Crust pizza reflects the art of Italian cooking

Crust Wood Fired Pizza, located at 1956 B Maybank Highway on James Island.

Leroy Burnell

Pizza fanatics were Google-maniacal this spring as they stormed this search engine for details of Pizza Hut’s latest new release, “the crazy, cheesy crust” pizza. Just imagine a crown of dough pockets pleated and filled with cheese along a pizza’s edge! This limited release pie caused quite a buzz.

With a “pizza crust” trending on Google for that week in April, it gives you a snapshot of our obsession with pizza and why it comes as no surprise that Crust Wood Fired Pizza opened last winter; New York City Pizza is under construction on East Bay Street; De Sano Pizza Bakery from Nashville, Tenn., plans a late summer opening and Steve Palmer of Indigo Road is planning to open Indaco, a rustic Italian tavern with pizza on Upper King Street.

We love our flat bread and in any number of regional styles.

Crust Wood Fired Pizza opened mid-winter on Maybank Highway in James Island’s oldest neighborhood, Riverland Terrace. Pizza maker Dusty Chorvat comes to the operation having tested his mettle at EVO, Monza and Vespa.

The space is small: four booths, two tables, a high-top community table and a bar. Outdoor seating expands the dining space to a degree but on busy weekends, expect a wait. In fact, call ahead and pick up a pie to go.

The feel is very much like a pub: dark wood, Edison lightbulbs, brushed aluminum chairs on the patio, and a large expanse of chalkboard where the daily specials in food, beer and wine are revealed. At the time of our visit, a seasonal sangria was available.

In keeping with these current culinary times, Chorvat and company are keeping it local: Kurios Farm products, GrowFood Carolina, Split Creek cheeses, Mepkin Abbey mushrooms, local shrimp along with house-cured duck “ham,” Benton’s bacon and Theros olive oil.

The food is fresh, the salads are crisp and the daily soups are crafted from local produce reflecting the seasons, such as beans, broccoli and cauliflower in winter; kale, asparagus and fresh peas in early spring; a ubiquitous but lively tomato soup and a chilled butterbean as the temperatures rose in approach of summer.

The chalkboard specials will feature a daily soup, pizza, charcuterie and panini.

Crust is more than a pizzeria and the offerings embrace arancini ($6), antipasto ($12) with charcuterie made in-house, cheeses, pickled vegetables and toasted bread along with pastas and sandwiches.

The panini or grilled sandwich menu ($9) includes your choice of hand-cut fries or an arugula salad.

The kitchen also makes potato gnocchi (all $10) and they earn high marks for their tenderness. Mepkin Abbey mushrooms, slightly bitter rapini and ricotta cheese with red peppers flakes and Theros olive oil made for a lively sauce for the potato-based gnocchi.

Local shrimp, finished in a simple tomato sauce with basil and a lacing of bacon manifested the Italian dictum for simplicity in preparation: Let the ingredients speak for themselves as they lightly dressed the gnocchi with color and bright flavors.

Salads ($7) utilize local greens when possible, chill them with care and dress them like a miser, resulting in the balanced profiles of bitter, nutty, sweet, salty and tart.

A simple flat bread anointed with olive oil ($3) or bowls of warm olives ($3) are perfect while you are waiting for show time at the Terrace Theater.

The pizza at Crust is cooked in a wood-fire Mugnaini oven. It is here where the pizza magic occurs, of crisping the crust; blistering the “cornicione,” or lip of the crust; melting the cheese; and concentrating the flavors of the tomatoes. For purists, this pizza is the Margherita ($11): minimal in toppings, letting the whole speak well for all the parts.

Vegetarians will enjoy the butternut pizza ($12) with sweet, roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, mozzarella and goat cheeses, arugula and lily-gilding truffle oil.

There also is a bianca ($11) with no sauce, a crustacean ($12) with shrimp, and for the carnivores, pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and bacon ($12) and make-your-own.

You can have it your way with more than 24 toppings to choose from.

Thankfully no pineapple, Canadian bacon or “criminal” ingredients that defile the simplicity of this Neapolitan flatbread.

Crust does not attempt to reinvent the pizza wheel. The pizzas of flour, water, yeast and salt present a soft and chewy texture; the bottoms seared to a crisp surface.

Toppings are added with restraint, and their quality is good.

Sausage is seasoned with fennel seeds, bacon is the premier Benton’s brand, mushrooms are locally cultivated at Mepkin Abbey and the mozzarella is creamy, not rubbery.

Grana Padano is the grating cheese of choice and offers the complex flavor of caramel. A little less salty than Parmigiano-Reggiano, this Po River Valley cheese is much respected in Italy.

The pizzas are sized for one person and not sold by the slice.

Crust also offers a simple kids menu of ravioli, chicken fingers and fries or a small pizza for $5.

The dolci or desserts are tiramisu or wood-fired S’Mores ($4). To my taste, a serving of tiramisu is not what I want after pizza but with our servers urging, we tried it. It was delicious. I highly recommend an order (or two) to go.

During a particularly busy visit, they did seem under-staffed. An easy problem to fix.

Prices are very fair; the beers and wines are pizza-friendly and Crust Wood Fired Pizza demonstrates the simple art of Italian cooking: Less is always more.