Crazy Dough’sBoston, MAPub/Cafe
4-Star Pub/Cafe (our ratings)
Creative and inexpensive, a great alternative to everyday catering
Doug Ferriman hadn’t worked for a restaurant or trained as a chef. He just loved pizza so much in the 1990s that he wanted to study it, craft it, and make it better. Before founding Crazy Dough’s in 1999, he spent 6 months traveling New England and eating pizza eveyrwhere. “A lot of our first dates were at restaurants,” his wife Melissa tells me. It was the best training he could have had. “If you’re not humble, you’re going to fail,” he tells me. “You can learn a lot if you’re humble enough to try.” At his first location, he hired the best pizza cooks he could find. And learned.
Now Crazy Dough’s has 5 locations, and rather than moving upscale, Doug wants to expand west towards New York City and keep the locations small, suitable for students or staff looking for take out. It’s definitely not your first choice for a sit down meal. With bright fluorescents and tomato red decoration, the new Boston College branch feels professional but too corporate, unlike the “local color” place next door, El Pelon Taqueria or the Crazy Dough’s location in Harvard Sqauare. There’s table seating for 6 plus shelf seats for another 12, and upbeat indie rock and reggae music plays. There’s an open kitchen and a television set to sports.
I had arrived early at 2pm, and despite the post-lunch time, when things weren’t too busy, the staff left an empty bottle, newspaper, and crumbs on the tables to 2:30pm. The crumpled napkin on the floor got removed with a sweeping at 2:45pm. Of course, this is a new location with presumably new staff. As a reviewer, you get one shot to try to characterize a place, and maybe I just came on a bad day. They don’t have table service but will bring the meal out to you if you’re sitting down.
I have no reservations about Doug and Melissa’s marketing — it is top rate. A poster on the wall tells you to text crazy4 to 244326 to win a free slice. And the menu is a pitch perfect study in layout, offering appetizers, salads, pizza, calzones, pasta, sandwiches, and a “pizza roll”, which is basically a rolled up pizza. What a creative idea to add variety without needing a new station for food preparation.
I’m impressed by Doug’s enthusiasm for trying new directions like this. “I want to be an innovative gourmet,” he says, “with high quality along the entire process from ingredients to the table.” He’s even seeking a patent on a special pan he invented, which his salad bowls are baked in. The Crazy Dough Bowl is a salad served in a bread bowl made from the same dough as the pizza. It’s another clever idea, in what I sense is a long stream of clever ideas. And yes, Crazy Dough’s derives from “Crazy Doug”. One of Doug’s early stunts was to trade in his car for an old limousine in college, and then cover it with streamers and hire a driver on the weekends to cruise campus like a traveling party. Apparently he understands what college students like. No wonder his branches are next to Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Berklee, and Emerson.
Every restauranteur claims to make their own ingredients, and some must be exaggerating — but I don’t know which ones. So it’s refreshing when Doug and Melissa say that they look for good ingredients anywhere, whether made on site or delivered. They do make key ingredients in-house, caramelizing their own onions, roasting their own pure angus (not hambuger, real chunks of beef), and making their own fresh dough. Their cheese company only takes the best 10% of all milk to make their cheese, Doug says. Is that spin? Don’t most restaurants pick good cheese? Sure, if they’re restaurants, but maybe not if they’re pizza shops.
Crazy Dough’s claims to have the only fire grilled pizza in Boston (not brick oven like Bertucci’s), but that is a stretch. There are at least two others: Cambridge 1 in Harvard Square and Mistral in Boston. Melissa also tells me that they’re the only restaurant in American to offer fire grilled, brick oven, and Sicilian styles, and I don’t care if it’s true or nearly-true. It’s great that they offer so much variety, and they recently won a national award for their pizza. I get a sense that they apply to a lot of awards, but you can’t fault that they’ve won some!
So, what about the food? I try the chicken wings, which were the juiciest I’ve ever tasted. Apparently they’re roasted, not fried. “Nothing is fried here,” Doug tells me. They’re average oily on the chicken wing spectrum (you will want extra napkins, but the sauce doesn’t taste fake), and spicy enough that’s it’s good to have the ranch and blue cheese dips to cool them down.
If you treat the Crazy Dough Bowl as a bread side dish, it’s good — like the rolls at Bertucci’s. But as a salad, well, I wish Doug hadn’t offered me the caesar salad, which was boring: just lettuce and crotons, with cheese too finely powdered to taste. The Field Greens, which comes with tomato, onion, and dried cranberries, would surely have been zestier, but if you add dressing and eat the buttery bread, you can’t call it healthy.
The presentation was great on all the foods I tried. The toppings on the pizzas are well-distributed, each with drizzles of sauce like a Jackson Pollock painting. The Potato Bacon Cheddar pizza smells just like potato skins: it’s juicy and although heavy like any bacon meal will be, not overloaded with cheese. I loved the juicy butternut squash — an original idea — and caramelized onion on the Pot Roast pizza, which had a meat chew that was not spicy but complex, layered. Despite the name of the restaurant, I found the dough good but not mind-blowing as I’d hoped. In general the presentation and creativity of the meals exceeded their actual taste, but still — this goes far beyond the pizza shop into real restaurant territory. My favorite pizza was the Nutty Tuscan, another award-winner, which is tomatoes, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, and pine nuts on really moist garlic-bread dough. Mama mia! Prego! Gratzie! Um… Crustaroma! Alfredo! Pizzalini!
There are restaurants just as good, but in the pub/cafe category, which is the tier for places that don’t have table service, Crazy Dough’s is superior. Although with their takeout style locale, I can’t give them the highest marks for a sit-down meal, try them to cater your next group meeting, as a creative way to spice things up without breaking your budget… and thanks to their marketing savvy, they offer a free pizza tasting. I can taste it now. Linguini! Prego! Cheesolini!
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