Crust Lust at Bar Del Corso

How the pizzeria won Beacon Hill's heart, along with its stomach.

The Earth's crust is startlingly thin relative to the mass of minerals throbbing beneath it. Geologists are constantly comparing the planetary shell to an apple's skin, stressing that human life is dependent on a layer so slim that if textbook designers didn't exaggerate its size in illustrations, students would never see it. Yet it was the Earth's distinctive crust structure which allowed sea creatures to climb out of oceans and become mammals. Crust of a different sort serves a similar function in neighborhoods. A really great pizza crust beckons eaters out of their homes, drawing them into a civilizing sphere where they can trade gossip over pies and drink Sangiovese alongside the guy they see washing his car every Saturday morning. A deservedly popular pizza salon can invigorate and sustain a zip code—that's how much pizza crust matters. At Bar del Corso, former Betty pasta maestro Jerry Corso has provided Beacon Hill with a neighborhood-defining pizza crust, and residents are so thrilled that it's not uncommon for customers at the new restaurant to encounter an hour-long wait on a weeknight. Beacon Hillers' excitement crested long before Corso first fired his wood-burning oven, an azure-tiled igloo custom-made in Italy. In an interview with Voracious last month, Corso revealed he had to lock the restaurant's front door during construction to keep out neighbors who "wanted to come chat all too often, and tell you how happy they are." Since a locked-door policy isn't compatible with a successful business, Corso now grants entry to anyone with a hankering for a thin-crust pie. A perpetual presence in the restaurant's open kitchen, Corso is probably again finding himself on the receiving end of long-winded expressions of gratitude—although it's equally possible he's rendered many of his proactive fans speechless with his outstanding crust. The linen-thin crust on Bar del Corso's pizzas has the sweet, lively flavor of fermentation, and a fabulously clear minerality usually associated with sauvignon blancs and mountain springs that reputedly cure everything from diabetes to dyspepsia. The edges—grandly referred to as the cornicione by serious pizza junkies—are puffed high above the central crust, forming an imposing bread bulwark capable of containing pools of cheese and the oils sweated from discs of salami. The crust has an appealing chew, although its bendy suppleness makes it mildly difficult to slice a precise wedge, a chore delegated to diners. But most Bar del Corso pizzas yield to a competently wielded knife, since they aren't as puddly as traditional Neapolitan pies (which Corso isn't trying to replicate). If your pizza philosophy is resolutely anti-fork, you'll do fine here. Every pie I tried had a generously charred crust: The underbellies of the slices I flipped over looked like cheetah hides. The intermittent blackening didn't bother me, since it added an extra textural dimension to a masterful crust, but the pizzaiolos lost control of the char on a variety of appetizers. Two of the six blocks of bread presented with a baccala dip were too burnt to eat. Bar del Corso's short menu includes half a dozen pizzas, five "small plates," and a smattering of salads. The specials board typically showcases starters made with freshly picked vegetables and marine rarities, such as tuna heart. There's also a selection of imported meats and cheeses, which seems redundant if you've placed an order for pizza, but makes sense if you're seated at the bar with a pint of Moretti. Plenty of beers have been drunk at 3057 Beacon Ave. S., which formerly housed the divey Beacon Pub. Now the only traces of the previous occupant are a few branded beer tokens, framed and hung behind a bar that goes through Campari at an impressive clip. The cocktails I sampled were slightly off-kilter—a glass of unadulterated prosecco is probably the best aperitif available here— but the room's Restoration Hardware–esque stylishness might put you in the mood for something craftier. The dining room at Bar del Corso is lovely: Broadly lit by street-front picture windows, the wooden-floored restaurant is furnished with simple dark tables and ladder-back chairs to match. It tends to be noisy, with seated eaters enjoying themselves and waiting diners anticipating their own meals. In late August, a meal might have started with an exquisite heirloom tomato salad, a clutter of roughly cut tomatoes ranging in hue from celery green to adobe red. Doused with olive oil and dotted with balsamic vinegar, the salted tomatoes cluster around a modestly oozy lump of burrata. It's a salad to make non-gardeners consider putting in a few plants next year. I wish a server had alerted my tables to the availability of bread, which would have been so good for sopping up the oily vestiges of the tomato salad or the garlic wine sauce that surrounded a tureen of plump steamed clams. It's a shame to waste the vivid broth, bobbing with cherry tomatoes and spiked with peppers, but I didn't spy a bread basket until my last pizza plate was cleared. At this early date, Bar del Corso's amiable servers are presumably more concerned with delivering food efficiently than tweaking their charges' orders. Corso has an authentically Italian affinity for ungainly underwater dwellers and very small fish, such as a fat sardine, unfortunately stained with unpleasantly acrid grill marks, bedded on a heavily charred crostino scattered with shredded radicchio. An aggressively grilled octopus which recently showed up on the specials menu is so thickly coated with a tomato-and-cranberry bean sauce that the dish becomes a decent Mediterranean chili. A number of Bar del Corso's starters have a similar lowbrow flair. Fried risotto balls sound very Roman when listed as "suppli al telefono," but taste remarkably Midwestern; the squirty, golden snacks of hot rice and cheese suggest a Minnesotan's version of a jalapeño popper. Salt-cod dip, designed as an Old World riff on crab-artichoke dip, would also be appropriate for a potluck. Cheesy, creamy, and salty, the shareable bubbling dip would surely charm a sailor. For eaters not accustomed to baccala, though, the saltiness is bound to be off-putting. Puréed potatoes and Parmesan can't counterbalance the dip's mineral sting. Many of the pizza toppings are just as salty. Anchovies are supposed to be, of course, but the sophisticated crust's nuances are lost in the cloud of sodium that's sold as a puttanesca. Flourished with raisin-sweet rapini, hot peppers, and garlic, the anchovy pizza is spine-straighteningly salty. The same problem afflicts a pie capped with mozzarella and salami, although to a lesser degree. But when Bar del Corso keeps the salt in check, the results are terrific. A properly understated margherita pizza is on target. And an ortolana pie topped with coppa, swarthy braising greens, smoked mozzarella, and halved cherry tomatoes is more than worthy of its crust. Spunky and satisfying, the pizza justifies the Beacon Hill neighborhood's pre-opening excitement—and its post-opening pride. Price Guide Suppli al telefono $5 Baccala mantecato $10 Crostino $7 Tomato salad $9 Salami pizza $12 Ortolana pizza $12.50  

 
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