Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Leap of Faith with Food

  I've written about a number of newly minted culinary entrepreneurs this year, and now there's another one to report on. His name is Mike Griffin and he opened Crust on Kenilworth in Tremont nine weeks ago (and lost one of them to the power outage courtesy of Hurricane Sandy). It's strictly take-out and the menu offers only pizza, subs, salads, gnocchi. But this is not ordinary meal-in-a-box fare. Dough, bread, and pasta are made on site from scratch and by hand. Ingredients are high end and local when possible. Sauces, toppings, and combinations are inventive and thoughtful. Chef Jeff Fisher, formerly at Touch Supper Club, has been serving as a consultant and hands on adviser and his professional influence is evident. (No surprise that Griffen wants to convince him to make the arrangement permanent). This is upscale restaurant style food, at bargain prices, for dining at home feasts.

   I "discovered" Crust recently when doing a book signing for Cleveland's West Side Market: 100 Years & Still Cooking at Visible Voice across the street. A woman bought a copy then went to over to pick up some dinner for herself. She came back about 15 minutes later with a container of roasted tomato ricotta gnocchi in a Parmesan broth for me, courtesy of Fisher, who I've known for years. Apparently while waiting for her order, she talked about the book and mentioned that I was in the store. He wanted me to get a taste of what they're doing and she very kindly I offered to handle delivery. It was superb, full of the flavor of garlic and fresh basil, white wine, and a hint of lemon. The gnocchi struck just the right balance between airiness and density, somehow being both light and yet substantial.    

   Went over later to say thank you and have a look. The space is really just a big kitchen with a counter, and a couple of tables and stools where customers can wait fro their orders. I met Griffin, who left the computer field to start this business. It's not entirely unprecedented- he has some history working at Deanatella's in Valley View, an old school, family run Italian deli.When his cousin,who owns Visible Voice, told him about  the vacant storefront, he decided it was time to take the leap. He loves having the West Side Market just minutes away and is a regular at the Tremont Farmer's Market.

  Though I've only tried one dish, I know just by reading what goes on the pies, in the sandwiches and over the pasta- lemon rosemary chicken, Tuscan fennel salami, chorizo, roasted garlic mayo, baby arugula, smoked mozzarella, sage and butternut squash, pancetta, balsamic reduction, caramelized onions, Parmesan cream, white truffle oil...that this is stuff I want to eat. I'll have to drive from east to west and back again to make that happen, but I'm highly motivated by Griffin's commitment to serve up the best. "I come in at 6:30 every morning to bake the bread. Making our pizza dough is a two day process.This is a neighborhood with so much great food," he says. "I have to bring my A-game."

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