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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crust [Meeting #75]

2056 W. Division St. (Map)
(773) 235-5511

CPC invaded Crust on 2/26/09.

By now, most people have come to accept organic foods as generally better tasting than their steroid and pesticide dependent counterparts because they give you super powers and make you attractive to both sexes (alert: sarcasm is high). Creating a restaurant around only organic food and then receiving certification as the first USDA certified organic restaurant in the Midwest does not conjure visions of taste greatness; it instead brings to my Midwestern (and sensible) mind a cuisine for California types that focuses on quality everywhere except for the overall taste of the food. I've avoided eating here and taking the CPC here, but eventually I decided to give it a try. Thankfully, Chef Michael Altenberg pays attention to his ingredients and showcases them well in his pizza.

After going through the long and apparently annoying process of organic certification, the restaurant opened up to large crowds initially in 2007. Although it initially received some lukewarm reviews for its pizza and pasta inconsistencies, it appears this has leveled off and can be attributed to working out the kinks of a newly opened restaurant. Crust does not make the typical pizza, but instead calls it a flatbread. It is cooked in yet another wood-fired oven and therefore the crust is rather thin and the pizzas are all single-serving size.

We arrived and found that we had enough people to order every single pizza on the menu, plus the special, if we wanted to do so. And that's exactly what we did. We ordered:

  • Wild herb and creamery cheese, with roasted garlic
  • FlammKuchen, a pizza with bacon and bechamel
  • Italian Sausage, homemade sausage in a tomato sauce
  • Pepperonata, tomato sauce, roasted peppers, and mozzarella
  • Shroom, featuring a salad with lemon dressing
  • Shrimp Arrabiata, featuring mozzarella and basil
  • Basilico, shredded basil with tomato sauce, bechamel and buffalo mozzarella
  • Margherita, with ricotta
  • Sausage Arrabiata (daily special), sliced sausage with roasted potatoes
  • Eggplant, with capers, pesto, onions, and olives
The ingredients here were showcased as the highlight of the food. There were a few misses, but more hits, and there is some creativity in these pies. We were informed that the sausage was homemade and it was excellent. The right mix of fat and meat, crumbled, and well balance in its seasoning. The sliced sausage did not appear to be the same kind as the crumbled. The sliced variety had very little flavor, was dry, and generally forgettable. The crust had excellent texture when it was hot. It had a good amount of chew and the crust was crisp. We're all accustomed to the unfortunate practice of not putting enough sauce on these type of pizzas; some don't even have a sauce. A generally basic tomato sauce with good Italian seasoning was outshined by the other ingredients in the pies. The exception were the Arrabiata dishes, where the sauce was appropriately spicy and plentiful.

The eggplant pizza was best described by a member who called it a "salt-lick disguised as eggplant." I don't think the Buffalo mozzarella made it on our basilico pizza or it was in such small amounts we failed to notice it. Either way, this was disappointing. The pizzas also tasted drastically different when they were hot and cold. The window for enjoying these pizzas is narrow. The fancy, expensive drinks do not live up their billing. They didn't have a bartender available and our waiter had to mix the drinks - poorly. And finally, the tab came to $15 a person, which is higher than we've come to expect when ordering for 12 people. When we left, we really weren't as grossly full as we usually were due to the smaller sizes of these pizzas. We were brought an extra shrimp arrabiata pizza by mistake and we still ate this extra pie and had room to spare. In fact, some members went to the nearby Caffe Gelato in the pouring rain for dessert while I went home and ate some ice cream instead.

Overall, an uneven performance. Some of these pizzas were quite good, but some were terrible and remained uneaten. Be careful in your selection and plan on appetizers and dessert and you can certainly have a fine meal here. I'm not sure if the rumors of the economic trouble Crust is experiencing are true or not, but they have cut their hours for the winter season.

Crust on Urbanspoon


  1. I enjoyed this pizza quite a bit for the most part. About the worst thing I can say about the pies is that they cooled off very quickly once they were out of the oven and served to us, and that was very disappointing and Crust seems to be a touch expensive for what you get and I actually left the meeting still a little hungry.

