLT in itself, with bacon mayonnaise) with two pounds of Cajun home fries. Finish it and we’ll take $15. Don’t clean your plate and its $45.

Fortunately for the sake of my hump day digestive track, I did not discover the Legend Makers challenges until after my breakfast this past Wednesday morning.* (Also, incidentally, I’m not all that eager to win a 50% – 70% discount on my food just by eating it.)

The morning’s two rationally portioned specials were, instead, Mango Pancakes and Chocolate French Toast. Crespella Cafe’s executive chef touted herself as a pastry and dessert expert, so I was excited to try both of these options. Our waitress informed me that the mango pancakes came in three different sizes: a short (3 silver dollar pancakes), medium (3 full sized pancakes), or full (5 full sized pancakes with fruit and whipped cream) stack. The fruit topping was not made from my beloved mango, but rather a berry mix, so I split the difference and went for the medium stack and a coffee.

My friend and I chatted as lively and as best we could while waiting for our breakfast to arrive — this, 7:30am, was not an hour during which we were accustomed to doing much chatting. The extra-large cups of coffee our waitress delivered helped.** Our attention turned to Crespella Cafe’s decor, which was an odd mix of diner chic and faux bistro. The cafe’s signature daisy adorned the back wall and hung right above a cutlery clock. A sign on the door advertised a $5 muffin/scone and coffee special. A lone croissant adorned a corner. We couldn’t decide if the place was aiming for a fun, fancy breakfast vibe a la Dewitt Cafe or a twist on classic diner fare. This open question was answered by the arrival of our food.

To put you in my state of mind before the arrival of the food, meditate on Mango Pancakes for a bit. What do you see? Do you find yourself envisioning a huge, fluffy stack of pancakes flecked throughout with sweet goodness, covered in a flowing sea of light orange with pieces of mango drifting throughout? Likewise, Chocolate French Toast. Do you picture huge pieces of homemade bread stuffed with a molten chocolate filling, a dollop of whipped cream topping the breakfast pastry concoction? If not, maybe you have lower breakfast expectations than me. (Or maybe you didn’t get out of bed an hour earlier than what you normally consider early just to go to Crespella Cafe. Fair enough.)

Alas, the versions of the breakfast delicacies that arrived did not live up to my idealized visions of them. The pancakes were Bisquick-style pancakes with pieces of mango inserted inside them. Now, I like Bisquick pancakes. In a pinch, I’ve made them for friends who’ve raved about them. (I like Bisquick biscuits, too.) But, when I’m eating in a restaurant which says it has an executive chef, I expect something more from Mango Pancakes than just some pieces of mango in pancakes. And my friend’s French Toast looked as if it been made from Wonder Bread. “I haven’t seen bread like this in years,” she said. From her tone, I took it to mean that “like this” meant “sad.”

One touch that my friend and I both enjoyed was the syrup delivery system. The syrup arrived at our table in dessert wine glasses; it could then be slowly, respectfully, and, if desired, comprehensively drizzled onto its chosen vehicle. The syrup itself was light, smooth and did not detract from the flavor or texture of the pancakes or French toast.

All in all, our breakfasts were both totally reasonable and decent. There was not much that was wrong with them and they were, in a way, classed-up diner food. They were affordable, but, in the end, ultimately forgettable. One complaint: Crespella is open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday, but not on the Ultimate Brunch Day, Sunday. What’s up with that?

Oh, and if anyone wants to donate some cash money to the First Annual Make a Food Blogger Eat Whatever You Want Day, I’ll give the Ultimate Hungry Jordan Challenge a try. I don’t enjoy whole milk all that much, but come forth as a bona fide benefactor and I might just give the Pancake Stack Challenge a shot as well.

* Any would-be Kobayashis take note: The Legend Maker Challenges are only available after 11am and require 24 hours advance notice.

** The coffee was, by both my friend’s and my best estimation, solidly decent. We were dismayed, however, to find out, that like my beloved potato pancakes at Hal’s Delicatessen, it had been obtained from the most unappetizingly named corporation, Sysco.

Price: Friendly and flexible ($6 – $12)
Hours: M-Sat, 7am – 4pm
Location: 113 S. Cayuga Street (near Green)
Website: Crespella Cafe

Crespella Cafe on Urbanspoon


§ 4 Responses to day twenty-three: crespella cafe

  • charlotte says:

    when i think of “chocolate french toast,” i think of two thick slices of fried bread (crispy/cinnamonesque on the outside and soft/sweet on the inside) next to a pool of bitter chocolate and a handful of raspberries. but sysco bread works, too.

  • Jon says:

    It also seems worth mentioning that there have been three restaurants in this space in the last 5 years. From your picture, it looks like they haven’t done much to change the somewhat awkward/poorly-lit interior since is was Mustard/Anna’s (the short-lived Vietnamese place). I think the space in general needs a complete interior redesign to succeed on a part of the Commons that can’t seem to sustain as much foot traffic as the rest of it.

  • Red says:

    I’ve eaten there several times and since you just tried the daily specials feel that didn’t really experience the cafe. The veggie frittata is amazing. Light and airy and it feels like your being good having a serving of veggies for breakfast. The pancakes are not anything like a pre-mixed batter you can taste the vanilla and they have always been fluffy textured. I don’t care where the coffee came from it’s always fresh and tastes great. The place has been a quite a few things over a short period of time and I feel they’ve done quite a lot w/the space. I’ve spoken to the chef and she is the only person who cooks at the cafe and she in my opinion does a great job.

  • Issac says:

    I went there a few weeks back started with a wildberry muffin and a coffee,also ordered the Full Monty. It was a ham and cheese sandwich battered and deep fried.I was very disappointed. There was a blonde hair in my sandwich. The muffin was mediocre at best. She should leave the baking to Little Debbie. I am not sure if they are housemade, but tasted like a box mix where you just add water. Perhaps this is another Sysco item? The coffee I thought was good. I did have to drink a lot of it to stay awake for the most bland and generic meals i have consumed in decades. (Note: the Full Monty I took a few bites and found the hair, it was definitely deep fried and not that tasty,but comparable to something you could find at The Fair) I will not be going back.

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