Seasoned entrepreneur/chef Michael Altenberg
) is the sustainability-conscious mind behind Chicago's first certified organic restaurant. To earn the rights to such a claim, Crust undergoes monitoring by Indiana Certified Organic, a USDA-accredited organization, to ensure that 95 percent of its food and products are derived from organic sources. Given the huge stock of supplies flowing into any restaurant kitchen, the ideal is a tough one to uphold, and Crust is only the fourth restaurant in the nation to achieve this status.
The seasonal menu makes a quick read, zeroing in on salads, sandwiches and the wood-oven flatbreads that give the place its name. Salads blend just-picked vegetables with greens and homemade dressings (the sweet basil caprese had some out-of-this-world fresh mozz). The short list of sandwiches range from the vegetarian Californian to pulled pork with Asian slaw and wood-roasted tallgrass beef with horseradish creme fraiche.
Altenberg's individual-sized flatbreads ($10-$14) may look like thin-crust pizzas, but they have a more refined attitude. The crusts are chewy and charred, combining beautifully with their toppings for a distinctly Mediterranean feel—subtle, expertly blended flavors, premium ingredients and a focus away from the saucy, spicy pies we're used to in Chicago. Only three of the 10 flatbreads listed even have a tomato-based sauce. Choose from combinations like El Greco (feta, artichoke, kalamata olives, red onion and roasted tomatoes), the Mexicali Blues (shrimp, Chihuahua cheese and pico de gallo) or the hearty B.L.T. (Amish blue cheese and arugula).
The enormous space feels bright and modern, with Formica tabletops and a full view of the open kitchen. A back patio offers seating for 120 in a closed-off space safe from street noise. Cocktails, $8-$10, showcase inventive recipes, from organic Rain vodka infusions (we enjoyed the cooling cucumber-mint) to the blackberry mint julep and pomegranate lemon drop martini. The vodka infusions are also available by the flight, and Crust offers a short but discriminating list of wines and beers from the West Coast and overseas.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Julia Steinberger