Crosta Pizzeria is a must-try, vegan or not
MANILA, Philippines – A dish that spans all ages and tastebuds, pizza is easy to make, enjoy, and is yet so versatile in flavor. Thin crust, thick crust, stuffed? Red or white sauce? Vegetables only, or just meat? Anything goes, really.
A pizza fix isn't so hard to come by when you're homebound, but with so many tried-and-tested commercial pizza joints around the Metro, I do find myself looking for something new. Which is what led me to Crosta Pizzeria – a small, homegrown pizza shop founded in 2017, located at The Social on Ebro in Poblacion, Makati.
A favorite of the late-night Pob crowd (pre-lockdown, of course), Crosta, is hailed for their premium, artisanal, sourdough pizza.
But it wasn't just their regular pizza that piqued my interest – it was their vegan pizza menu that got me googly-eyed. Crosta has a separate menu of completely plant-based pizza and ingredients – from its sourdough crust, vegan cheese, meat-free "meaty" toppings.
The pizza experience: From dine-in to delivery
There's nothing like a pizza fresh out of the oven, piping hot and served immediately to your table. But with the lockdown, this experience had to be put on hold.
"We had to navigate a completely different system for taking orders and payments. There were a lot of manual errors made, but we learned from them and developed a solution as quickly as we could – our first website, an ECQ baby," Ingga Cabangon Chua, co-owner of Crosta, told Rappler.
"This pandemic pretty much fast-tracked where we where already headed to in terms of technology and innovation. And we were lucky that we had a product that was pandemic ready: pizzas are the perfect take-away food," she said.
Crosta makes it easier for those who appreciate a freshly-baked one – the cardboard box it's delivered in was still warm to the touch (from Makati to Quezon City), the pizza was still crunchy in the right places (it's not completely sog-free, though), and the presentation? Like it just came out of the kitchen – vibrant, appetizing, and with that coal-grilled char.
I also appreciated how the toppings are separately (and neatly) packed. The fresh basil leaves were wrapped in foil to ensure freshness, while the chili flakes and cheese shavings were packed in their own plastic containers.
But what if your pizza steams in the box en route? "To get our signature crunchy crust back, pop it in a toaster or in the oven at maximum temp for about 5 minutes or until the crust gets crunchy again," Ingga said.
Crust issues? None here
"Sourdough was not the obvious choice at first. I played around with different dough recipes, but I felt like there was something missing," Ingga said. After 4 years of experimenting, Ingga finally replicated the same experience she had when enjoying her favorite bread – this time, with a pizza.
Crosta's 11" sourdough-style, thin-crust pizza is coal-fired in an oven. This results in a crunchy, slightly charred exterior with a chewy, pull-away bite, a soft, airy center, and the distinctly tangy finish of a good sourdough.
It's also thin enough that the toppings still shine (and so you can roll it up). If you're not a fan of doughy, thick, and dense pizza crusts, Crosta's your best bet.
The Crosta secret
In 2017, Ingga began Crosta with just 6 pizza flavors – which some questioned.
"People said that we should add pasta, salad, and other items to our menu to complete the experience and that pizza alone would never be enough. But we decided that we wanted to focus one thing: pizza," Ingga said.
Every Crosta flavor deserved praise. The tart, Italian plum tomato sauce was always on point, the ingredients were fresh and had generous portions, and the crust was always A+. What's Ingga's secret?
"We don't compromise on our ingredients. We choose quality even if it means it'll be more expensive. Second is consistency, so we break down every process – from dough creation to the amount of toppings that goes on every type of pizza," she said.
"We need to minimize mistakes as much as possible and to ensure that we can reproduce the same experience customers have had with our brand, over and over again."
Once you go plant-based...
In the same year, Crosta didn't just add more flavors to their pizza menu – they went vegan, too.
"The seed was planted when I was doing some work with CARA Welfare Philippines," Ingga said. CARA Welfare is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering rescue animals. It was there that Ingga met a vegan member who suggested adding vegan choices to the menu.
"From the onset, I thought it was a great idea! I've always thought of pizza as an inclusive food group, something that everyone enjoys, so I thought it was a great idea to be able to cater to an underserviced community," Ingga said.
Crosta started with two flavors: The Vegan Basic Bitch and the Vegan Shroomed Out.
"We wanted to test the market and make sure that we delivered quality pizzas with no compromise to this particular community. It took a while for us to get the wheels going – when we launched they probably made up 10% of our customer base," she added.
Fast forward 3 years later – and there are days when Crosta's vegan pizzas outsell their non-vegan counterparts.