    Not suprising, given their name, I thought the crust on the pizzas was very good, it had a nice texture and a good hint of flavor. Apparantly all the ingredients at Crust are organic, can't say I really cared about that one way or the other. The pizzas were along the lines of a Napoli style pizza, and in judging Crust against similar restaurants I give it a solid 7.

  2. Pizzas served at Crust are good for your body. First, they use fresh organic ingredients. Second, the portions are small.

    We ordered every pizza on the menu. I tried most of them, and don't have any complaints. My favorite was the sausage with pesto and shaved fennel, but I would gladly eat any of them again (except shrimp just because I don't like shrimp!). I appreciate the thought and care they put into their pies.

    The crust remains the same on all of the pizzas, but they play around with the sauce - red, white, pesto, etc. Cheese varies as well, but all taste delicious. The crust is crisp, buttery, chewy, and thin. The perimeter bubbled and was charred in spots, but it didn't ruin the taste. My only gripe is that pizzas with lots of ingredients, eggplant for example, were too heavy and caused flimsy soggy crust. Bummer.

    Due to the size of the pizzas, slices are small. I found myself devouring piece after piece and wanting more and more. I didn't get full. Nutritionists aka the portion police would be happy. However, we are in America where bigger is better. It's a tricky situation. Quality ingredients cost more. Either you're happy because you feel like you ate a good pizza and aren't bloated, or you feel like you've paid too much money and might need a snack when you get home. You decide.

    Crust gets a 7.5.

  3. The crust, toppings, sauce and cheese at Crust were, for the most part, all good. There were some aspects, particularly a couple of toppings, that could have been a lot better, but those were the exception.

    Where these pizzas failed was in how the various components worked together. Case in point - the shrimp arrabiata pizza. They were, by far, the best shrimp I've ever had on pizza. The crust had a good amount of chew, the cheese was fresh, and the spicy sauce was very good. But the sauce completely overpowered the rest of the pizza. The shroom pizza was my favorite, though it would have done well with tomato sauce. Indeed, every one of the white pizzas would have been improved with some sauce.

    There are rumors that Crust is in serious financial trouble. They have laid off a significant number of their staff and the pizzas on the actual menu are neither as diverse nor as interesting as the ones listed on the restaurant's website. In some cases, pizzas on the menu simply no longer exist, and in others they have had toppings removed in their current incarnations. I suspect Crust will soon go the way of the dodo. It's not good enough for me to recommend anyone rush down and eat there before it goes.

    All that said, a mix of quality ingredients makes the lack of balance acceptable. I give Crust a 6.

  4. I am fairly indifferent to this style of pizza and Crust didn't really alter my opinion. Their version was probably as good as the others I've tasted.

    I was, however, inspired to go organic and have resolved that I will now only eat self-certified island wild boar sausage. I require the head of the boar be placed on a pike next to my table and will only eat the dish if it is announced by the sound of the conch.

    Sucks to your asthmar! I want wild boar pizza!


  5. I thought all the pizzas were pretty good, with the salty exception of the eggplant, which was over the top of my salt threshold with those capers and olives added. The crust had good flavor, texture, and chew. I agree with others that the crust is best when hot and the quality diminished as it cooled, but it was still pretty good and it did not get too tough or anything like that.

    Crust does not fuss much with heavy sauces or cheeses, so most pies are defined by a well thought out combination of balanced flavors. The highlights for me included the delicate flavors of the mushroom pie topped with a lightly dressed spinach salad, the delicious crumbled Italian sausage topped with fennel, and the Flammkuchen (bacon!). The less adventurous pies such as the Margherite and Basilica tasted fun, but weren't very memorable.

    Overall, I really enjoyed Crust. I may return, but you can get similar (though not certified organic) pizzas for better value elsewhere. This is the first time I had to remind myself that we don't factor the $$$ into our score, so excluding that factor, I give Crust 8.0.

  6. Since it opened, I have wanted to like Crust. I've been there several times; but, while there are certain aspects of it that are enjoyable, I usually leave disappointed. What it comes down to is the value and the atmosphere -- I'll try to break things down.

