The Lobster Ravioli Calzone from Calzone Connection

Calzone Connection

Arizona Pizzeria Builds Online-Only Concept Around Calzones

The founder of Crust Simply Italian has launched Calzone Connection, offering artisanal calzones for online ordering and delivery/carryout only.

  • Calzone Connection, an offshoot of Crust Simply Italian, offers specialty craft calzones filled with artisanal ingredients such as lobster ravioli, lasagna and linguini Alfredo with bacon.
  • Founder Michael Merendino said the concept arose out of the restaurant’s practice of serving staffers unique meals that weren’t available on his pizzeria’s menu.

Related: Taking your calzones to the next level

Crust Simply Italian, a two-store pizza company in Arizona, is narrowing its focus for a new online-only venture called Calzone Connection,

The ghost kitchen concept launched on February 16 with specialty craft calzones for pickup or delivery out of Crust Simply Italian’s brick-and-mortar locations in Scottsdale and Chandler. A third Crust Simply Italian store is scheduled to open later this year in Gilbert.

The artisanal calzones will feature fillings such as lobster ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and linguini Alfredo with bacon. The company says the calzones are “roughly the size of a football … [and] meant for either one extremely hungry person or to share, especially if you order a side salad and cannoli with it.”

Prices range from about $15 to the low $20s.

Michael Merendino

Michael Merendino, who founded Crust Simply Italian, is a first-generation Italian-American from Long Island, N.Y.  His mother hailed from Abruzzi, Italy, and cooked authentic Italian food for the family while his dad, who was born and raised in Sicily, told stories about his hometown of Toretta around the dinner table. His father operated Francesca’s, a pizzeria in Great Neck, Long Island, and developed the Rustica Pizza, which is a mainstay on the menu at Crust Simply Italian,

The idea for Calzone Connection, according to Merendino, grew out of the restaurant’s practice of cooking staffers unique meals that weren’t offered on the regular menu. “We go beyond the dishes we’re serving—we love to create our own,” Merendino said. “These menu items we put together are what we used to eat growing up in my father’s pizzeria.”

To get through the “dark days” of the pandemic, he noted, the staff would eat and drink together and have fun in the kitchen. “We started making these wild calzones,” he recalled. The staff kept asking Merendino to make them again and again and urged him to start serving the calzones to Crust Simply Italian’s guests as well.

Calzone Connection’s fare can only be ordered online, and delivery is offered through various third-party apps while pick-up is available at the two brick-and-mortar restaurants during regular business hours.