by Alice Levitt
118 Pearl Street, Essex Junction, 871-5647
If judging solely on dessert picked up at the counter, I already knew I liked Upper Crust. Since it opened in December, I'd picked up home-baked treats at the pizzeria's counter a few times. The cinnamon roll was soft, buttery and appropriately rich in spice. The chocolate chip cookies retained something similar to a melted-chip, fresh-from-the-oven texture even when fully cooled.
Despite my high marks for the sweets, I didn't try the other food until this weekend.
While perusing the menu, I grabbed a tiny plastic cup of chili from the self-serve soup station. The sample cups are free — a tool to assist in choosing a full-size portion. The chili was mildly spiced, and full of tomato and earthy chile powder and cumin. But I had to save room.
To be fair, it seemed that we should order both a pizza and a sandwich, the two major food items at Upper Crust. But first, a salad.
As you can see in the photo, the vegetables' colors are bright. The friendly waitress admitted that dressings at Upper Crust are not made from scratch, even though the dough, sauce and baked goods are.
However, the balsamic she bought was lovely — slightly thicker than a homemade balsamic vinaigrette
The warm day made an open-face hot turkey sandwich seem less than appealing, so we chose the sandwich special.
The chicken breast was marinated in ranch dressing for a light, mildly creamy tang. The cream continued with melted cheese (Provolone, I believe) and a slathering of slightly spicy chipotle mayo. The widest slabs of bacon I've ever seen added a pleasing crunch.
A big leaf of lettuce and juicy tomato woke up the otherwise somewhat heavy flavors. I appreciated the option of a whole-wheat bun, though it was essentially a supermarket-style burger bun. Since the kitchen does so much baking, I would love to have seen something homemade.
The fries were a perfect compromise between the snack-bar-style fries my boyfriend digs (al dente in the middle and/or limp, but very dark brown) and the kind of fries I like (soft inside, crisp outside and golden brown). These hand-cut, skin-on beauties had all the country-style charm a native Vermonter could want, along with the crisp, salty wonders with which I grew up.
The pizza, however, was more to his taste than mine. I'm a New York gal. The thick, Vermont-style crust is often too greasy or doughy for me.
This specimen, brushed with olive oil, was the former.
Don't get me wrong, it tasted great, and I'm partly to blame for ordering a pizza covered in sweet ham, chunks of bacon, Italian sausage crumbles and pepperoni. However, by the second slice, the center of the pan on which the pizza arrived was a puddle of red grease. The pie got limper as we ate it. My boyfriend was thrilled with it, declaring it possibly the best pizza he's had since Foodee's closed.
Already stuffed, we didn't have room to sample the creemees that Upper Crust recently started offering. Instead, we grabbed a brownie to go. Not just any brownie — a brownie with chunks of chocolate chip cookie in it. Seriously. It was just a step above undercooked, meltingly soft and very chocolaty. Next time I'm at Upper Crust, a brownie sundae is definitely in order.