Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tacconelli's NJ Best New Jersey Pizza

Recently, I was going to do a review of the famous Tacconelli’s Pizzeria on East Somerset Street but every time that I try to go there they are booked or something else comes up (like they close down 2 weeks for vacation). Besides, what is a best Philadelphia pizza blog without at least one review of a place that has been generally accepted as the best Philly pizza for some time now? So I thought to myself “aren’t there any other options available?” With a little research I found out that the same family owns a second location in Maple Shade, NJ with the same name. I know this location isn’t in Philly but its origins are so I decided to give it a try.

Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ is located at 450 South Lenola Road, Maple Shade, NJ (only about 15-20 minutes outside of Philly towards the Cherry Hill Mall). Their current hours of operation are similar to the original pizzeria: Closed Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday and Saturday open 4-9:30; Thursday and Friday open 11:30-9:30; and Sunday 3-8. There hours of operation are a bit more flexible than the original pizzeria.

Before I begin… Tacconelli’s Pizzeria is extremely popular throughout Philly and a true review would not be worthy unless some background is in order. The following is the story of Tacconelli’s Pizzeria as told by Vince and Doris Tacconelli:

"In 1918, Giovanni Tacconelli traveled from his hometown of Chieti,
Italy to Philadelphia. After a few years working as a laborer, he decided to do
what he'd done in his native land - bake bread. The best and only way to do so,
he said, was to bake it in a brick oven. So, along with a few of his friends, he
built a 20' x 20' brick oven. The bread business went well until the outbreak of
WWII, at which time his sons- all of whom had helped him run the family
business- were drafted into military service. With no one around to help him,
Giovanni had no choice but stop baking bread.

In 1946, with everyone home from the war, Giovanni had a
brainstorm; rather than simply make bread, he decided to use his massive brick
oven to make Old World "tomato pies", a skill his mother had taught him many
years before. A skill that in time he would pass on to his own son, Anthony.

In 1998, after decades of operating an award-winning restaurant,
Anthony and Sylvia's son, Vince and his wife Barbara Tacconelli decided to
retire. They entrusted their business, which by now had become a Philadelphia
institution, to their younger son, Vince, Jr. Vince and his wife Doris would
successfully operate the pizzeria for the next five years, from 1998 - 2002.
In 2003, Vince decided it was time to take Tacconelli's to the next level.
That's when He and Doris opened a second Tacconelli's Pizzeria closer to their
home in Maple Shade, NJ.

Of course, some changes were inevitable. At Tacconelli's - Maple
Shade there is no need to reserve your dough; in fact, walk-ins are welcome. At
Tacconelli's - Maple Shade, we serve three types of salads (with homemade
dressings) and a variety of delectable desserts. And at Tacconelli's - Maple
Shade, we're open for lunch Thursday and Friday.

Some things, though, never change: at Tacconelli's - Maple Shade
you'll find Vince Jr. making the same freshly-baked, award-winning pizzas he
made at Tacconelli's - Philadelphia. The ingredients, and even most of the
cooks, are the same. So it is our commitment to our customers, namely to not
tamper with Giovanni Tacconelli's inimitable recipe for delicious, thin-crust
"tomato pies"."

Tacconelli’s Pizzeria’s New Jersey location actually dominates the original in many categories. First, they are open more hours. Second, the place is much bigger. Third, the brick oven is a gas oven instead of oil burning. This causes them to be able to cook more pizzas as long as they want. Fourth, you don’t need to reserve dough (Absurd). This is caused by the better oven in the new location. Also there are many more employees. Fifth, the menu selection is larger including salads and desserts.

Basically, the second location is operated the way a quality pizzeria should be – like a business. The other location produces a great pizza (we’ll save this for another review) but this is after the many inconveniences that a customer must face. If you have an old brick oven that only makes one pizza at a time but the demand is great then change the damn oven! Simple. That is the business way. Their old oven may have been good 50 years ago but as a business expands there needs to be adjustments made. They should also consider expanding the building too. OK…back to my review of Tacconelli’s Pizzeria in New Jersey.

There are 5 major gourmet thin crust pizzas served by Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ: the white pie, the signature pie, the red pie, the tomato pie, and the marinara pie. You can also add other toppings, which include: Onions, Mushrooms, Sweet Peppers, Chopped Tomatoes, Sweet Sausage, Pepperoni, Anchovies, Olives, Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Extra Cheese, Pesto, BBQ Sauce, Fresh Basil (when available). Each pie is about 12 inches round.

I sampled the signature, red, and marinara pie. The crust on all of the pies varied. At minimum, each pie was slightly charred on the tops and bottom (very slight). However, the signature pie’s crust was different. First, the charring was stepped up a notch to medium char. Also, the edge of the crust was sprinkled with extremely tiny charred crust specks. This produced a very tasteful and unique crust (this may be a reason that it is their most popular pizza).

