It's not often that a restaurant gets a second bite at the apple, an opportunity to take everything it has gleaned over the years and roll it over into a new, hopefully improved, venture. But that's precisely the break that the owners of Crust in Tremont found themselves on the receiving end of when Visible Voice Books owner Dave Ferrante purchased the Komorowski Funeral Home building on Professor Avenue. Ferrante's ambitious plans for the three-level structure would include a rebirth of Visible Voice, whose original location had closed in 2014, with a sparkling 1,800-square-foot bookshop on the upper level, and a similarly sized space on the main floor earmarked for his cousin, Mike Griffin, owner of Crust.
It wasn't the first time Ferrante played matchmaker for Griffin; it was he who first tipped off his relative about a former dry cleaners that he believed might make a great spot for his carry-out pizza concept. Griffin agreed and soon signed onto a space that, in hindsight, could have offered a little more space for the kitchen, perhaps, not to mention the nonexistent dining room. Modern amenities like air conditioning also would have been nice, but the quality of the pizza helped Crust overcome those liabilities and carve out a niche and name for itself in the highly competitive Tremont food scene.
"Are you excited to finally enjoy a beer with your pizza?" Griffin asked, rhetorically of course, when he excitedly shared the news of the move.
The windfalls that came part and parcel of the new space, which officially opened this summer, didn't end with cold beer; they merely start there. In addition to a draft beer system, the roomy bar offers wine, cocktails and seating for about 15, which already is thrice the capacity of the old haunt. That number doesn't include an additional 60 or so seats in the dining room, with more to come on the back patio. But the biggest bonanza for Crust fans arrived in the form of a 25-car parking lot, an anomaly in the dense urban neighborhood. That lot really comes in handy for those popping in to grab one of Crust's famous one-pound slices ($4.50), topped ($1 apiece for a variety of options) and baked to order.
Now, a diner might expect — even desire — more elaborate fare to go with the swankier digs, but that's not the formula here. This is still the house that pizza built and pizza still is the main draw. With a name like Crust you anticipate a great base and that's been the case ever since Griffin and original chef Jeff Fisher launched the concept in 2012. The house-made, hand-tossed crusts have a modest rise, a pleasant chew and a delightfully crispy base from the deck ovens. Toppings are fresh and combinations contemporary, like the Finocchiona ($16, $18) with sliced fennel salami, smoked mozzarella, pecorino and rosemary. The Spanakopita is the pizza version of that popular Greek pastry, combining spinach, garlic, feta, mozzarella and lemon zest. Naturally, diners can build their own pies from a list that includes two crust styles and nearly three dozen toppers.
Going the extra step to make and bake their own sub buns is another mark of distinction for this neighborhood darling. Priced between $9 and $11, the subs are meaty, well built and constructed with the same fresh ingredients. The Fried Chicken either lacked the promised hot sauce or it was in very short supply, but the sandwich was loaded with crispy fried white meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Other popular subs include a meatball, Italian and one equipped with hot stuffed banana peppers.
A utilitarian pasta menu gets the job done in efficient fashion. Diners plug and play from a succinct list of two pastas, three sauces, and four toppings. Supple housemade ricotta gnocchi ($12) in mushroom cream sauce beats out the penne ($8) with roasted tomato any day of the week. Meatballs ($3) aren't at all browned but they're flavorful.
New for Crust is an appetizer section with dough-powered snacks like fried mozzarella bites ($6) and fried pepperoni bites ($7). If you're getting pizza, we say skip the dough balls in favor of the burrata antipasto ($13). The lush, creamy cheese was buried in a bit too much balsamic dressing, and we would have expected some good bread to go with it, but the platter was outfitted with salumi, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers.
Pizza without beer is just sad and Crust does well in the draft beer department with notable entries from the likes of Four String, Heavy Seas, 3 Floyds and Rhinegeist joining bottled beers, a few wines and mixed drinks.
Before leaving the property, head upstairs to Visible Voice Books to peruse the titles with a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or bottle of beer in hand. After all, if not for Visible Voice, there might be no Crust.