The Woodlands is quickly becoming a full-fledged city, its residents not needing to leave the area when they want to shop or dine. But the savvy diner will notice one distressing fact: Most of the restaurants in The Woodlands are part of a chain that's based elsewhere.
Fortunately, that's starting to change. Now there's a new kid on the independent pizzeria block: Crust Pizza Co.
Crust Pizza Co. is an upscale, family-oriented pizza parlor located in the Panther Creek Village Center, on The Woodlands Parkway at West Panther Creek. It's a true independent — the owners, Mark Rasberry and Clint Price, are on-site and deeply involved. Price is a resident of The Woodlands, and Rasberry is currently making a weekly commute from Dallas — he'll be relocating after the school year ends.
They decided to open their pizza concept in The Woodlands, citing the family-friendly environment as a key reason for Crust Pizza debuting outside both the Loop and the Beltway.
The strip-center location has been converted into a warm, inviting spot for lunch or dinner. Custom is the operative word here — custom banquettes, custom countertops, and beautiful custom lighting with exposed copper supports.
The warmth extends to the new staff — a bunch of fresh faces, many of whom have never worked in the restaurant business before. Price and Rasberry are training them to be professional as well as friendly, and from our first impression, we received a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and a growing degree of polish.
The experience, however, is behind the counter. Crust's pizzas are hand-built by a pizza chef who was brought in from New York, and his East Coast sensibilities are baked right into his work.
Each pizza features a handmade thin, crispy crust with house-made sauce. The fresh toppings range from the traditional pepperoni and sausage to the exotic, like cashews and muffaletta-style olive relish.
"So how's the pizza?" you ask.
I'm typically a pizza traditionalist, so I started by sampling a margherita pizza. The crust was light and crisp but not hard, and its faintly sweet flavor was a solid base for the savory roma tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh chopped basil.
The crushed garlic added a bit of swagger, and the result was both fresh and bold. (Bold is a recurring theme at Crust Pizza Co., and one that is a welcome change from the often bland offerings at chain restaurants.)
Next was a walk on the wild side. We tried The Jerk, featuring Jamaican jerk chicken, caramelized onions, red, green, and yellow bell peppers, thick-cut bacon and a mixture of cheeses.
This was, again, a bold pizza, the jerk chicken's spicy bite offset by the sourness of the bell peppers and the smoky undertones of the nice quality bacon. I didn't expect to like this pizza (I'm not a big bell pepper fan) but it turned out to be my favorite.
We also sampled their sandwiches, including a memorable Spicy Link sub, with hot Italian link sausage, a variety of peppers, caramelized onions, and a blend of cheeses over the housemade pizza sauce.
Not to be trite, but this, too, was a bold piece of food art. The Italian links were nicely spicy, and the peppers' gentle sourness made for a very savory combination.
We were impressed by the food coming out of this new kitchen, and feel that it's only fair to overlook any pre-opening jitters, which were few and far between. Rasberry and Price are pros, and they've brought their distinct style of upscale, high-quality pizzas to the central Woodlands. And they're doing so at very reasonable prices.
The verdict? We'll be back.