The unassuming enclave of the Social at Ebro is a bit of a marvel, considering the fact that it still stands at all and is moderately populated on weekdays. The idea of food park gentrification was a mistake, despite early signs of promise during the early 2010s in the Maginhawa area — what we got from that boom were mediocre food joints, tightly packed and disguised as cohesive units of nightout dining. But the Social is different, a humble indentation in the Poblacion neighborhood that sees moderate foot traffic on weekdays and understands al fresco dining better than most establishments. Perhaps out of every eatery here, it’s the pizza joint Crosta, which has been in the neighborhood for two years, that does the most heavy lifting.
Founded by Ingga Chua with her boyfriend Tommy Woudwyk and her mother Cathy, Crosta began with no glorious aspirations—which is part of what makes the deliciousness of its pizza sort of a surprise. Ingga received no formal culinary training but ambition pedaled her forward through multiple experiments in the kitchen, leading her to set up the first Crosta branch in Batangas. These attempts give us Crosta’s menu, which is novelly categorized into three parts top to bottom: red sauce, white sauce, and vegan.
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“We wanted really to focus on the bases rather than the toppings,” says Ingga. “A lot of people, I think, they choose their pizza based on what type of base they want. Do you want a tomato base? Do you want a cheese base? That’s the first decision people make.” And yeah, the base really is the backbone of the dish. After all, if you’re thinking about getting spaghetti bolognese or carbonara, you’re not really deciding between meatballs or guanciale. You’re thinking, Do I want white or red? Do I want eggs or tomato?
We could begin with the red sauce varieties we sampled, but truth be told, it’s hard to screw up the classics. Crosta’s Basic Bitch, their take on the classic margherita, hits all the right notes, the pairing of basil and tomato in perfect harmony. The Pepperonley is a go-to if you’re not looking for anything fancy about your pies, although there really is something about brick oven baking that does wonders for the dough, lifting both the mozzarella and salami to brighter dimensions.
But once we go down the menu, that’s when things really kick into sixth gear. The Green Sausage pizza’s white sauce cream base is subdued, almost nutty, and that’s exactly how it allows its toppings to shine. The homemade fennel sausage toppings (made by Cathy!) are sure knockouts, assertively flavorful. But due credit should go to the scallions and onions, which cover the entire surface area of each slice (being extra generous with toppings is a Crosta constant, it seems). A liberal serving of fresh greens and red rings yields a kind of mellow brightness with each bite. You gotta give it up to a pizza that makes onions suave without being sharp.
The star shaped Stuffed AF is the stuff of miracles though. The triangle portion has the toothsome chew of a cheesecake, but that may as well be an entree. The crust, stuffed with artichoke and spinach, is as ample as a calzone, the creamy center chew helped by the outer dough’s crispy char. Crosta also makes it a point to season the heck out of all their crust — visible grains of finishing salt adorn the dough — so the crust of Stuffed AF feels like its own meal. It is an achievement that this pie made a real winner out of the pizza portion that most would normally discard.
Ingga is especially proud of the Meatless Lovers, which comes from the vegan part of the menu, and one bite will tell you why. Most imitation meats tend to be on-point with the flavor profile, but fall short when it comes to mimicking the mouthfeel of good ol’ fashioned animal. But the “Beyond Meat” sausage and patty (plant-based, made mostly from soy) for some reason perfectly imitate the grind and gristle of beef. Cashew cheese coats each slice and trades the natural saltiness of mozzarella for a somewhat milkier vibe. The dulcet bitterness of red and yellow bell peppers mingles with the glassy sweetness of white onion.
“Pizza’s the great equalizer. Everybody should have access to great pizza, regardless of what you like to eat,” Ingga says. “So we wanted to make sure even the non-meat or non-dairy lovers have access to great pizza. We do not wanna discriminate anybody.”
I don’t believe that vegan alternative dishes were invented to trick meat eaters into getting their greens in — vegetables and soy are effing great, and don’t need to prove themselves to anyone by tasting like meat. But there is a deceptive appeal to the way Meatless Lovers looks so much like the Manager’s Choice order of your favorite fast food pizza place. But, y’know, at least five times tastier.
One peculiar thing about Crosta’s menu is that unlike any other general Italian cuisine establishment, it lacks sides. No pasta, no breadsticks, not even dessert. (Crosta did briefly have a dessert pizza that apparently had dollops of Nutella — since discontinued — but dessert pizzas never hit the mark anyway (Lookin’ at you, Project Pie). And I mean, fine. Crosta’s craft is so targeted and committed, that any other jazzy accoutrements would just get in the way. From base to topping, Crosta’s pizza goes where it needs to go, and takes you along for the ride.
Crosta Pizzeria is located in The Social, 5770 Ebro Street, Poblacion, Makati.
Photographs by Paulo Valenzuela