Smart fast-casual operators focus on doing a few items really well: noodles, say, or burritos and tacos. The team that opened Crushed Red earlier this year — prolific local restaurant consultant Chris LaRocca; chef Jason Tilford of Barrister's and Milagro Modern Mexican; former Panera national bakery director Mike Marino; and father-son investors Ralph Kalish Jr. and Powell Kalish — are smart operators. In Clayton's crowded restaurant landscape, they identified an obvious, yet unfilled void of quality pizzas and salads, and they struck. The pizza is perfectly sized for an individual diner, its thin, tasty crust topped with ingredients both familiar (mushroom, pepperoni and sausage with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese) and more, shall we say, contemporary (shrimp and artichoke; chipotle-barbecue chicken). The salads, tossed and chopped right in front of you, are impeccably turned out and flavorful. The entire operation manages to provide convenience, speed and value without sacrificing quality. If Crushed Red follows the Panera path to national dominance, just remember: You read it here first.
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