Friday, September 6, 2013

Custom Fuel Food Review

Custom Model Pizza with Italian Sausage, Mozzarella, Onions and Tomatoes

I'm a firm believer that great pizza is made with crust & generosity. Custom Fuel joins U Street sensation &Pizza in tossing a third hat into the ring... options. DC has become a literal mixing pot, so it stands to reason that the more choices you offer, the merrier your clientele will feel. With over 50 toppings to choose from, Custom Fuel is turning political artery Pennsylvania Avenue into a smörgåsbord of choice. Hear, Hear!

If you're expecting to find a third Fuel stop at 1747 Penn (former home to Boston upstart Upper Crust) you may be somewhat disappointed. The look is similar (although much cleaner) but the pizza, miles better. For starters, assorted sizes and slices are out, replaced by a new standard, 6"x13" rectangle (don't think Ledo... please don't) pie that's custom built to your specifications. Best of all, they open at 10:30 AM (Bacon & Eggs, here I come next time.) I arrived just before 11 to discover a relatively small space bustling with activity, both inside and out (samples!) Custom Fuel just opened, about two weeks ago, and it still has that new car feeling to it (literally.) Love those stools and tables! The atmosphere may be a little more intense than you're used to; but it's a welcome change to an otherwise reserved stretch of eateries near the White House.

It's a touch confusing when you walk in (at least when it's empty.) You need to walk to the back, in order to place an order; then walk back up front to the register to pay and pick up your soda. Thankfully, most of the staff is enthusiastic and helpful (don't be afraid to ask for directions.) Ordering can be a handful, given the plethora of choices... three crusts, seven sauces, nine cheeses (ask for fresh mozza, $.97 more) 19 veggies and 10 different proteins, including pulled pork! Add 10 cold toppings to the mix, and you can see how potentially daunting it can be for a first-timer.

As usual, I tried to keep it simple, opting for a Custom Model ($7.97) with original crust, spicy marinara sauce, caramelized onions, tomatoes and Italian sausage. I forgot about adding a cold topping (the order taker reminded me just before he delivered my pie, but I couldn't think fast enough.) Next time, red peppers! Add in a fountain drink ($1.73) and you're all set for about 10 bucks. It didn't take long (about five minutes) for my pie to arrive; and Custom Fuel gets an A for presentation... Mine came with a gorgeous char on top.

In regards to taste, Custom Fuel scores with most: Spicy Marinara is just that... spicy (and delicious.) Their regular mozzarella is good; but next time, I'm going to heed my own advice and spring for the fresh stuff. Onions were fresh and terrific, and the sausage sufficient (I'm a stickler for the latter.) The original crust needed a hint of salt; and I like my base crusty... This isn't; but it's still plenty good.

What came next, sold me on the future prospects of Custom Fuel (there's another one planned for Georgia Ave., near Howard.) Someone (turns out, he's the baker extraordinaire) walked by my table, and exuberantly asked, 'How's that pie partner?' A little cheesy (pun intended) but I love to see employees excited about their craft, and (more importantly) their customers. 

This latest Fuel seems primed for the long haul, avoiding some of the pitfalls of its bigger, older siblings. Customer service is key: It's easy to take your foot off the gas, once you've been on the road for a while (what's with me and these driving analogies?) Something tells me, Custom Fuel is going to be different.

Atmosphere: B (It takes the best of Fuel, without any of the mess.)
Crust: B- (Not my fave, but it's the kind that others will love.)
Toppings: A (55 toppings? How could I grade it any other way?)
Service: B (Impressive... Let's hope it lasts.)
Value: B (Potential to improve, when you consider how many options there are.)
Overall: B (I had my doubts, but Custom Fuel made a believer out of me.)