February 27, 2014

StoneCrest pizza spot aims at tradition, innovation simultaneously

While it is true that well-thought-out ventures typically do better than ones that aren’t, it is not always true.

While it is true that well-thought-out ventures typically do better than ones that aren’t, it is not always true.

So I was delighted to see True Crafted Pizza at StoneCrest packed on a Saturday night, because this is a place that’s been Thought Out.

The owners – Ken and Tricia Martino; her parents, Jerry and Karen Callaghan; and Todd and Kristen Gallinek – were clear before they opened, says Ken Martino, on several points:

“We sensed a change in the Charlotte dining scene (since Callaghans and Gallineks opened Nothing But Noodles franchises about seven years ago) ... There’s been a real shift to chef-driven, food-driven restaurants.”

And the pizza market itself was changing. “It’s fueled by food people getting involved, and the technology of the ovens.” Martino, a New Yorker most his life, worked there in management for prominent restaurateur Drew Nieporent (he met Tricia working at Tribeca Grill), and in California and Florida. There, he worked with a chef who’d learned grilled pizza at the famous Al Forno in Providence, R.I., and Martino had sworn he’d pursue that one day.

But the group wanted to be careful to cater to its regional clientele, and determined that New York-style pizza does well here. So they asked Harry Peemoeller at Johnson & Wales to create a dough for both oven-baked and grilled versions. Peemoeller, who also assisted early pizza crust development at Revolution in NoDa, is a tons-of-culinary-awards-winning bread specialist.

What they got was a three-flour version (one from Anson Mills and two from California’s Giusto, including a finely ground double-zero, which is closer than all-purpose flour to what’s used in Europe). The cornicione or edge of the oven-baked pies puff and have some chew, while the thinner grilled rectangles stay more uniform.

The result, with a nice and simple organic-tomato sauce, is clean flavors and good textures (chef Brendan Treyball gets credit) in fast-casual time, in a much-better-than-fast-casual service setting. You order at a counter, yes, but on a busy night, two staffers worked out seating for people as they stood in line, and everyone stayed gracious and quick throughout.

Best were a prosciutto di Parma grilled pizza with tender arugula, a bit of fig preserve and a drizzling of balsamic glaze; a baked pie with fennel sausage; and a hefty spinach and arugula salad with sliced crisp apples, dried cranberries, lumps of goat cheese and just the right amount of a bright sherry vinaigrette. Oh, and blood orange gelato, despite it tasting a day past fresh-made.

I plan to have the New-Haven-Pepe’s-inspired clam pizza on my next visit, and other specialties include bacon and egg, and hot oil (a la Connecticut’s Colony Grill, with spicy peppers and mozzarella).

A little less magical were a Caesar salad whose croutons were a mite stale, and a less than vivid Margherita pie.

Appetizers include hearty meatballs, fontina-filled risotto fritters and fried calamari with hot peppers and lemon aioli, while sandwiches range from a daily special to meatball parmigiana. There’s a fine local beer lineup and a reasonable wine list as well.

Martino’s been pleased by the reaction to grilled – “I didn’t expect them to be so popular right out of the gate” – and though traditional pizzas are still top sellers, he’s encouraged by diners’ willingness to try new things.

Which will come in handy if the owners’ newest venture is to succeed: A vintage 1947 Ford farm truck which they’re fabricating into a wood-burning-oven-and-grill pizza truck aimed at special events (not street vending). It’s slated to be operational by mid- to late March.

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