Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fun Playing with Neapolitan Pizza

It was October 2008 when I first learned that Cleveland Restaurateur John Quagliata was putting together a pizzeria at the intersection of Bishop Road and Highland Road in Highland Heights. Despite little buzz about the place, I learned that the pizza oven had been manufactured from parts brought in from Italy, and the menu would emphasize rustic Italian style pizza. Some office-mates and I were actually lunching at Harry Buffalo's, across the street, when I snapped this photo of the restaurant in progress:

finally opened, but no one I lunched with wanted to try it. The word on the street was that it was expensive and had inflexible pizza toppings - horrors, no pepperoni! But I had a feeling that this might be another case of suburban folks not "getting" what a restaurateur was trying to do. So - alone at the office on a Friday and hungry for lunch - I made my way up Richmond Road towards Crostatas.

The open kitchen does indeed focus on pizza - and not just any kind of pizza - but thin crusted Neapolitan style pizza. Though this is not the gloppy New York style pizza I crave, it's a very close second when done right. I've had wonderful versions of this style of pizza at Cleveland's Lolita and Bar Cento - how would Crostatas measure up?

Inside the Open Kitchen

The Pizza Oven

Comparing pizza to pizza - Crostatas's pies cost a little more than the other Neapolitan pizza makers, however, comparing photographs (since I haven't eaten the others' pizza lately), it seemed to me that the pies at Crostatas are a couple of inches larger. Lolita charges $12-13 per pie, and Bar Cento $6-13. Crostatas's range is $9.75-17, with most of the pies priced between $14-16.

I decided to splurge and go for the Margherita D.O.C. pie, topped with San Marzano Tomatoes, Mozzarella Di Bufala, Basil and EVOO (regular Mozzarella would have been $3 cheaper). I also ordered an ice tea, which I am pleased to report was freshly brewed and delicious.

The wood fired oven completes a pie in 90 seconds:

Lunch is Served

The crust is thin, but not at all cracker-like, with chewiness and bite. You can see a bit of char to the left - the char was just about perfect!

I would have liked the basil to have been sliced and sprinkled over the whole pizza - that's probably the only complaint I had. That and their one-page website, which desperately needs an update!

By this slice, I had torn up the basil, and added just a bit of red pepper - this was pizza Nirvana.

Well, maybe not Nirvana. But pretty darn good, and I didn't have to drive to the city to get it. The slices were just big enough to fold (another reason I think this pie is bigger than the others, because those are a little too small to fold). The toppings were applied judiciously, because with this kind of pizza, the crust is the star. Perhaps that is another cultural disconnect that has resulted in some of the negatives I'd heard about Crostatas.

Crostatas also offers a selection of Antipasti ranging from $6-12 that looks lovely (I'm a sucker for Arancini or meat-stuffed risotto balls) and salads, as well as two varieties of soup. In addition, the menu recently expanded to include sandwiches during lunch time (priced from $8-10). Nine desserts are offered, including a Nutella Pizza that I think I need to try. Finally, the wine list is small but decent, consisting entirely of Italian wines by the glass and bottle, Italian beer, and Italian Liquors.

I was very pleased with my lunch at Crostatas, and am at a loss to understand why those I know who have eaten there came away with such negative reports. The quality of the ingredients was apparent with every bite, and the preparation of my pizza was pretty close to perfect.

I am ashamed to admit that I enjoyed this pizza so much, I ate more than half of it at lunch. The remaining three pieces were boxed up for me. I love the Crostatas label that offers re-heating instructions (500 degree oven for 3 minutes). But could a pizza with such a thin crust really be good the next day?

Saturday Breakfast

Stealing a play from all three Neapolitan pizza makers in Cleveland, I put my leftovers in the toaster oven to heat, then fried up 2 farmers' market eggs and put them on top. I also added some chopped Chinese Flowering Chives from the garden, which I sauteed quickly in a little butter, then placed atop the pizza before sliding it into the oven.

Oh. Yes.

Simply magnifico!

So - does a pizza at Crostatas cost a little more? Yes - and especially if your usual idea of pizza is Pizza Pan's 3 pies per order for pickup and ranging from $10-$18 (plus toppings) or something similar. Crostatas is about quality and simplicity, not quantity or fancy gimmicks. My pizza contained 8 slices, and could easily have fed 2 people, maybe even 3 if we also had toppings and/or antipasti, soup or salad. I've not had this much fun playing with suburban pizza since my last visit to Marotta's! Crostatas is a worthy addition to Greater Cleveland's wonderful pizza makers. And I need to get back while the Special pizza is still Burrata Cheese and imported Prosciutto.

Crostatas Rustic Pizza on Urbanspoon


  1. The best pizza I've ever eaten was in Italy and looked similar to this one. Thanks for letting me know about Crostata's! I can't wait to try it!

  2. Great photos. Nice review. I knew you'd appreciate it. For me I think the complaints come from a place of ignorance. If you don't appreciate quality ingredients and what they cost, then you're going to miss much of what they're doing at Crostata's. Many of these same people probably buy their produce from Giant Eagle year round.

    The next time you go to Pittsburgh you have to try Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon.

    I WILL be going to the city this week and plan on finally getting to try Una Pizza Neopolitana (since Di Fara in Brooklyn has been getting waaay too much press lately).

  3. ! I just chanced upon your blog today and I'm really glad I did ^^ I've lived in Cleveland all my young life but my family is rather timid when it comes to unfamiliar restaurants. so.. Thank you!