Mystic Pizza

by J. Tobias Beard

Printed in C-VILLE Weekly 9/25/07

Crozet pizzaWhen the pizza arrives at the table, it never seems as if there will be enough room, amidst the plates, drinks, napkin dispenser and parmesan cheese, but somehow there always is. This, I think, signifies a good meal: not an elegant and carefully arranged table, but a cluttered and overflowing one. “Mange,” it says. Eat! Dig in!

I first went to Crozet Pizza when I was maybe 9 or 10, and I continued to go there sporadically throughout high school. When I went off to college, it was where my family would always go to welcome me back and to say farewell. It was, to a boy from Free Union, the closest thing to a neighborhood joint.

Little, as the cliché goes, has changed since Bob and Karen Crumb opened the restaurant in 1977. One wall is still covered with a thick layer of business cards, another with a map of the world that highlights all the places that Crozet Pizza shirts have traveled. The framed Sam Abell prints, the picture of Claudius Crozet, and the Lane and Western Albemarle High School Pennants, all still hang proudly. The choice of toppings is vast and includes squash, three types of olives, Portobello and Shitake mushrooms, eggplant and peanuts. I opt for plain cheese with fresh garlic and a Starr Hill Amber Ale, because the soul of a pizza joint is its crust, cheese and garlic. Plus I’ve only got $20. I make my girlfriend buy her own beer.

The pizza is hot (Memories of many a scalded tongue. Tonight will add one more.) and overwhelmingly fragrant—a bouquet of garlic and oregano. The color of the cheese is a kind of neon rust where it has bubbled up, and elsewhere a deep white flecked with green. The hallmark of Crozet Pizza is the freshness of its ingredients, everything chopped right now, homemade not in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that everything was made in the place where it lives. It tastes, my girlfriend says, “cared for.”

What can you get at Crozet Pizza for $20? Twelve-fifty for the medium pie and $2 for the (very) fresh garlic, plus $3.50 for the beer. The bell that rings when you walk through the door, and the vases full of fresh basil on the counter. The unsolicited “That is the best pizza I’ve ever had!” from the tall, white haired gentleman visiting for the first time. Crozet Pizza is the kind of place they make movies about, and the kind of place movies never get right. It will be, I predict, the last place to go when the suburbs march through the heart of old Crozet and they finish destroying western Albemarle County. That will be a black, black, day, and until it comes I plan on spending $20 a thousand times over trying to fit one more perfect pizza onto a crowded table.

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