Historical Review of The Crust Italian Restaurant

The Crust was a well-known Italian restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa. Those of us that remember it fondly may still have trouble saying “was” ever since it became the Barrel House. If you are like me, the departure of the Crust was a blow to the area because of the style of dining offered. Others would disagree and say that it is no loss because of the quality of the food.

I cannot quarrel with the fact that it certainly divided opinion in its time. It had the ambiance, location, and pizza options to be a winner with local families. However, it also had some failings that brought out the inner critic in many diners. I want to look back on the triumphs and mistakes and give a review of the Crust to see precisely what made this restaurant so well-known.

The Location Of Crust Always Brought In The Diners, Regardless Of What Was On The Menu.

This establishment was well-situated on Main St, near the Aquarium. It was in just the right spot that we could pop in whenever we were unsure where to go with the family. It also brought in out-of-town diners coming to the area for the first time.

It was local, accessible, family-friendly, and had a mid-range menu where everyone could usually find something to enjoy. Naturally, this lower-end dining experience meant that there was a mix of comments about the food on offer.

The Crust was always a reliable pizza joint with some excellent desserts, both at a good rate. However, I can understand why some felt that the methods and flavors paled compared to more high-end Italian restaurants.

The Food Was The Aspect Of Crust That Received The Most Mixed Responses From Its Consumer Reviews.

I am not the only one to must appreciated the food here. Some would say that it is because we lowered our expectations, but I saw nothing wrong with that. Some former patrons were less impressed with the quality of the cooking and the range on the menu.

Three elements jumped up multiple times in reviews, to the point where Crust became famous for them. They were pizza, dough balls, and pasta.

Unsurprisingly, this Italian restaurant specialized in pizza. Many of us commended the chefs for their range of specialty pizzas with some unusual toppings and great flavors. A personal selling point to this Iowan take on Italian cuisine was the selection of dishes on the menu.

I admit that this could vary based on the season, but there were usually salads, sandwiches, and other options. One Yelp reviewer that visited in March of 2015 took the time to point out that Crust was happy to cater to the gluten-free crowd. “The front desk mentioned this place as a viable option since we needed a gluten-free menu. We were not disappointed. The food was great.”

The oddity of the “make-your-own-pasta” bar received some mixed responses. Some felt uncomfortable with the concept, preferring a set menu of choices. I thought it added to the relaxing atmosphere of the restaurant.

The pasta was delightful, but there were just too many times when it was poorly made. One Yelp reviewer left the following in May of 2015: “about the food, the pasta leaves a lot to be desired. In my experiences, it’s usually overcooked or seems like it’s been sitting under a heat lamp while it’s been waiting to come out”. Sadly I understand precisely where they are coming from.

The most famous part of the menu, however, had to be the dough balls. It seems strange to me now, but this freebie was the biggest point of contention. Many of us regulars loved the way that those fried doughy balls complimented the meal.

This was especially true whenever we had the excess sauce to mop up. In July 2015, one reviewer gave a 5-star Yelp review stating, “my husband and I were excited with the free bread that came with our dinner. It was like little-fried pieces of heaven”. The problem was that some diners saw through the cheap dough and grease and felt that these nibbles were a little sub-par.

What About The Ambiance And Overall Dining Experience?

There is a vast chasm between some of the 2 star and 5-star consumer reviews that are seen online. The food played a big part here, but so did the service. The worst example I have heard of had to be this experience from a diner in April 2015: “someone in our party ordered a vegetarian salad, and it came slathered in an extreme amount of bacon, I ordered a glass of pinot noir and instead received a glass of Moscato.” This is pretty unforgivable. Thankfully, many diners like myself were always greeted with a smile and a good meal in a reasonable time-frame.

The service and laid-back feel of the place added to the ambiance that Crust provided. As was often mentioned by local diners in consumer reviews, this was not the high-end Italian joint for a fancy meal.

Instead, we went for a cheap date night with a long-time partner or a place to bring the kids. Mediocre is not a word I like to use when talking about restaurants, but it works here. There was nothing about the décor and feel to make people go wow, but they couldn’t complain either. The table arrangements and the décor may have been a little tired, but you could still let the kids make a mess.

The Crust Is A Restaurant That Will Be Missed By Some In The Dubuque Area, But Not All.

This was never the most extravagant Italian premise in town. However, I stand my review of the Crust that it could still provide a decent, affordable pizza for a family meal.

Those of us that understood it and appreciated the basic feel could forgive the sloppy techniques and menu options. It was a place for local couples to get out of the house for a freshly made pizza and a gelato treat.

It was not for the foodies that tried to compare the food to Chicago pizza and “real” recipes. The dough balls may be gone, but I and countless others will remember them fondly. The loss of the pasta, on the other hand, is not being mourned.  I hope you enjoyed walking down memory lane with this review of the Crust.