By Cynthia McFarland
Food, food everywhere! If it seems that every event you attended over the past six weeks involved eating, you’re not alone. After all, it wouldn’t be the holidays without an abundance of edibles.
Come January, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and lose a few pounds, but that can be easier said than done, especially if you eat out more than once a week. Fortunately, there’s a way to grab a fast lunch or dinner and stay on the straight and narrow when it comes to restaurant meals. Across the state, Floridians are making Crispers their healthy fast food alternative.
Fifteen years ago, in a small storefront in Lakeland, the first Crispers opened its doors. Customers loved the fresh salads and sandwiches, and the restaurant chain exploded across the Sunshine State, growing to 25 stores in barely four years. Eighteen more stores are slated to open in 2005. Publix Supermarkets saw the investment value in the chain and has purchased a majority of stock.
Although corporate-owned, Crispers is still very much a friendly “mom and pop” operation.
“It’s very homegrown,” says Ocala General Manager Craig Leynes, who has been with the company since it consisted of just three stores. “When you walk into the corporate office, you know everyone there.”
This comfortable, welcoming atmosphere carries over to the stores, where customers place their orders at a central counter. Despite the fact that nothing is pre-made and every item is created when you order it, you can expect your meal to be promptly delivered to your table within approximately four to seven minutes.
Service may be speedy, but the dishes taste nothing like typical fast food, and that’s the beauty of Crispers. You can still enjoy the freshest meals possible, even if you’re in a hurry.
Many customers think salad when they come to Crispers and understandably so.
Among the most popular is the Summer Salad, a heaping bowl of spring mix greens topped with honey-cured turkey, mandarin oranges, strawberries, apples, red onions, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, and sweet sugared pecans. Another winner, which has been on the menu since day one, is the Oriental Chicken Salad, a mix of Romaine piled high with marinated chicken breast, pico di gallo, pineapple chunks, crisp lo mein noodles, and sugary walnuts.
Other tantalizing salad options include the Thai Salad, Southwest Salad, Cobb Salad (with either chicken, smoked turkey, or shrimp), Caesar Salad, Greek Salad, Baby Spinach, and Chef Salad. Both chicken and tuna salad are also among the salad offerings.
Nearly all the dressings are freshly prepared on the premises each day, and while you can chose any flavor, the dressing suggestions for various salads are right on target.
A wide array of sandwiches star on the menu and are served with Crispers chips and a pickle spear. Among the signature sandwiches are the Asiago Beef and the Northern Italian. Eating the Asiago Beef is a challenge simply because the tender roast beef is piled so high you’ll have a hard time devouring it neatly. Jack cheese, tomato, leaf lettuce, and a tasty red pepper pesto sauce complete the sandwich, which is served on red-pepper Focaccia bread.
Meat lovers will sigh with pleasure over the Northern Italian, which highlights salami, ham, and turkey heaped on a fresh tomato basil roll. Jack cheese; tomato; leaf lettuce; sliced olives; red onion; and red, yellow, and green pepper rings round out this hearty number, which is dashed with flavorful balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
There are over a dozen sandwiches on the menu, including the Triple Decker (for the hearty appetite!), Tropical Chicken, Southwest Chicken, East Coast Chicken, Hot Russian, Crispers Club, Uptown Ham & Turkey, Downtown Roast Beef & Turkey, Smoked Turkey Delight, and the vegetarian Garden Party.
Anyone who loves a good Reuben will be more than satisfied with Crispers’ take on an old favorite. True to its reputation, this substantial sandwich is stacked with warm corned beef and pastrami (or you can substitute turkey), and topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing.
Breads are all baked fresh daily and you can choose from a wide variety for any sandwich.
In fall of 2004, Crispers debuted their new wrap sandwiches, which have proven to be exceptionally popular.
“Everyone’s going to low-fat, low-carb,” explains Craig. “We have a Chicken Caesar wrap, and you’ll also find wraps you won’t find anywhere else.”
