Craft beer, stromboli and barbecue rolled into one is not as crazy as it sounds
There are a handful of places to get “craft this” and “craft that” around Lancaster – establishments made popular by their craft beers and farm-to-table menus. But what if you could get the full craft experience (literally) from the ground up? From the very seat you’re sitting on, all the way to a patented dish in front of you on a hand-made bar top.
At the new Crazy Tomato Grill – just off the Centerville Road exit of Route 30 – co-owners Mike and George Stantzos recently expanded from two, smaller Crazy Tomato express shops they run in York, which have been around since 2007. Those express shops are built more like small pizza joints, with delivery and pick-up orders as the priority.
The Lancaster location is their first venture into a proper pub and restaurant, and they didn’t hold back. Mike spent a year-and-a-half building and renovating the existing structure, which formerly housed an insurance office. The son of a Greek carpenter, Mike has his fingerprints on nearly everything in the place.
“It’s shorter to make a list of stuff in here I didn’t build,” Mike says.
He’s not kidding. He built all 12 booths, which have a unique metal pipe framing. He built the chairs, the tables and the bar. Nearly 1,300 pieces of pallet wood are built into the walls (which also contain nearly 50 pounds of screws).
It’s difficult to peg Crazy Tomato as any one type of place. There are 30 TVs, which hang virtually everywhere you look. Yet it isn’t a sports bar.
There are 40 craft beers on tap, but this isn’t just a haven for a beer snobs. The tap list is pretty great, though. It’s well curated, with plenty of representation from area stalwarts like Victory, Tröegs and Lancaster Brewing Co., as well as longtime icons such as San Diego’s Green Flash and Delaware’s Dogfish Head, plus up-and-comers like Maryland’s Evolution Craft Brewing. And each tap line is individually temperature-controlled, ensuring that every beer is served at exactly the right temperature for its style.
There are eight wine spigots hooked up to a $20,000 nitrogen-fueled dispensing system, providing an optimal wine experience. But this isn’t a wine bar.
The barbecue is top-notch, but this isn’t a barbecue joint, either.
“We’re Lancaster’s craft restaurant – that’s what we are,” Mike says. “We aren’t an American pub or any other one thing. We make everything from scratch – even the fruit juices and syrups for cocktails.
“What we are is a place that no matter what you want – beer, wine, barbecue, pizza – it’s going to either be made from scratch or served in the best way possible.”
Indeed, despite all of the handmade décor and the beer list, Crazy Tomato’s greatest craft influence is in its menu. And there’s no better place to start than with its signature item – the pretzel stromboli. On the surface, it’s as simple as it sounds – a stromboli with crust similar to pretzel dough. It’s recipe is perfected now, but getting there wasn’t easy.
Beginning in 2007, Mike spent two-and-a-half years getting the recipe right for the pretzel crust. Just incorporating pretzel flour into pizza dough didn’t work. Today’s version uses five different flour varieties, and it couldn’t be made without Lancaster County’s influence.
“One flour comes from an Amish farmer in Lancaster, and you absolutely cannot find it anywhere else in the world,” Mike says. “It’s the secret ingredient, and it’s what finally made this crazy idea work.”
Once Mike perfected the recipe, he needed a way to make it restaurant-friendly. The new recipe was taking 40-50 minutes to bake and rise, and no one is going to wait that long for stromboli.
So, Mike redesigned a $20,000 conveyor oven, tinkering with electrical components and airflow until he ended up with a unit that could roll out his pretzel strombolis in 10 minutes.
When you put that much time, effort and money into a signature product, you patent it. That patent alone has cost Crazy Tomato about the same amount as a liquor license – in the five-digit range.
“I knew I had something special, so you keep going until it’s perfect,” Mike says.
The pretzel stromboli is Crazy Tomato’s signature item, but it may not be the best item on the menu. There are sandwiches, salads, pizza, cheesesteaks, burgers and wraps. And then there is the barbecue, which is amazing.
Mike learned the technique to make Carolina barbecue, and he’s been blessed with a smoker anyone in the business would kill to have. His second-generation Southern Pride SPK-500 rotisserie stainless steel log smoker – which is no longer in production – can smoke hundreds of pounds of meat at once.
When I visited, I had the pulled pork barbecue sliders with fresh-cut fries. The sliders were prepared in the house Carolina barbecue sauce, but I had to try a little bit of each of Mike’s three homemade sauces – Carolina, Sweet Heat and regular barbecue.
His barbecue is spread out across the entire Crazy Tomato menu, including the smoked barbecue brisket pretzel stromboli I devoured. There are craft pizzas loaded with barbecue (one has pulled pork, brisket, bacon and Sweet Heat sauce) and wagyu beef burgers topped with pulled pork.
On June 14, Mike and George (who serves as “the level-headed one” and is responsible for the company’s accounting) celebrate eight years of running Crazy Tomato. The result is going to be an all-out celebration at the Centerville restaurant.
“It’s going to be wild, with drink specials you’ve never seen before,” Mike says. “I’ll just say this: bring your quarters – not your dollar bills.”
• 380 Centerville Road, Lancaster
• Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–12 a.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m.-12 a.m.