From Rome to Allen: Crust delivers a twist - PHOTOS
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 20, 2014 @ 2:32pm
There’s inherent risk in naming a pizza place after part of the pie’s anatomy.
For a restaurant entitled Crust, you’d expect the exterior of the pizza to be the best bread-y foundation you’ve ever sunk your teeth in.
That’s the challenge facing the Allentown pizzeria, which filled Sample Restaurant’s spot in October 2013 after the incumbent owners moved to Hertel to open CRaVing.
Crust co-owners Peter McConeghy, his sister-in-law, Sharon McConeghy, and Peter’s cousin, Beth Buscaglia, strive to bolster Buffalo’s pizza standards by injecting a few authentic Italian pizza practices into Allentown, a neighborhood recognized more for its artsy atmosphere and steak sandwiches than its cultural takes on food.
The process begins and ends with the crust, though, as it’s present with every bite, a constant reminder of the restaurant’s mission.
The flour Crust trusts is truly Italian—it’s Lazio’s Caputo 00, named after creator Antico Molino Caputo—and precise digital tools are employed in its concoction, particularly in determining the dough’s elasticity.
“The Caputo 00 flour makes the crust airier and gives it a higher ash content,” explained Peter McConeghy, who moved from Brooklyn to Buffalo specifically to help open Crust. “The Roman-style pizza has a higher hydration than the Neapolitan, [which keeps moisture in].”
To recap, Crust’s pizza—which is cooked in an electric oven for three minutes, then quickly par-baked to finish off the toppings—is crisp, airy and a little ashy on the outside (but not charred like a wood-fired pizza) yet, because of the dough’s hydration level, maintains chewiness underneath.
My Nico’s Chorizo specialty pizza ($12) (pictured below, right) was more dense than I anticipated, which made it more filling than razor-thin New York-style slices but not a fair comparison to the depths of a Chicago pizza pie. Crust sheds these American labels and defines itself as Roman-style Pizza al Taglio, which essentially means “by the slice.”
Two visits to Italy have taught me how dangerous it is to refer to a pizza as simply Italian—an uncomfortable swell of provincial pride oozes out when you start comparing traditional Neapolitan (Naples) and Roman styles (and natives start speaking Italian even faster than before—and even then it was basically incomprehensible for me since I didn’t know any Italian).
If your tongue is wayward, you may find yourself trying to peer through a mound of dough that’s been tossed on your head—varying in its elasticity by region, of course.
Regional squabbles over authenticity and taste in pizza between Naples and Rome have raged since the 1960s, when Pizza Romana began to take shape as a result of American pizza influences and ingredients introduced during World War II.
Neapolitan pizza: thicker rim, thinner, doughy crust with almost a soupy center; often cooked in a wood-fired oven and served as a whole circular pie about a foot in diameter
Roman pizza: thicker crust, more evenly cooked, balance of crunchy and chewy, square or rectangular-shaped and cooked in an electric oven; usually served by the slice
**Note that both pizza types are unified by the same central toppings—San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and olive oil, although Romans tend to get more aggressive and diverse with additional meats and vegetables. If you want more information on the Roman-Neapolitan divide, read this article by Food Republic.
Heck, a special DOC designation—determined by an international nonprofit organization called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (which, of course, boasts an American branch)—is granted to pizzerias that meticulously follow established guidelines for Neapolitan pizza. (An FYI: Toronto houses five VPN-approved pizzerias, while New York State’s only members reside in New York City.)
Take note that Crust branches off from Buffalo’s recent trend of wood-fired pizzerias, which caught on with Rocco’s in Clarence, grew with Pizza Amore in Grand Island, Vera Pizzeria off Elmwood and La Tavola on Hertel, and now boasts a cool project in Tonawanda’s Pi Craft.
Apparate back to Allentown, where authenticity isn’t a chief concern, especially when much of Crust’s clientele comprises curious neighborhood folks or late-night bar-goers itching for a slice (the pizzeria is open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights).
Takeout and delivery are both options, too - as they should be for a neighborhood pizzeria.
Top of the mind for Crust, then, was formatting a menu that would both fit in and challenge Buffalo’s concept of pizza—McConeghy doesn’t claim that Roman-style pizza is superior to Buffalo’s or New York City’s preferences, it’s simply different.
Nine specialty pies grace the menu (see image to the right), while the “create-your-own” option is a point of pride for the restaurant (I’m not sure how thrilled Rome and Naples’ pizza lovers would be about this, but we have a hunch that Crust doesn’t care).
Freshly-made pizzas available by the slice are immediately visible upon entering the Allentown restaurant and inching toward the cafeteria-style line.
Additional notes about Crust:
Popular items: Considered Crust’s standard specialty, Grandma’s specialty pizza is one of the most frequently ordered—it’s San Marzano tomatoes, domestic mozzarella, basil and garlic oil, while the Allen—white base, Italian sausage and grilled & marinated vegetables—and the Green Stripe—white base, broccoli, peppadew and pesto drizzle—are also among the most popular.
Crust’s pies are 10 inches in diameter and are slashed into six slices. Browse Crust’s full menu online here.
Ingredients: McConeghy sources his ingredients from a variety of places—he’s ordered roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and wild mushrooms from Italy, and he turns to local Spar’s European Sausage Shop in Black Rock for his chorizo.
Dessert pizza: This is one of those rare moments where I regret being allergic to bananas, as Crust’s Alessia—Nutella, strawberries, bananas and almonds piled on Crust’s usual foundation—looks tempting.
It’s definitely not one of those Pizza Hut buffet dessert pizzas that had a layer of frosting.
Craft beer and wines: The pizza-and-beer combination has immersed itself as an American past-time, so Crust has pulled together a list of local and national craft beers that include three from Brooklyn-based Sixpoint, an East India Pale Ale from Brooklyn Brewery and a Bronx Pale Ale in cans.
The tap selection is encouraging, too, as Rusty Chain, Goose Island, Saranac and Ithaca Brewing are all represented. House red and house white wines are also available for purchase.
Restaurant layout: You should be able to tell from the layout above—which was designed and renovated by Buscaglia, according to Buffalo Rising—but there’s a more intimate upstairs eating area as well as a few tables facing Allen Street downstairs.
Finger foods: If pizza isn’t your end goal and you’d rather have smaller finger foods to eat alongside your Abita Purple Haze, then Crust’s croquettes and rice balls are wise options.
Peter McConeghy explained to me that arancini—what I thought was the overarching term that applied to all deep-fried rice balls—actually refers to a specific rice ball that blends together beef (or sometimes prosciutto), peas and cheese.
“There wasn’t a pizzeria in Brooklyn that didn’t have an arancini on the menu,” McConeghy said when I raised at eyebrow at rice balls on a pizzeria’s menu.
A small array of salads, sandwiches and soups are also available, and $7 lunch specials should lure the business crowd.