Pazzo: Where strong hands make delicate food

Photos by Bradley Cook & Robert Williams (Flashbox Studio)

A burly man with a bright smile, knuckle tattoos, a mouthful of expletives and a punk-rock playlist on full blast; at first glance, you’d think Scott Pisani is better suited in a Social Distortion mosh pit than in a kitchen mashing potatoes.

Well, at first glance, you’re wrong. He’s actually quite suited for both. 

Chef Scott’s intensity is reflected in everything he does. As a man in his 30s who was given a 10% chance to live only a few years ago, he’s hellbent on living his life at 110% these days.

For Pisani, that means making his lifelong dream to open a restaurant on Oregon Avenue a reality. 

Pazzo, “crazy” in Italian, is unlike any other place to dine in Creswell. It’s what he calls his “five-star dive bar” experience: good food, without the pretension. 

Aesthetically, the dining room feels balanced and warm, dressed with food-like colors you can almost taste. The walls are painted a copper pot orange, accented with tomatillo green and eggplant purple. The paisley design that hugs the ceiling mirrors the tattoo on Pisani’s arm. It is an off-the-wall decor yet carefully curated, and pulled together in full by a black-and-white checkered floor.

The tables are clustered intimately, creating space for food and conversation only. The metallic, glittery purple chairs are familiar and iconic in Creswell, like-new remnants from the former Joe’s Diner. In all, there’s room for 30 people, including window and bar seating. 

“Chef Scott” with his sons, Aram (left), 12, and Ethan, 13.

It’s the place Chef Scott calls his second living room — somewhere to put down your phone, gather and experience cuisine and craft beer “The Pisani Way.” 

The Pisani Way is a fusion of global and cultural practices — a melding of Hawiian, Italian, French, Swedish, Asian and southern foods — all sourced within a 100-mile radius. The seasonal menus offer beer and wine, small bites like mussels, fried pickles and chicken gizzards (trust me), a variety of soups and salads, and entrees that range from salmon to duck to pork to steak — whatever is fresh, local and in-season. 

It’s food that’s meant to expand people’s palates as well as their comfort zones, a craft he’s honed through his culinary education and cumulative life experiences. 

A Pleasant Hill native, Pisani is a graduate of Lane Community College’s culinary arts and hospitality management program. He’s been a line cook at Marlboro’s Crazy Mountain Guest Ranch in Montana, Sous Chef at the former Koho Bistro Eugene, and has studied with chefs from all over the nation. 

He was scheduled to start a new job as executive chef at Rain Northwest in Eugene when, during a 2016 family trip to Fall Creek, life imploded. Pisani contracted a rare flesh-eating bacteria in the lake while camping with his wife, Chelsea, and their two boys, Aram and Ethan. 

In a tent, in the middle of the night, Scott awoke, startled from a deep sleep, with a severe leg cramp that ultimately left him in critical condition and only a 10% chance of living, according to doctors. 

The flesh-eating bacteria is called necrotizing fasciitis, and is so rare that “doctors said it is like winning the lottery and being struck by lightning simultaneously,” Chelsea said.

“There was definitely no lottery,” Scott said.

Recovery did not come easily, but it did come eventually. He underwent six intensive surgeries and two reconstructive surgeries on his leg before beating the odds. He still lives with a lot of pain, but it hasn’t stopped him from taking risks and living life at full speed.

“There is a lot of risk in owning a restaurant, but we’ve already been to hell and back; for how much we fought for Scott’s health, this is nothing in comparison,” Chelsea said. She should know. She fought for doctors to transfer Scott from Fall Creek to better hospitals. It saved his leg, for sure. It probably saved his life. Chelsea, by the way, opened her own business – the Creswell Wellness Center – about a year before Pazzo opened. They share a home, and their small businesses operate from the same building on Oregon Avenue.

Chelsea Pisani, Chef Scott’s wife and owner of the Creswell Wellness Center.

With a new lease on life, “Chef Scott” lives each day to grow and experience something new – a philosophy fused into his cuisine. 

I learned more about cuisine during my first “Chef’s Tasting Experience” at Pazzo in January than I have in my cumulative 29 years of actively eating — including what broccolini is. 

The Chef’s Tasting Experience is a six-course, off-menu meal curated by Pisani, and it’s really the meat and potatoes of his talent. He says food is his love language, that every flavor and ingredient has its place and its purpose. It is the most intimate way to experience Pazzo.

Dinner for six began with a grilled baby romaine salad, drizzled with house-made Caesar dressing and topped with flakey parmesan cheese and peppercorn. The salad was warm, crisp and savory.

“The salad’s got body, I think that’s what sets it apart,” Scott said. 

Pazzo Caesar salad

Ethan, 13, and Aram, 12, demonstrate a maturity beyond their years, are as instrumental to his business as the food itself. They’ve traded out evenings playing video games to tend to guests and help out their dad with the dishes. It’s been a family effort, from all the Pisanis, from the early days of renovation to closing hour each night. 

The boys cleared our plates and freshened our water, Chelsea poured the wine and beer and Chef Scott prepared the main dish, a plump quail with a rich flavor, side-saddled with tender broccolini and creamy “pommes” potato gratin.

“This is the only place you can go to eat food like this while listening to Bad Brains in the background,” said Bob Williams, professional photographer and guest, as we laughed and talked over each other while eyeing the heavenly looking cheesecake that was being cut for us.

It’s the kind of food you don’t find often in small towns. It sets you back in your chair when you take a bite. Your shoulders drop. Your eyes close. Pazzo is like its own form of synesthesia; your senses awaken and you actually experience the food you’re tasting. You feel the flavor. You taste the love. The whole room swells with it, and so does your belly.

And that’s why the Pisanis call it Pazzo – it’s crazy. 



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos