Erbelli’s Pizzeria & Italian Bistro – Portage
I’m not a big New Year’s Eve guy. I hate crowds. I hate the bar scene. I can honestly say it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a bar on NYE…and the last one I went to was Buffalo Wild Wings and there was only our group and two other groups. It was empty and the way I like it.
J, on the other hand, likes going out. I feel bad because it seems like we never go out on weekends and it’s probably my fault. When we lived in Illinois, we went out almost every weekend, but we had a group of friends that all went to the same bar. Since moving to Michigan, we really haven’t made that many friends. We both work such weird jobs that it’s hard to socialize. All the people I work with are from Detroit and when we lived in Lansing, most of J’s co-workers were right out of college so going out on Saturday night meant two different things to us.
We both had to work NYE. J worked her regular schedule and was home early in the afternoon. I made it back to Kalamazoo a little after 7:00. I told her we could do whatever she wanted. If she wanted to go out to dinner and go dancing somewhere, we could. If she wanted to go karaoke, we could, but she had to find someplace. If we were gonna go out, I didn’t want to waste an hour after I got home looking for something. She found a place in Richland that was having a NYE tasting and a country band in a venue next door for an additional cover. I was on board. She called to see if we could get a table. I put the address in the GPS and waited for her to get ready. By the time we were ready to go, she changed her mind. We were both exhausted and really, she just wanted pizza somewhere relaxed where we could have a couple drinks. We had already tried Martini’s, but weren’t getting an answer, so I threw out another suggestion.
We ended up going to Erbelli’s Gourmet Pizza on Portage Road in Portage. I kept seeing that they were the winners of Best Gourmet Pizza and I want to try the best pizza. J called and asked if they had any seating. They said yes. When we got there, we had to chuckle a little bit. There was only one car in the parking lot. We were apparently the only ones that wanted pizza on New Year’s Eve. Well, not the only ones. A big group showed up at exactly the same time….more on that later.
The restaurant is pretty tiny. When you enter, you come right into the “smoke free pub.” To the left is the dining room, but there’s only eight or nine booths and less than a half dozen tables. It’s a really cozy, intimate atmosphere. The booths have high backs so you don’t have to stare at the person in the next booth.
The sign at the entrance to the dining room said to wait to be seated so we did. The bartender told us that should be changed to “please seat yourself” and told us we to sit where we’d like. We took a booth and waited for the waiter. Remember that group I mentioned? They took the table right next to us…..in an empty dining room. And it’s just a guess, but we know they went to a movie because they told the waiter they did. We’re fairly certain they snuck alcohol into the theater. Draw your own conclusions….
Anyway, we both started with drinks. I got a pint of Labatt’s Blue. J got a strawberry daiquiri. The menu is pretty large….both the drinks and the food, so the waiter gave us some time to look over it while he dealt with the other table who must have thought they were stand up comedians or something. It took longer than it should have with them (at no fault of the waiter’s) so we sat there for quite a while waiting. In fact, the bartender actually brought out our drinks because they had been sitting there for a while. When he came back, we put in our entire order so he didn’t have to come back.
We started with the 7″ Erbbie Bread. The daily special actually included Erbelli Sticks, but not a gourmet pizza. It would have just been a regular two topping and we wanted to try one of the gourmet pizza’s. We probably should have just stuck with the deal from a cost standpoint, but we passed. J also wanted a salad. The waiter talked her into the salad bar, so she went right for that once he left.
She didn’t do anything to fancy with the salad. I didn’t even get up to look at it, so I have no idea what was there. She took a pretty large portion though and probably bigger than what she would have got had she ordered a salad.
The Erbbie Bread came out first. It was a little pizza covered with cheese an Italian spices sans the sauce. It was really good. We went with the smaller one so we wouldn’t fill up on bread like we usually do, but when the plate was empty, we were both wanting more.
The pizza came out shortly after we finished the bread. It was actually pretty good timing. We went with a medium thin crust BBQ Chicken Pizza. We ordered it without the onions, but of course, the onions made it on. The pizza looked really good. Instead of a pizza sauce, they use a sweet BBQ sauce then cover it with grilled chicken, onion, and cheese. The good thing about the onions is that they were long strips, so they were easy to see and pull off. The thin crust truly is a thin crust, but it wasn’t very crispy. When J and I order pizzas in Chicago, we always ask for it to be “well-done.” What that means is the crust is very crispy and the cheese is almost burnt. If you’re not used to it, you would think it’s burnt, but it really is the best way to eat a pizza. This crust was pretty soggy and the BBQ sauce made it worse. It didn’t bother me, but J was a little turned off by it. She also didn’t seem to be a big fan of the chicken. If it fell off the slice, she didn’t put it back on or eat. I, on the other hand, liked the chicken and couldn’t get enough of it.
My feeling is, J didn’t really like it. The onions were a turn off and we know the waiter got it right because he repeated it three times to us when he took the order. I don’t know if he forgot to put it in that way or the cook didn’t see it. Even with the occasional onion, I really liked the pizza. I agree with J that a crisper crust would have made it better, but I was a big fan of the BBQ sauce. In hindsight, we should have just went boring and got a half cheese/half pepperoni, but we went with something that was a little different for us.
Our meal, with three drinks was over $45 before tip. Without the alcohol, we were still looking at right around $35. It’s not a cheap meal by any means. The thing that really sort of bothers me about the price was that there wasn’t a price difference between the three crust choices. We could have gotten a medium thick crust pizza for the same price which would have been more food and we most likely would have taken a few slices home, but we prefer thin crust pizza, so we’re left paying the extra for it.
We’ll have to give Erbelli’s another shot before making a decision on it. What really turned us off was the other party who was rude, loud, and obnoxious….and these weren’t college kids. They were all probably in their 50′s. It’s one of those things I feel bad about because it’s one of those things that is out of the restaurants control yet we form an opinion of the establishment based on the experience. The waiter and bartender were both incredibly friendly and very good at what they do. The waiter was working his butt off trying to keep the group happy but not neglect the other two tables. They were paying in gift certificates, so I hope this kid got a really good tip…he would have deserved it. We were hoping for a nice, relaxing New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t totally ruined, but it wasn’t what we were hoping for either. We did get a couple drinks and some pretty good pizza, so I can’t complain too much.