Upper Crust Wood-Fired Pizza, 5860 N Classen Blvd., just finished its first month of tenancy in Aubrey McClendon's shiny new Classen Curve development. The high-end pizzeria joins Cafe 501, 105degrees Cafe and Republic Gastropub in the gilded plaza designed by Rand Elliott.
The concept is a longtime dream of Hank Craft, chief operating officer of Hal Smith Restaurant Group, with a menu developed by the group's executive chef, Brad Johnson. The general manager of Upper Crust is Jeff Dixon, who put in his time at several Hal Smith concepts, most notably Charleston's.
The wood, metal and glass interior was conceived by TAP Architecture.
Chef Johnson's pies cook in shimmering silver ovens that burn a mix of oak, pecan and hickory, imparting rustic flavor.
In the first of two visits, we started with U.C Calamari, an Anti-Pizza platter and Buffalo-style "Wings."
The calamari was solid but not good enough to warrant spoiling lunch. The Anti-Pizza, a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, greens and crusty bread, allowed mixing and matching. The mortadella is sliced a tad thick, but any plate with capicola, caramelized onions, Kalamata olives, hunks of Parma, dollops of fresh mozzarella and crumbled blue cheese is welcome at my table any time.
The wings were a wonder of butchering. The wing is carefully clipped and cleaned so only the meaty tip is left to nibble, served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks. What the wings lacked in substance, they made up in flavor and tidiness. Here are wings you don't have to wear.
On trip No. 2, we tried the Garlic Cheese Bread, which includes four kinds of cheese and way more slices than two could finish if there was any hope of getting halfway through dinner.
In two trips, I've tried three pies: The Rucci, Some Like it Hot and LK.
The Rucci looks like a standard pepperoni pizza until you bite into premium Fiorucci pepperoni, which are plentiful. The highlight of the LK was the melted dollops of goat cheese and mozzarella. Tomatoes, eggplant, red pepper, red onion, Parmesan and artichoke hearts brighten the mood.
My favorite pie was the Some Like it Hot. While not south-of-the-border hot, it has plenty of pop. While the Rucci and LK were rock-solid, they were riffs on pies I recognized. The Some Like it Hot, on the other hand, is a truly original composition from maestro Johnson. Peppadew, pepperoncini and hot cherry peppers join a pie well-populated with spicy Italian sausage. The coup de grace is a spiral of balsamic vinegar that allows the flavors to advance full-throttle.
On my latest trip, I tried the "Bricked" Lemon Chicken, which is marinated in herbs and garlic before its appointment with the fire fueled by the aforementioned trio of woods. The result is a succulent portion of chicken that sticks to your taste buds the way a summer day spent with a pretty girl sticks in your memory. The accompanying side salad was one I could eat every day: bibb lettuce, arugula, candied walnuts, and sliced green apple coated in a light vinaigrette. The combination of texture and flavor couldn't be better executed.
Much as I enjoyed the chicken, the very best was saved for last. While dessert is something I enjoy but rarely seek out, the cookie pie will doubtlessly bring me back on its own merits. One small pizza pan covered in two cookie doughs: half chocolate-chunk, half white chocolate and macadamia nut. Once pulled from the loving arms of the oven, it's outfitted with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a swath of chocolate syrup. This dessert might never win a beauty contest, but it will grab your inner 8-year-old by the scruff of the neck with its warm, doughy richness and drag him/her to the counter where you waited for Mom's homemade cookies to emerge from the oven. When food uses your palate as a springboard to your childhood, there's no sense in resisting, as this is the stuff of angels.
Upper Crust offers eight specialty pies and plenty of custom options, including four sauces, eight cheeses, eight meats and more than a dozen specialty toppings.
Dixon said the kitchen will offer a specialty pie each week on the big board adjacent to the bar. He advised I keep a look out for the Buffalo Chicken pizza, which sounds like sage advice.
The wine list hovers at 70, including an extensive selection of splits.
"That way, parents can come in and enjoy a good glass of wine while the kids have their cokes," Dixon said.
Upper Crust Wood-Fired Pizza opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes 9:05 p.m. Sundays, 10:05 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11:05 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.