By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Some words are just natural red flags.
When a politician says, "Honestly," it means he's getting ready to spew a load of horse effluent. When an insurance company talks about its "good hands," it means you're about to get the big finger. When an actor whines about "exhaustion," it means he was up for three weeks screwing the dog and freebasing snail bait.
When a restaurant touts itself as "gourmet," it most likely means the food can't speak for itself. The French Laundry doesn't need to call itself "gourmet." Nor does Chez Panisse or Jean-Georges or Le Bernardin. It's like that obnoxious guy you knew in college who went around bragging about all the babes he was boinking, when in truth he probably spent more nights at home with Mr. Hand than on the town with Ms. Hot Stuff.
Crust Grilled Pizza brags that it delivers "a gourmet pizza experience," and although the pies aren't all bad, they're not quite gourmet either. The best thing about them is the crust. It's a very good one, thin and cracker-crisp but with enough body to stand up to the toppings, nicely blackened and blistered around the edges, with a pleasantly smoky flavor from the grill. Even leftover slices, given a few minutes in a hot oven, regain their addictively crisp character.
Then there's that "gourmet" stuff.
Yes, the marinara is decent enough, a touch sweet but acceptable. The cheeses and meats are better than typical pizzeria toppings, and they're combined with occasional creativity (also occasional "What have these people been smoking?" perplexity). But the difference between "gourmet" and gourmet is in the details, the refinement, the care taken in both concept and execution.
That's where Crust is lacking.
For example, grilled chicken and onion marmalade pizza sounds terrific, the two salient ingredients gilded with mozzarella, fontina, Gruyre, Gorgonzola, toasted pecans, and a crown of feathery baby arugula. But the mahogany-color marmalade is sweet enough to induce an instant diabetic coma, and there's not nearly enough salty-pungent cheese or tangy vinaigrette on the arugula to bring the patient back to life.
Crust's version of the classic margherita pizza has none of the freshness and delicacy of the genuine article, with its light sauce of barely cooked tomatoes, a few blobs of creamy mozzarella, and generous scattering of fresh basil. Instead we get a pie drowned in heavy marinara and smothered in a greasy mountain of five cheeses, the few forlorn shards of basil but a tasteless reproach.
As for the cheeseburger pizza, well ... let's just say that if the creator of this abomination showed his face in Napoli, the pizza-loving residents there would probably kick the mozzarella out of him.
If you're not up for pizza, Crust doesn't give you many other choices, at least until the pastas promised on the Website are returned to the menu. There is a handful of salads and starters, a creditable fried calamari to which the aforementioned marinara is put to more palatable use as a dip and a chopped salad unnecessarily bulked up with pasta (plus one disgustingly rotten grape tomato) and tossed with a Vidalia onion dressing even sweeter than the onion marmalade.
Desserts are limited to all the usual suspects (surprisingly not dessert pizza). There is the inevitable cheesecake, this one dolled up with a graham-cracker-pecan crust, allegedly zapped with butterscotch and caramel, and topped with a crunchy, crème brùléelike caramelized sugar hat. For all that, it was just okay not quite Mr. Hand, but like Crust itself, not exactly Ms. Hot Stuff either.