    Pros: It feels good to eat organic, and supporting an organic restaurant still strokes my hippy side a bit. That's probably why I want to like this place so much. And, I'm not sure whether it's the quality of the ingredients or the lightness of the pizza that just makes you feel a little less guilty after eating it.
    Cons: That ease of guilt is probably due to the fact that you're still hungry; the portions just aren't much. Also, while I admire that you can substitute tempeh for any meat to make the pizza vegetarian, I never liked tempeh during the 13 years I spent as a slave to the soy. I can think of several better meat substitutes, and think that if Crust were going to give a nod to the plant eaters, they should offer more protein options, or at least one that is not gross.

    Pros: It's easy for a lot of people to get to, not far from the Blue Line. It's hip! Although...
    Cons: This place is too self-consciously hip for its being a locally-owned, healthy pizza joint. On one of my previous visits, the house music was blaring, which was particularly obnoxious in a hardly-populated restaurant on what was probably a Wednesday evening. While I'm down with loud music where it fits (such as at Kuma's), I just don't think that Crust can pull off such a club-like atmosphere.

    ...are nice, but the service is "meh". The last two times I've been there the order has somehow been messed up. They are nice about it, taking drinks not served off the bill and bringing out replacement items pretty quickly; but, they certainly need to work on this. I am especially disappointed with the quality of their bartending, considering the drinks really do sound great, on paper, and are over $10.

    ...isn't bad. The crust is good. I don't think it's the best -- far from that -- but it tastes like a good flatbread, which is what it is. I personally like my crust a little more traditional, but it is pretty tasty for what it is. As mentioned in the other reviews, it is obvious that the ingredients are of high quality here. And that is good! But, I think that they just haven't gotten the combinations of their ingredients down quite yet. I don't think that any of the pizzas were bad, but for the most part they didn't really stand out as being exceptional or worth having again. The only real exception was the bacon pizza. I thought that was fantastic, and if I do come to Crust again, (which might happen, given its location), I will certainly order that.

    Overall, I give Crust a 6.25, keeping in mind that the rating is based entirely on the pizza. I think it's decent but not deserving of a higher rating. There is just so much better pizza to be had in Chicago. I do think that there is potential though and look forward to seeing if Crust evolves.

  7. Other review sites haven't been very friendly to this place so I was pretty skeptical going in. I ended up being impressed, but I totally agree with Jen, there is so much better pizza in Chicago to be had.

    The crust was great and I didn't get one slice that was too charred, which is what ruins me for a lot of these Neopolitan-types of pizzas. Some pizzas had a great flavor punch, like the one with bacon, or the mushroom, or the sausage or the shrimp (definitely best shrimp pizza I have ever had). But others were just kinda limp and smooshy, lotsa stringy veggie-havin' pieces of pizza. I bet these slices would have been better if I had gotten to them when they were hot, but I didn't, and texture influences my perception of flavor.

    That being said, the pizzas were great when they were hot, and I'd love to eat there often 1) if I had married a wealthy radiologist so I could afford it, 2) if I knew I had a nice piece of Lou Malnatti's sausage sitting in the fridge waiting for me at home for dessert and 3) if I lived anywhere near the Chicagoland area. However, I can only visit the Chi from time to time now and I can't say I'm ever putting Crust at the top of my list of places I must eat at when I'm home (which I think should now be part of my rating system).

    I give Crust a 6.5/10

  8. While you can rea dthe post and see that I found some inconsistencies with the pizzas Crust produces, I think my overall assessment is positive.

    I don't recall the epic failure of the eggplant pizza nor the blandness of the margherita. What I can easily cull is the great sausage, the fresh-tasting shrimp, and the outstanding mushroom pizza. Crust lives up to its name; I found the crust to be consistently very good. The toppings, while fresh and organic, sometimes suck and are sometimes excellent. The cheese was adequate - it never was allowed to shine.

    I will repeat that the buffalo mozzarella either failed to appear or was in tiny little chunks. That means we had two pizzas that were screwed up and a drink that was not prepared neither expeditiously nor well. The service is cleary sub-par.

    The pizza shines through. 7.5

  9. Buffalo mozzarella is so wet and has such a bright white color that if it were there, we would have seen it.