First Bite: Clever Crow pizza at Circus
This is not a review, it's a public service announcement.
You see, as I was following up on a recent rave of a hot pizza tip, I discovered that the artisanal piemaker in question had connections at the very top of the food chain. That's right, the pie guy was pals with our nationally famous ice cream queen.
Well, it follows like deductive logic that if our exalted frozen dessert artist tells me she loves someone's pizzas, then I go eat them immediately.
But just as I was preparing to order a tempting 'za, I was greeted with a point and an "Are you from Alive?" I then realized you don't make it to the top of the food chain by leaving things up to chance.
Believe me, getting fingered like that almost never happens. And it might've been a deal-breaker, except after chatting with the creative and experienced pizza professional and eating his terrific product, I became convinced he wasn't "gaming" me, wasn't obsessed with publicity, and really only cared about whipping up great grub. In other words, I figured it was my duty to get the word out about him.
Gary Robinette - who has a food science degree from OSU and learned to make pies in that quirky pizza hotbed of Portland, Oregon - was wearing a T-shirt, heavy framed black specs, scruffy beard and a sort of bike-messenger cap (worn askew, natch) as he explained that sourdough had just made its way into the cornmeal-fed crust he uses for his unique Clever Crow "Cornbread-Style" pizzas.
Robinette also informed me that his long list of excellent ingredients included house-made sausage (spiked with wine), house-cured pork like pancetta, tasso ham, bacon and Canadian bacon, and (what I'd soon discover to be remarkable) house-pickled vegetables. Man, I couldn't wait to stuff his pies into my face.
But first there would be a pretty Roasted Beet Salad ($3.50/$6.50). As I dug into that perfectly balanced (this trait would prove prevalent with Robinette's food) construction assembled with deeply toasted walnuts, creamy blue cheese daubs, pristine greens and a tart and tangy vinaigrette, I thought this was the kind of dish I'd expect from a white-tablecloth operation, rather than a dark bar with sideshow art on red walls and a gaggle of goths lining up outside for a big show later that night.
That's because Robinette's fantastic pizzas are currently emanating from the kitchen of the Short North's Circus bar. So now you can get your rock groove on and order a nice beer (Circus has 15 on tap) to go with a startlingly different, totally handmade and delicious pizza.
OK, those pies. The compelling, eccentric and complex crust is thick and sturdy - especially at the edges - and therefore guaranteed to never go soggy. What's more, it's made from a highly interesting hybrid bread dough that's yellowish and mildly corny sweet yet also has a pleasant, fermented sourdough edge to it. In the end, it texturally reminded me of a cross between a stout biscuit and a comforting shortbread.
Clever Crow's feeds-three whole pizzas are $19. I went with a half Crow Style (winey, crumbly fennel-seeded sausage brushed up against sweet caramelized balsamic onions and corn nuggets; there was also smoked provolone, good mozzarella and a thyme sprinkling) and a half Sopressata (in which the namesake mildly gamey hard sausage found an excellent complement in roasted and pickled red peppers). The pie was terrific.
I could continue describing Robinette's other ambitious dishes (like incredible roasted pork and homemade kraut, and a smooth, chocolate-crusted pumpkin tart with a back-end cayenne kicker), but I suggest you find out for yourself.
But do go soon, because word on the street is a traveling media personality famous for channeling his inner bad-boy appetites is eager to try Robinette's pizzas, and he'll tell everybody about them.
For a complete guide to local restaurants, click to ColumbusDiningGuide.com
Clever Crow at Circus
1227 N. High St., Short North