I went to jury duty the other day, and yes, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The only good thing about the hours of endless waiting was that is was peppered with random hour breaks that I used to stuff my face at the Reading Terminal Market, (Profi's Creperie!) or catch up on some reading. While digging my way through the stack of reading material I brought with me I stumbled upon an article in Philadelphia Magazine about deep-dish pizza. The first line in the article read, "Philly is officially a pizza town now...". I love Philly, and it is many things, but unfortunately a pizza town, I believe it is not.
I'll admit. I'm a little hard on pizza places. Growing up my parents took me to what I will likely always believe is the best pizza place in the world, De Lorenzo's in Trenton, NJ. Now. I have to clarify two things here. First. They do not make "pizza" there. They make "tomato pies". Basically more tomato, less cheese and a crust so thin you can see through it. Second. Don't be fooled by impostors. The original De Lorenzo's was in a tiny row-house on Hudson Street in Trenton (they now have another location in Robbinsville) and it had no bathroom (I kid you not...don't ask me who they had to pay off to get away with it...I'm just reporting the facts). Here is a screen shot of the google-map street view.
Perhaps after years and years of eating pizza from this NJ institution I've developed a bit of a prejudice against pizza. It was bound to happen. But lately I've been trying to open my mind, and my mouth (not a difficult feat), in hopes of finding some other pizza gems here in Philly. I HAVE in fact found a few winners, but Philly still has, in my mind, a long way to go if they want to "officially" be "a pizza town". Here are my Philly pizza hits and misses...so far...
The Pizza and Wine Bar
Ahhhh the pizza and wine bar. Just when you thought it didn't get any better on a Friday night than pizza and a beer you find out that you might want to trade in that PBR for a Pinot Noir. I've been to two pizza and wine bars here in Philly. Pizzeria Stella and Zavino.
Of the two, Pizzeria Stella is my favorite, hands down. I posted about Stella a few months back (link to post) and gave it a rave review. The pizza, the small plates, the wine selection and the wait staff were all amazing. I constantly try to re-create their grilled octopus salad and just thinking about their Tartufo pizza (picture right...sorry about the quality), which features black truffles and is topped with a sunny side up egg, makes my mouth water. I have to say. If Philly wanted to make it's mark on the pizza world, Stella is doing a good job of setting the bar high.
Zavino, unfortunately, didn't wow me. The small plate of Fish Crudo was lovely in appearance and superior in terms of freshness, however it was completely lacking flavor. No salt. No acid. Both were sorely needed. The pizza we ordered was the Sopressata, which featured, quite simply, tomato sauce, mozzarella, sopressata, olives and pickled red onion. It sounds fantastic right!? Unfortunately I found it to be lacking flavor as well. The crust was fantastic, I must say, but the flavors were muddled (how they manged that I haven't the foggiest) and they all fell flat. I might, however, give them another try as their ingredients were top notch and the service was second to none. Honestly. I even emailed myself our waiter's name so I could give him a shout out. Thanks Gary. You were wonderful!
The "Classic" and "Boutique" Pizza Joint:
Nick and I live a block from one of the better brick oven pizza joints in Philly...thank goodness. Soho Pizza in Old City is a lifesaver to us. It's pretty much our go-to place when we're returning home from a long trip, when our fridge is empty or when all we can think about is a slice of pizza and a beer. As a matter of fact, I recently had a conversation with a guy in my building who compares all of his pizza's with that of our neighborhood Soho. Apparently he's a fan as well. Soho is a winner in my book because of the crust. It's not the thin, crispy "pizza and wine bar" type crust I wrote about earlier. It's a sweet, chewy and downright addictive crust that I could eat on it's own...no toppings needed. Actually, when it comes to toppings at Soho I tend to be less than excited but perhaps that's because I'm blinded by the dough. They have a little bar next door and serve brewskie's. They also have some decent outdoor seating that is packed 24/7 in good weather. Me likey.
Then there's Tacconelli's. Do a google search of "best pizza in Philly" and it comes up over and over again. I've actually never eaten there. Let me explain. The hubby and I drove up there, six pack in hand one evening. We stood at the front door for, and I'm not exaggerating, almost 30 minutes and no one approached us or even acknowledged that we were there. I have never experienced anything like it. We stood there for about 10 minutes at first and we saw a few waitresses come in and out of the room, but then they disappeared. What troubled us was that the room was full of diners...and none of them were eating. Not one table had a pizza on it. Finally, when a waitress re-entered the room Nick made a b-line for her and was informed that you need to call and pre-buy or reserve your DOUGH before you come. What!? Seriously!!?? Reserve my ass...the restaurant wasn't even close to full! So we left. I may return, dough reserved, just because I MUST know what the fuss is about. We'll see.
On our way home from Tacconelli's that evening we realized we still needed to find somewhere to eat. Driving through Northern Liberties I spotted this place called Rustica and since we already had a six pack in hand and pizza on our minds, we stopped. This is what I love about Philly. You can find little gems when you least expect it. We sat down, opened our beers (BYOB!!!) and ordered the Bistecca del Tartufo. It was a white pizza with truffled steak and caramelized onions...and it was AMAZING. Seriously. Where has this pizza been all my life? It was the perfect combination between crispy (super duper crispy) thin crust, chewy outer dough and flavorful ingredients. We could not get over what a find this place was. If you're looking for an all around great piece of pizza I highly recommend you try Rustica. It's on 2nd street in that Northern Liberties "restaurant row" next to Standard Tap. I can't say enough about this place. Go there and see for yourself.
These pizza joints just happen to be some of the more stand-out places in my mind, but that doesn't mean that this post is the end all be all of Philly Pizza Picks. I'm going to keep-on-keepin'-on in my search for the best pizza Philly has to offer, and that's where you come in. As much as I would love to eat at EVERY pizza joint in Philly, I'm afraid if I did my bathroom scale would stage a coup. So please either email me YOUR favorite pizza places in town or leave a comment about it. Maybe together we can unearth some more round, cheesy hidden gems.