These include the Citrus Chicken Wrap, featuring their signature chicken salad with a Florida twist; the Italian Antipasto Wrap, made with both ham and salami; and the flavorful, but not-too-spicy Santa Fe Wrap with Southwest chicken and jalapeno ranch dressing. Any of the four tempting wraps can be made with a low-carb tortilla for just 50 cents extra.
Cool weather is the perfect time to sample some of Crispers’ numerous soups, chowders, and gumbos. You can usually find 12 different choices listed on the menu board and some soups are regulars, depending on the day of the week. On the Tuesday we visited, options included Broccoli & Cheddar, Potato Bacon, Vegetarian Vegetable, Chicken & Dumplin’, Chicken Noodle Vegetable, Kickin’ Crab, Black Bean, Chicken Wild Rice, Jambalaya, Cordon Bleu, Chicken Portobello, and Veggie Tortellini. Whew!
If all those choices are confusing, you can’t go wrong with the Kickin’ Crab Chowder. “People come here just to get this chowder,” Craig tells us, and after one spoonful I can understand why. With plenty of rich crab flavor, this creamy chowder is perfectly seasoned and has just enough kick. Another winner is the robust Jambalaya, practically a meal in itself with its spicy combination of sausage, chicken, and rice.
Cups range from $2.99 to $3.99 and bowls are available for $3.49 to $4.89. If you’re torn between soup or sandwich, you can always order half a classic sandwich and treat yourself to a cup of soup. Just what the doctor ordered on a nippy winter afternoon!
Okay, so you’ve been health-minded and ordered a salad or a low-carb wrap sandwich. Maybe you even took advantage of the low-fat or fat-free dressing choices. Doesn’t that leave just a teeny bit of room for indulgence? For those who don’t think a meal is complete without something sweet, Crispers does dessert and does it well.
Cookie lovers rave over the fresh-baked choices, which come in “nibbler” and “large” sizes. (Get the nibblers and you won’t feel the guilt!) Chocolate chip, chocolate chip with nuts, oatmeal raisin, triple chocolate, peanut butter, white macadamia chocolate, and Royale are usually on the menu. In addition, you’ll find a flavor of the month, which recently included gingerbread and Reese’s Pieces.
Starting in January, stores will offer individual-sized complete desserts. Instead of a slice of cake, you will have your own miniature version. This new concept allows patrons to have the freshest desserts possible — sharing is just an option! Eight new desserts will be available, including Chocolate Lava Cake, Pineapple Upside-down Bundt Cake, Snickers Cheesecake, Rocky Road Cheesecake, New York-Style Cheesecake with various toppings, Tuxedo Bombe with White and Dark Chocolate Mousse, Triple Espresso Mousse, and not to be overlooked, the ever-popular Carrot Cake.
Those who’d rather sip dessert can opt for a specialty frozen beverage, such as the Mochaccino Blast, a customer favorite. Milk shakes featuring Publix ice cream come in the traditional flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, as well as such intriguing flavors as butter pecan, moose tracks, bear claw, Irish crème, and more. Yogurt shakes are also on the menu and include a variety of rich flavors, such as cookies-n-cream. Coming in January, look for smoothies, as well.
Several different flavors of coffee are always brewing and you’ll find a variety of specialty coffee drinks, such as the popular Cappuccino and Caramel Java. Hot Chocolate topped with whipped cream, of course, is also available.
If you need to put together a party or corporate meeting, take a clue from Craig whose Ocala store routinely provides dinners for the Chamber of Commerce crowd. Sandwich and wrap platters make it easy to feed a few guests or dozens. You can also order salad platters and cookie/brownie platters.
Crispers prides itself on excellent customer service and aspires to be the “next great American food chain.” At the rate they’re going, that goal seems certain to become a reality.
2604 S.W. 19th Avenue Road, Suite 102
Ocala, Fla. 34474
(In front of the Super Wal-Mart east of Paddock Mall)
Open 10:30 am-9:00pm, Monday – Saturday
By Cynthia McFarland