"We have also managed to expand our vegan menu to over 7 flavors and feel that it's a very exciting time with all the meat and dairy alternatives in the market," Ingga said.
And trust me – you won't even be able to tell the difference. I'm a margherita apologist, and Crosta's Vegan Basic Bitch (P300) is a pizza purist's paraside. Crosta's version is one of the best margherita pizzas I've had – and to think it's made with cashew-based mozarrella cheese by In A Nutshell.
I tried it ala Vegan Basic Bitch Squares (P600) format (a new offering of Crosta), 4 large deep dish square slices in a box, each one topped with vegan cheese, a hefty scoop of fresh tomato sauce, garlic confit (roasted garlic cloves), and fresh basil leaves on the side.
The Italian plum tomato sauce oozes per bite, and you get way more charred sourdough than its thin-crust counterpart. It's a bit more expensive, but the amount of ingredients you're getting make up for it – every bite is a chewy, juicy wonder.
But don't expect your pizza to be dripping with gooey cheese, though – Crosta's is not what you'd call a "cheesy pizza," and that's perfectly fine. The vegan cheese is very subtle in taste, and allows the other ingredients to shine.
For those into white sauce pizzas, Crosta's Vegan Shroomed Out (P400) is a good choice, especially for fans of fresh mushrooms and roasted garlic cloves. Its base is made of Crosta's homemade cashew-based cream.
Portobello, shitake, button, you name it – the mushroom cuts are huge, making every bite a burst of earthy flavors, contrasted by the herby lightness of fresh thyme and the silkiness of roasted garlic. I'm more of a red sauce kinda girl (I find white sauces a bit bland sometimes), but I enjoyed this one, mostly because of the toppings.
Also, don't be fooled by Crosta's packed Meatless Lovers (P550) pizza – it may be made with Beyond Meat's vegan sausage, but it's just as tasty and filling as its non-vegan version.
The tomato sauce isn't as pronounced here, but the cashew-based mozzarella is, which mixes well with the saltiness of Beyond Meat's sausage and patty, as well as the fresh bell pepper and onion slices melted into the cheese. No bite is ever boring.
If you're going all out, try the star-shaped Vegan Stuffed Af (P500) too, Crosta's take on the stuffed-crust pizza.
Aside from the cashew-based cheese, plum tomato sauce, vegan gouda cheese, and Beyond Meat sausage toppings, the sourdough crust is filled with more Beyond Meat – so don't throw it away! Although this pizza is flatter than the rest, one or two slices is enough to quell your hunger.
However, I don't normally go for the meat-lovers' pizza flavor, so the margherita still wins for me.
I were to pick a "meaty" flavor, Crosta's newly-launched What The Pork (P350) pizza would be it – the plant-based Omnipork "sausage" crumbled on top was perfectly cooked and tasted best accompanied by slivers of crunchy garlic, atop generously-spread tomato sauce and a hint of vegan cheese.
The basil leaves add a fresh contrast to the salty Omnipork.
And in comes a wild card: the underrated Death by Hummucide (P400). Don't let the name scare you – its base is made of hummus, and is honestly one of the best chickpea dips I've ever had.
If hummus and pizza had a baby, this would be it – the crust resembles pita bread, and the hummus is smooth and creamy, with just the right balance of garlicky and tangy notes (it isn't sweet at all). It's topped with the Italian works, too: artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and onions, which all add a nice, savory bite. Over a white sauce pizza, I'd actually go for this one.
And another great thing about Crosta's light pizza? You don't feel so bloated and guilty afterwards.
Pizza is life, but Crosta is lifer
Will Ingga latch onto the unexpected success of Crosta's vegan selection? "We think plant-based is the future, and it's a movement that has become mainstream in the West. It'll be just a matter of time before it becomes mainstream in the rest of the world," Ingga said.
"We find the vegan space so interesting and get really excited when new products come along, that's why we were quick to serve BeyondMeat and Omnipork on our pizzas. As long as people keep innovating and providing more alternatives in the market, we will continue to support these brands," she added.
Crosta's goal has always been to create vegan pizzas that even non-vegans would enjoy – a goal they've clearly achieved. My siblings and I loved the pies so much, we forgot we were even eating plant-based food. It was just a good 'ol pizza.
"That to me is a great way to measure our vegan pizzas; when it can simply be labeled as "great pizza" and not necessarily as great vegan pizza," Ingga added. And great pizza it was – one I won't be turning back from anytime soon. It's creative, it's comforting, it's binge-worthy – and officially, a new favorite.
Price-wise, the pies can be a bit steep, but to me, they're worth it – every bite reflects Crosta's promise of quality, and every box is a reminder that good taste will always reign, vegan or not. – Rappler.com