I am always tickled to see a local landmark restaurant still going strong. I remember Crazy Tomato from my days at East Tennessee State University when it occupied that big ol’ Quonset hut on West Walnut Street, serving hand-formed scratch-made pizzas that barely hinted at being circular in shape, but were delicious nonetheless. Well, a while back “Ol’ Quonset” upped stakes and moved to their current location, and Johnson City has been all the better for it.
These days Crazy Tomato can be found tucked into an eddy in the four-lane traffic cataract that is Johnson City’s North Roan Street. Crazy Tomato’s Princeton Road address can be easily accessed from Mountcastle Drive at one end (about three blocks or so), and Oakland Avenue at the other (no more than a mile). Parking can be found all around the restaurant. I recommend the back parking lot; your choosing to park on Princeton Road could wind up being a bit “exciting” when you leave.
From its perch on a northwest-facing bluff, Crazy Tomato’s enclosed back patio allows diners to view a bustling Interstate 26, while being comfortably well away from road noise that could interfere with dining conversation. The restaurant’s front dining room seats about 60 with the back patio’s capacity 80 or so. The two dining rooms are connected by a short hallway containing a small but well-stocked wine bar to one side, with the cashier and carry-out station opposite. The restrooms are accessed off a short hallway on the right. Décor is “Subdued Tuscan” and features illustrative works by local artists.
Recent travels had brought the Retiree, my dining partner and I to Crazy Tomato’s doorstep for supper early one evening. Our server Rachel was both cultured and professional in greeting and seating us. My dining partner’s question about substituting an ingredient on a dish got a nod from Rachel, who said that Crazy Tomato is always accommodating to their patrons’ requests.
With that out of the way, my dining partner and our friend the Retiree decided to share an old Crazy Tomato favorite once again; a 14-inch pizza topped with spinach, chopped onions and sliced meatballs ($15.99) adding an a la carte Crazy Tomato garden salad ($3.99). I wanted to see if Crazy Tomato’s kitchen was as facile as I remembered, and ordered the Pollo Tipico entrée ($14.99) and a garden salad ($3.99) as its side order.
How it tastes
To my mind, sliced, scratch-made meatballs are a right and proper topping for one of Crazy Tomato’s artistically abstract, hand-formed pizza crusts, being scattered across the restaurant’s luscious tomato-filled ragu with some freshly torn spinach leaves and some aromatic and spicy-hot white onions all jostling for position. The base of the crust, baked to a turn, is nearly cracker-thin, crunchy, and stretches into a vaguely circular outer edge as rugged as a Tennessee ridgeline.
The accompanying garden salad is house-made from a selection of field greens, lettuce, sliced green peppers, purple onions and mushrooms, cold and crisp and just made for the house balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
My Pollo Tipico was hardly “typical”, being more of Hispanic than Italian origin, but delicious all the same. Here, slices of marinated breast of chicken are mixed with slices of onion, mushroom and house-proprietary cheese mixture, wrapped in a dinner-sized flour tortilla and enrobed in Crazy Tomato’s own special and spicy version of Alfredo sauce. Some slices of pickled jalapeno pepper dot the sauce along the top of the tortilla, with a quantity of frijoles negros tucked around the edge of the entrée. The whole creation is baked on the plate in a really hot oven until bubbly, and served in a near-molten condition. The garden salad is a necessary inclusion, serving both to lower the heat level and cleanse the palate.
The bottom line
Crazy Tomato both survives and thrives even as the “Interesting Times” are on the wane. The restaurant interior design and décor continues to be easy on the eyes and comfortable on the rest of you. The service is outstanding, with a menu that is easy to adjust and personalize. The food is positively scrumptious and of good value for your wallet.
For the latest breaking news and updates, download the Johnson City Press app.