Historically, it’s certainly not the first pizza in the Hamptons. In fact, it’s brand new. But, for the traffic-weary weekenders coming into town, Café Crust is now the first pizza they see, greeting them from the side of the highway and offering pizza from a wood-fired oven, along with other hearty Italian dishes. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that weekend nights at Café Crust have taken off like a rocket this summer. Located in the newish building at 850 County Road 39 (there’s a Sleepy’s Mattress store there), the restaurant also offers casual indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of parking, making it a great place for families on the road.
Being locals, we decided to try Café Crust for a Wednesday lunch, which was quieter but still fairly bustling. It was a hot day, so our server J.J. showed us to a seat in the pleasant rotunda that comprises the indoor seating and he introduced us to some of the unique features of Café Crust’s menu. For example, it is the only restaurant on Long Island to carry Pucks fountain drinks – cola, root beer, orange, you name it, made with all natural ingredients and without high fructose corn syrup. Later we sampled the root beer and actually could taste the difference – it was spicier and more complex than what we’re used to. For our drinks, I ordered coffee (excellent) and my companion chose the Strawberry Delight, a non-dairy smoothie made with strawberries, banana, and vanilla almond milk, which she pronounced delicious and “banana-y”. Café Crust also has bottled beer and wine.
Before departing with our drink orders, J.J. revealed that Luke, who is the chef, makes his own fresh mozzarella on premises, so we swiftly agreed with J.J.’s recommendation that we try it in the Caprese Salad, that summer favorite with alternating slices of fresh tomato and hunks of fresh mozzarella, garnished with basil leaves. We were glad we did. While in some places fresh mozzarella can be almost tasteless, Café Crust’s house-made offering has great flavor and character. And while in some places this classic salad comes slathered in balsamic vinaigrette to boost up bland ingredients, here at Café Crust they put a small pool of dressing on the side, trusting their tomatoes and mozzarella to carry the dish.
David Wiesneski, Café Crust’s owner, is a veteran deli guy, and if there’s one thing a deli guy knows it’s to get the best ingredients and let them speak for themselves. Along with chef Luke, he went through a lot of experimentation to arrive at the house mozzarella, which they use on their pizza, naturally, and in a few other items on the menu, a menu that includes a large variety of salads and panini as well as the Crustburger. The salads and sandwiches are made from such top-shelf ingredients such as organic vegetables, free-range chicken, Italian tuna, and nitrate-free, thick-cut bacon. The Crustburger is a half-pounder of grass-fed beef.
Maybe some day we’ll try some of this wide variety, but on this day we were here to eat PIZZA. Café Crust has wood-fired pies of the “red” and “white” types, with a list of house specialty topping combinations or the option to build your own. We sampled three – the Sausage and Roasted Pepper, the fried Eggplant, both “red” pies, and the White Hot, a “white” pizza with ricotta and sliced jalapenos. All of the pies were tasty, but the White Hot was especially good, with lots of garlicky zip and tangy heat from the jalapenos. By now, most are familiar with the differences between wood-fired pizzas and the more standard slice pizza – wood-fired pizzas are cooked very quickly at high temperatures, so they have to be thinner and less cheesy. At Café Crust, they more than make up for this with vivid flavors and, of course, that house-made mozzarella.
For dessert, Café Crust has a wide variety of gelato, plus a root beer float. More intriguingly, they turn out two fresh sweets from their wood-fired oven – a Nutella turnover and an apple pie. We went for the apple, thin-sliced Granny Smith on a pizza-like crust liberally dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Unique and a big hit with the Dan’s Papers office staff.
Café Crust, 850 North Highway, Southampton, 631-259-8880, www.cafe-crust.com.