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In some primitive and proverbial context, someone once mashed together crushed grain and water, left it in a cool place populated with natural yeasts, and smashed it flat before draping it over a hot rock next to the fire. James Island’s newest wood-fired oven, Crust, isn’t far removed from that ancient commencement.
Sure, you can get great pizza about town in a number of stylistic interpretations, but Crust is the only place serving the kind you actually find in Italy, the kind so thin that you don’t pick it up but rather eat it with a knife and fork. It’s the kind you get in any cheap trattoria from Bari to Trieste. The place is aptly named; it’s a rare slice of pie this side of the Atlantic.
Chef Dusty Chorvat is no stranger to the artisan dough game. His considerable talent in the pizza arts shows through. He’s worked with EVO Pizza, Monza, and most recently at Daniel Island’s Vespa. He welcomes you to a little tinderbox of a space, lacquered in dark tones, almost a wooden cave balanced by a bright and airy patio outside. But the focal point is the wood-burning oven, and the crowd gathered out front on a Friday night is here for pizza, and the pizza is good.
What do you place atop such a paper-thin wafer of dough? Purists begin with the Margherita pizza, that ubiquitous Italian blend of tomato, basil, mozzarella, and olive oil. It’s the measure of any Italian flatbread joint. The creative type sources a Del Re—which adds ham, mushrooms, and artichokes—or a Crustacean topped by both shrimp and prosciutto.
Even more outlandish avenues have begun to appear as daily specials—roasted chicken paired with creamed kale, bacon, and fresh mozzarella; local goat cheese and tomatoes topped with roasted scallions and basil; even an “apple pie” sporting granny smith apples, bacon, buttermilk blue cheese, mozzarella, local honey, and arugula. I’d settle for some salt-packed anchovies and capers on the menu so that one could order an authentic Pizza Napoli à la carte.
To wash it down, they have excellent craft beers and a selection of wine. The bartender says they’d have spirits too if the Seacoast Church office door was five feet farther down the shopping center, but state liquor law requires you to travel next door to Zia Taqueria if you fancy a tequila shot.
Some folks will gravitate towards the panini and gnocchi selections, of which there are far too few. The ham and cheese sandwich, topped with homemade mustard, fontina cheese, and sage bests them all. The gnocchi, featherlight and airy, swim unconvincingly in a thin watery sauce in the beef-rib incarnation, then exceed all expectations in the glorious Mepkin Abbey mushroom and rapini version. They would pair well in the local shrimp dish if the lovely shrimp weren’t overwhelmed by a healthy dose of Grana Padano cheese, which seems to be the house favorite, sloughed on almost everything that leaves the oven door. With all that cheese and an artisanal flair, I expected Crust to offer a few house-made egg noodles, and I think they should.
For a pizza joint, the alternative entrées are passable, but the appetizers fare better. The arancini, crispy fried balls of risotto housing molten mozzarella and prosciutto, float above the house marinara. They shatter around the soft, melting interior in the way great bar food is supposed to, but they should be cracked into the flavorful sauce with a fork. Otherwise, you might say they’re rather boring. Hand-cut fries come skin-on and rustic with a rosemary-spiked aioli and enough salt to make you order another beer. But it’s the very un-Italian hot wings that keep me coming back. Served alone, they’re marginal, but Chorvat has been buying a certain pepper from Pete Ambrose’s farm out on Wadmalaw and makes a special piquant sauce for those in the know. Ask them to heat it up, then slather your wings in it and there are none better in this entire town.
In a world where mass-market pizza can top $15, Crust delivers value and quality. Like Zia Taqueria and local favorite The Lot just across the road, it does so without undue fanfare or overt marketing—and that’s refreshing because the upper crust of authentic food resides in places that everyone can afford to enjoy.
The Draw: Pizza dough so thin it takes a knife and fork
The Drawback: Fresh pasta dishes would round out the Italian bistro concept.
Don’t Miss: Hot wings slathered with the secret sauce
1956-B Maybank Hwy., (843) 762-5500