That little storefront on the far right end of Midway Galleria (next to Panera Bread) has seen its share of pizza joints. While this Midway pizza shuffle was going on, a young Brenton Wallace was toiling away at Zavino wine bar and pizzeria in Philadelphia. Sometime around mid-2012, he set up shop in Nage’s market concept, Root Gourmet (now Nage Pantry) in Shore Plaza. After a short stint next door at mothership Nage, Wallace proceeded to help Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats revamp and improve their menu on Rehoboth Avenue.
Brenton took the plunge to open his own place: A pizza and craft beer joint in that little spot in Midway Galleria. Monday-morning quarterbacks voiced concern about the location: “But it’s pizza,” they whined. Didn’t matter. Wallace was going for it. Several months of hard work came to fruition toward the end of summer 2015 when patrons realized that this was unlike other pizza places that had occupied that space. Wallace’s 13″ rounds are reminiscent of pizza napolitana, a wheat-flour dough topped with red sauce and mozzarella cheese. But Crust & Craft’s pizza picks up where some others leave off: Starting with the Rosa (crushed San Marzanos, sliced garlic and fresh oregano), customers can select from a long list of unusual toppings, including long hots (an Italian pepper with a moderate kick), squash, jalapenos, arugula, bacon, a wonderfully runny egg, fontina cheese, roasted mushrooms, pistachio pesto … 21 in all. Each pizza sports a lightly charred and puffy crust, the appropriate finish of the imported wood-burning brick oven assembled by Marra Forni, a family-owned company in Greenbelt, Maryland.
It’s important to realize that a wood-fired pizza will have little area of charred goodness. It’s the nature of the beast: The intense heat bubbles the crust up, and the tops of those little bubbles, being closer to the hottest part of the oven, will get a slight, but crispy char. Yes, it is easy to actually burn a pizza in a wood-fired oven – the heat is intense, is only radiated from one side, and the pizzas must be tended to during the entire process. But unless the entire crust is actually burnt to a bitter crackle, little areas of char are part of the experience. As of my last visit, the pizza guys were still getting the hang of that oven, and hopefully they have it down by now.
Crust & Craft1/12 mussels with spicy fennel sausage.2/12 Crust & Craft3/12 the crust tastes as good as it looks4/12 Crust & Craft5/12 Brenton’s proud of his Rosa pizza6/12 calamari, fennel, potatoes in an iron skillet7/12 Flounder crudo, grapefruit, basil, chili, pumpkin seeds8/12 The Ovo. A clever blend of tastes9/12 A whole Finocchiona. My favorite so far.10/12 The octopus. Amazing.11/12 Crust & Craft12/12
And yes, the pizzas, when properly done, are tasty. Award-winning chef/owner Hari Cameron of a(MUSE.) loves the simple and unadorned Rosa. Cape Gazette Editor-in-Chief Trish Vernon and DSM Commercial Realtor Brittany Danahy both swear by the Ovo (bacon, brussel sprouts and that custardy egg). Yours truly had more than one slice of the Finocchiona (spicy sausage, fennel, long hots and crushed tomatoes). Finocchiona is a Tuscan salami laced with fennel. And I will go back for more.
But the sleepers at Crust & Craft are the appetizers/small plates. Divided into three categories, the Hearth list contained such delights as braised calamari and roasted squash with pumpkin seeds. The Ocean section offers a delicious combination of fennel sausage and mussels; littlenecks with beans and ham broth, and one of the most delicious treatments of wood-roasted octopus I have had locally. Beneath the Earth heading there are beets with ricotta and greens; brussel sprouts with apples, blue cheese and balsamic, along with several other tasty combinations. RehobothFoodie pick hits: The octopus (slightly charred and delightfully savory), the fennel sausage and mussels, and all of the salads.
Wallace is keeping that oven running at full tilt, cranking out wood-roasted vegetables, meats and fish along with homemade breads. The menu also includes house-made pastas such as rigatoni, buccatini, and pasta e zuccha redolent of pumpkin. Listen to the specials list: some creative bites might be in there.
The bright and friendly bar greets you as soon as you enter, and lucky barflies get to watch the kitchen crew coax pies and cast-iron dishes in and out of that glowing domed oven. In addition to the kitchen floor show, the bar also offers 6 drafts, hand-pumped beer casks and around 20 bottles and cans. GM Wesley Book (formerly of Abbott’s Grill in Laurel) brings a wealth of experience to the austere, almost industrial-looking eatery.
So give Crust & Craft a try. Go for the pizza and beer, but stay for the sides, appetizers and small plates. At the moment they are open 11-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday for lunch and dinner. Give them a call at (302) 313-5029.