Crust Café and Pizzeria Continues To Rise

One of Crust Café's good-looking pizza pies.

One of Crust Café’s good-looking pizza pies.

Almost five years ago hospitality industry veteran Jim Hochendoner was looking for just the right opportunity. Then he saw it—a suburban pizza shop with parking had just been put up for sale. He acted quickly and completed the purchase. He now had the location for his concept, a pizza restaurant that would also make authentic take-n-bake pizza. Crust Café and Pizzeria was born.

Crust Café and Pizzeria is located in Upper St. Clair near its border with Mt. Lebanon.

Crust Café and Pizzeria is located in Upper St. Clair near its border with Mt. Lebanon.

Hochendoner has good front line food service experience. He first worked at his brother Bob’s Carrick pizza shop, Danny O. Doogles, and later managed Bob and George Sliman’s South Side hot spot Margaritaville until it was sold in 1999. After Margaritaville he and Bob opened Jameson’s restaurant and bar on South Bates Street in Oakland. After operating it for several years they sold the place. Jim then managed Hot Tops pizza on Rt. 22 in Wilkins township for a local investor. Hot Tops also offered a take-n-bake option. The owner brought in noted pizza consultant Big Dave Ostrander, who Hochendoner credits with deepening his knowledge of pizza making and the pizza business.

Hochendoner proudly states that his take-n-bake pizzas are the only true authentic ones in Pittsburgh. “Our take-n-bake pizzas differ from other shops offering it, in that with our take-n-bake pizzas the dough is raw and the other shops par or half-bake their dough. That’s why our take-n-bake pizzas taste as good as the pizzas we cook at Crust. Baking the take-n-bake pizza with the dough in its raw state gives it a fuller, more authentic taste.”

Owner Jim Hochendoner preparing a small pepperoni and cheese pizza.

Owner Jim Hochendoner preparing a small pepperoni and cheese pizza.

Crust sells their take-n-bake pizza with several different size, sauce, and topping options. Their Sicilian pizza is also available for take-n-bake. They carefully explain how to bake it at home for new customers, sometimes even employing a fun visual aid in the process. If you forget, don’t worry. There’s instructions pasted on the outer clear shrink-wrap that covers the pizza. Included in each take-n-bake pizza is a piece of round parchment paper that the pizza sits upon while cooking in the oven. This helps in the baking process.

On my first visit I purchased a take-n-bake pepperoni and cheese pizza. It was easy to prepare. I removed it from the wrapping, popped it in the oven on the provided parchment paper and it baked in about 15 minutes. Nice and bubbly with a crispy crust just like the pizza I ate at the shop. Hochendoner said that take-n-bake pizza sales are increasing every month.

Whether eating Crust’s pizza in their café or at home, you’ll appreciate the high quality ingredients that go into creating them. “We cold-age our pizza dough for three days after making it, just the right amount of time,” Hochendoner said. “With our name being Crust, the crust better be good.” Other quality touches are their slightly sweet sauce made from the finest California tomatoes, and shredded cheese that’s 100% Grande provolone cheese from Wisconsin. Crust’s pizza has a rustic Italian look and is very similar to true Neapolitan pizza.

I sampled the Margherita. Their crust is just right, not too thick and not too thin. It’s crunchy, but still retains some good chewiness. All elements of the Crust pizza work together for an overall deliciousness that puts it in the upper ranks of Pittsburgh pizzerias.

The Margherita and Mediterranean are Crust’s top selling pizzas. Other bestsellers include meatball sandwiches and appetizers, wings, Italian sandwich, the walnut cranberry and Greek salads. Crust also offers gluten-free pizza. They sell pizza by the slice until 5 p.m. A popular special is a slice of regular pizza (toppings extra) plus soup or a side salad and a beverage for $5.99.

The Italian sandwich features savory Italian meats and cheese.

The Italian sandwich features savory Italian meats and cheese.

“We make as many items from scratch as possible,” said Hochendoner. “We roast our own garlic, sweet and hot peppers; make our own dressings; and our sausage comes from a local maker.” The rib eye for the steak sandwiches is shaved in-house as well.

I had the Italian sandwich on my second visit. The sandwich features mortadella, cappacolo, salami, ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and house Italian dressing. The combination was tasty, a deep immersion into fine Italian meats and cheese.

Boo Sowers (L.) greeting customers and taking their orders.

Boo Sowers (L.) greeting customers and taking their orders.

Most of the time Hochendoner, an affable character, is working the ovens and the grill while Boo Sowers, whom he calls his “partner in life,” works the front of the house. They make a good team. Hochendoner said he has had great support from the community and his business has increased substantially each year. This is evidenced by their crowded parking lot. After eating there several times and taking-n-baking, it’s easy to see why Crust has done so well.

Crust Café and Pizzeria
509 Painters Run Road
Upper Saint Clair
(412) 564-5748

B.Y.O.B
Accepts All Major Credit Cards

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Crust Café is a good place to eat pizza and watch sports.

Crust Café is a good place to eat pizza and watch sports.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and enjoys a good dining escapade.