True Crafted – truly tasty

Clean. Clean, bright and airy. That’s what hits you upon entering True Crafted Pizza.

Our culinary expert enjoyed his visit to south Charlotte’s True Crafted Pizza, and says you ought to consider a trip this holiday weekend.

Our culinary expert enjoyed his visit to south Charlotte’s True Crafted Pizza, and says you ought to consider a trip this holiday weekend.

They opened recently in the Stonecrest shopping center on Rea Road. Comfortable booths line the two sides of the dining room, accompanied by tables and banquettes. The wine and beer bar, with plenty of bar stools, takes center stage; it’s in front of the large open pizza oven. On one wall you’ll see a mural-sized projection of Italian movies and clips to help set the mood. In the front of the dining room you’ll find a very long oversized table that can seat a large party.

True Crafted adopted the very popular fast casual concept. You order and pay at the register. They hand you a number to place on your tabletop stand. Drinks are brought right out in plastic cups with lids and a straw. Even though it is fast casual, you’ll find someone stopping by your table to check on you, see if everything is OK and if you need refills.

The all-day menu is appropriately filled with just enough items to keep the establishment true to its intention, concentrating on pizza. There are a few items to share as appetizers. Choices include crispy mozzarella wedges with pomodoro dipping sauce; house-made meatballs with pomodoro sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese; or crispy risotto fritters with creamy fontina cheese and fresh herbs. Other options are the grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil and served with fresh ricotta cheese, caponata and tomato bruschetta; and crispy calamari with spicy peppers, lemon aioli and pomodoro sauce. The house-made meatballs were my favorite; great flavor and
texture.

Several salads make it easy to return without having pizza on every visit or better yet, share a salad and a pizza. The True house salad has romaine and iceberg lettuce, cucumber, grape tomato, red onion, pepperoncini and red wine vinaigrette. The True Caesar salad has romaine lettuce, garlic croutons, and crispy Parmesan frico. It comes as an individual, a small, or for a family – a smart offering. You can add chicken, mozzarella or gorgonzola for a bit extra. Italian tuna salad offers oven-roasted tomatoes, hard-cooked eggs, green beans and basil vinaigrette. A very tasty and refreshing choice is the baby spinach and arugula salad, which arrives with candied pecans, sliced apple, dried cranberries, goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette. And there’s plenty to share. The grilled chicken and vegetable salad has arugula, oven-dried tomatoes, avocado and balsamic vinaigrette. Very fresh ingredients and good-sized portions.

For sandwiches, choose from the following: a grilled four-cheese sandwich consisting of mozzarella, provolone, fontina and Parmesan; it comes with a cup of house-made tomato soup. The meatball Parmigiana has melted provolone, Parmesan cheese and pomodoro sauce. Another is the Spicy Sausage and Peppers, which has roasted bells, grilled onions and pomodoro sauce.

True traditional pizzas are 11-inch individual pies. The True traditional cheese pie has tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese for $8.50. Additional toppings of veggies and cheese are $1 per topping and include black olives, mushrooms, red onions, bell peppers, caramelized onions, zucchini, roasted garlic, eggplant, broccoli rabe, potatoes, fresh jalapenos, spicy peppers, pineapple, basil, mozzarella, Parmesan, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese and bleu cheese. For $2 per topping you can add meatballs, pepperoni, pancetta, prosciutto, ham, fried egg, clams, anchovies, sausage, chicken or applewood smoked bacon… lots of offerings.

To make it easy, there are several True specialty oven-baked pies. Mushroom and onions – roasted mushrooms, sautéed onions, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Garlic and clams – fresh littleneck clams, pancetta, roasted garlic oil, Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Four cheeses white pizza – mozzarella, fresh ricotta, fontina and Parmesan, fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil. Bacon and egg – applewood smoked bacon, fried egg, roasted potatoes, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.

After several visits, I can tell you that friendliness and a helpful attitude exudes from the staff. The person taking your order is very knowledgeable about the menu and is happy to help guide you through the options.

Let’s talk pizza. True offers two different styles of pizza, both being individual pies for one. The first and most popular are the oven-baked pies. The large, beautiful pizza oven in the center of the dining room is ideal for cooking excellent pizzas. As great as the pizza oven may be, you have to have a great dough recipe. I would say True Crafted has found one. They created pizza dough with a combination of different flours and it definitely works. The baked pies are more than enough for one person or to share with a salad for two. I’ve tasted several of the specialty oven-baked pies and they have been consistently very good. The crust has a very nice rise to it, not being too thick or too thin. Deliciously crispy edges with the occasional bubble rise, and a delicate char here and there.

The first one I tasted was the sausage and peppers. Italian fennel sausage, red and yellow bell peppers, mozzarella and fresh herbs; plenty of toppings that popped with flavor. I also enjoyed the margherita – fresh mozzarella cheese, basil and crushed plum tomatoes. A few more basil leaves would have been preferred, though still a very tasty pizza. Take a close look at the day’s special pie on the board. Twice my guests and I have enjoyed two different specials. If you like the toppings, you’ll enjoy the pizza.

The other style of pies that True offers are grilled pizzas. I have had grilled pizza at several restaurants and I have made it at home several times. It isn’t the easiest to make. The dough has to be thin enough and then grilled just right. I have to say that neither I nor my guests were impressed with the grilled pizza. It is made with the same dough, and I want to guess that this particular dough ball didn’t rise sufficiently. This was the grilled pepperoni pizza, and the baked pizza was much preferred. Knowing that it’s the same dough, I think they have the ability to make it better than on that occasion.

When it comes to the sandwiches, True has some noteworthy offerings. The meatball Parmigiana is very good; large flavorful meatballs with just enough sauce and plenty of cheese. It is available with the homemade coleslaw, and that’s also good. I have to admit I was skeptical about a grilled cheese and cup of soup for $9.50. However, the grilled four-cheese sandwich was outstanding. Perfectly grilled to a buttery light golden brown with premium cheese melted into a harmonious blend of flavors. And the homemade tomato soup was also very good. Be sure to save room for some gelato, even if it’s a small dish and you have to share. It is locally made and it’s very good.

They are happy to give you tastes. My favorite so far is the espresso, with its deep, rich coffee flavor.

The website reads “TRUE Crafted Pizza is a modified fast casual restaurant concept where guests order at the counter, are free to choose a table and food is brought to them. Beer and wine can be ordered in the same manner or directly at the bar.” If you prefer a casual and full-service experience, simply sit at the bar, offering a selection of beer and wine. I can tell you that the level of service I observed each table receiving was as close to full service as it gets; actually better than some “full service” eateries. A friendly staff, excellent baked pizzas and enticing daily specials will keep me coming back. I recommend you check them out.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

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