Meet the Man Behind Urban Crust’s Crusts
“You know, being Italian, wine and food is in our DNA,” Chef Tore says over a glass of Sardinian wine. The Cannonau he’s pouring is from his hometown, Dorgali, made from grapes grown at a vineyard he worked in as a youth. The guy behind all the delectable Italian dishes at Urban Crust, Salvatore Gisellu — “Chef” or “Tore” as he’s known by friends — brings authentic Sardinian traditions to life in the Downtown Plano Arts District.
To say he’s genuine is a bit of an understatement. Chef serves Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella alongside stories of growing up learning to make cheese by hand, working the family olive fields and helping out in the neighborhood wine cantina. Each flavorful layer of the pizza is delicious, from the fresh tomatoes and garlic down to the dough, hand made that morning by the same team of women at Urban Crust who have put it together every day at four in the morning for the last eight years.
Chef is welcoming, friendly and full of funny cooking tales that put his guests at ease. His passion for food and entertaining made him a perfect fit for a new venture envisioned by owners Bonnie and Nathan Shea, when they first purchased the iconic three-story property almost a decade ago. Just around from the corner from Urban Crust is Bonnie’s company and restaurant namesake, Urban Oil and Gas, which is also a stone’s throw from Urban Rio Cantina and Grill.
The three companies will join another concept in about a year when their next restaurant opens nearby. “It’s going to be a little seafood restaurant, which is a passion of Nathan’s,” says Tore, who’s equally excited about the project, having grown up on an island. The style will be simple, affordable and fresh, featuring signature dishes that combine Chef’s background with flavors Nathan loves.
For now, Chef Tore seems happy to focus on Urban Crust, which is keeping him busy with exciting new additions. “It’s like a train without brakes,” he says laughing. “It keeps going and going. The day I think I’m getting bored, they come in and say, ‘Hey, want to do brunch?’” Held each Sunday, brunch allows the restaurant a chance to feature another esteemed chef, Nathan’s mom, who drops by to bake Challah bread for the restaurant’s infamously indulgent Italian French Toast.
This kind of tradition is part of everything that goes on at Urban Crust, from how the tomato sauce is made down to the way the staff is treated like family. And Chef’s own family, native to the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy, has its own unique influence on the menu. Take The Godfather, Nathan and Tore’s favorite cheese and anchovy pizza, for example. “We eat it all the time, and we put a funny name on it,” Chef laughs, after describing the thin Sardinian bread his mom used to make for him and his brother when they were kids.
“I remember coming back from school, and it’s in the pan already made,” he recollects. “The dough is in there, the fresh tomatoes and the garlic. And it was always cheese that she made from cow’s milk and anchovies. And that was it. I mean nothing else. How simple it was. I still remember the flavors.”
Still, Chef’s creativity allows him to break from tradition to try new flavors, from vegan fare to barbecue, the latter of which he’s come to appreciate here in Texas. He laughs and says when he first came to the state, he’d expected more cowboys and horses.
However different in real life, Dallas had already made an impression on Tore before he arrived state side. “I was 21 then. I was telling my mom, ‘I’m going to move to Texas, to Dallas. I found this job as a chef, and I’m going to go there.’ And she was like, ‘Wow, Dallas… like J.R. Dallas?’’” Asked if he’s ever been to see Southfork Ranch, he laughs. “When my mom came in, I took her over there. And it was like I took her to see the pope.”Urban Crust >