SCHERERVILLE | Call Schererville's newest sit-down pizza restaurant, and someone might answer the phone by saying, "Thanks for calling Tomato Bar, what's your favorite color?"
A playful sense of humor pervades Tomato Bar Pizza Bakery in the Shops on Main shopping center, the latest restaurant venture from Cory and Blair Muro, who own the farm-to-table Valley Kitchen & Bar and the original Tomato Bar, both in Valparaiso.
The sign on the door says "no soliciting except between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m." The wine list, for anyone who isn't interested in the more than 20 craft beers and Abita root beer on draft, is described as "short but impressive." The website promises "futuristic online ordering" is coming soon.
But the food is serious — the December pizza of the month, called "Scrooged," features a roasted red pepper puree base, chili spices, chorizo, three types of cheese, poblano peppers, red onion, beans, diced tomatoes and a sour cream swirl. Celebrity chef G. Garvin, a James Beard award nominee, has praised the pizzeria as having a "tasty menu locally sourced for a hip crowd."
Cory and Blair Muro, who are married, opened Valley Kitchen & Bar in 2012, and the first Tomato Bar last year — using a name that chef Cory Muro first came up with while brainstorming what to call Valley Kitchen, one of the country's first casual farm-to-table restaurants. They were approached about opening a new pizzeria in the Shops on Main lifestyle center at Indianapolis Boulevard and Main Street and thought it was a good market since many customers from the area were already driving out to Valparaiso to dine at the Tomato Bar there.
Over the past three years, they have created about 120 jobs. The new Tomato Bar in Schererville, which employs 55 and has been bustling since it opened on Nov. 16, is their biggest restaurant yet. The eatery seats 150 inside, and will open a patio in the spring.
"It's like a runaway dogsled," said Cory Muro, who has worked at pizza restaurants — both good and bad — all over the country. "We've been really busy since we opened and there are a lot of moving parts. We're not robots. We're humans. People make mistakes, so trying to keep the standards really high and the quality really high has been the greatest challenge. But we're always learning and always improving. We're always looking for new and better ways to do something without sacrificing standards."
Tomato Bar's focus is putting out a quality product, he said. The menu is "outside the box," sometimes replacing traditional tomato sauce with a base of oil and garlic, or Alfredo, buffalo or barbecue sauce. The restaurant makes whole-wheat dough fresh every day and keeps its focus honed on pizza.
"We want to do one thing, and do it really well," he said. "We don't want to serve pasta, or French fries and hamburgers. We want to focus on just a few things."
Dining at Tomato Bar is meant to be an experience. Chefs entertain diners by tossing and spinning pizzas in an open kitchen that features a custom-made 3,000 BTU rotating oven that could cook up to 25 large or 45 small pizzas at once.
Action figures such as Spider-Man and Captain America are hidden throughout the uber-contemporary decor, which includes reclaimed lumber from local barns. The idea was to contribute to a family friendly atmosphere by giving kids something to look around for, but Muro also just really likes comic books.
"If you go to Chicago, a lot of the pizza places are older and have a similar Italian theme," he said. "We're just a pizza place with an emphasis on high quality and craft beer in a socially engaging atmosphere. We try to have fun, which I think is why we attract such strong individuals to work here. If you're really good at your job, you can be professional and have fun at the same time. We encourage employees to have fun. It's not Vietnam; we're just making pizza."
Tomato Bar, 79 U.S. 41, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
For information visit www.tomatobarpizza.com.