The pizzas were also thin crust but I debate that. I guess what constitutes a thin crust can be interpreted differently depending on the person. For me, thin crust is super thin like Slice or Pizzeria Stella by Stephen Starr. With that style of thin crust, my consumption level can double easily. For example, if I am hungry for 4 slices of regular traditional pizza, I would be able to eat a whole pie that day of thin crust, etc. Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ has thin crust that is more filling then the ultra thin crust pizzas served by many others. I could not eat as much here without getting full. The thickness of the pizza is about ½ inch, slightly shy of traditional American style pizza crust. So we can call this thin crust with a very loose definition of thin crust.

Another good quality about this pizza was the foldability. This pizza was able to be folded without cracking. The crust produces a very crispy texture that was still solid enough to not crack and cause a mess (that many bad pizzas do).

Tacconelli’s sauce, in general, is very sweet and tangy. This is a very good quality for me as I believe that it is important to taste the sauce. Many pizzas have a bland sauce that blends in the background but not here. Their sauce makes you crave more. You find yourself searching for the next big sauce spot on the pizza to fill that sauce void. You can almost ask for a side of sauce to go with your pizza (but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the ingredients).

The marinara pizza had a slightly different sauce as it was a bit spicier. Their marinara sauce was slightly coated with a base of their sauce. That sauce is cooked to a golden brown and topped with grated Asiago cheese. I enjoyed the marinara pizza sauce but I preferred the original sauce found in their red pie better as the sweet tangy sensation was much more prevalent.

The red pie had about a fifty fifty mix of sauce and cheese. The cheese made this more of a traditional American style pizza. However, that style calls for cheese on top of sauce. That wasn’t exactly the case with their red pie. They put cheese on top of sauce and then a few dashes of sauce on top of the cheese – a hybrid. If you wanted just sauce and no cheese then you could have chosen the tomato pie pizza.

The signature pie did not have any pure sauce on there. It is a white pie, topped with cheese, garlic, spinach, and large chopped tomatoes throughout the pie. The final effect was delicious.

The signature pie was definitely my favorite because of how the crust was done. My only regret is not trying the traditional tomato pie. I think that I may have enjoyed this because I would like to eat their pizza with just the sauce (it was that good).

The service was excellent at Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ. For a busy night, the waitress kept checking in on my table to see if I needed anything else.

The price was reasonable for one of the best New Jersey pizza places (if not the best NJ pizza): The plain was $11.50 for the whole pie; $12.25 for the marinara; and $15 for the signature. Three pizzas can easily accommodate 6 people. This makes the price per head extremely cheap for quality gourmet pizza.

I have made a special exception for Tacconelli’s and allowed them to be included amongst other best Philly pizzas because of their history as a true Philadelphian Italian pizzeria and their close proximity to Philly (15 minutes). However, when I start a Best New Jersey Pizza Club, they will be on that list as well. Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Tacconelli's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza is located at 2229 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Established in 1996, Mama Palma’s has won many awards from various sources over the past 13 years. Their popularity in Philadelphia has caused them to be recognized as one of the most popular pizza restaurants next to Tacconelli’s and Pizzeria Stella.

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza has had many mixed reviews over the past few years from its customers. I have explored their reviews from several sources and have found some gruesome stories that if true would cause them to be highly frowned upon in my book. However, from my recent experience there, I have disproved some of these comments. For example, one major topic is the owner’s thuggish appearance and horrible treatment to customers with children. This was not the case that I witnessed. Actually it was the opposite. There were several couples with children in the restaurant while I was there and all were given the highest customer service. The staff was very friendly and seemed to take care of their customers including myself and company.

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza is located on the corner of 23rd and Spruce in Center City Philadelphia. The restaurant is average in size with about 15 tables. The place is very nice…definitely an upscale restaurant. However, nowhere near as beautiful as Stephen Starr’s Stella (he must have pumped a lot of money in that place).

When you first walk in you are greeted by the cashier and the wood fired oven on the left. The chef makes the pizza right in front of the wood fire burning oven. As you sit at your table you can admire all of the many awards that are framed on the wall for best Philadelphia pizza. On a cold day you can also stare at the fire in the oven as the chef makes the pizza and appreciate that you are in a warm environment. There is something about staring at a contained fire in a cozy atmosphere to make you feel at home (particularly when you know that it is cooking the food that you will be eating).

Let’s talk about their oven. According to Mama Palma’s, their brick oven is imported from Europe. Unlike conventional ovens, theirs can achieve a combination of roasting, baking, and smoking. The intense heat from the hardwood seals in the flavor that creates the many wonderful tastes of their pizza.

As stated, the waitress and waiters were all very nice to their customers. I experienced a very inviting atmosphere. However, one thing that I thought was interesting was the hospitality section on the menu of Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza. It states: “Mama Palma’s likes to treat our customers like family. When we are busy and other families are waiting, we would appreciate it if you could release your table after you have finished and allow us to seat others. La Famiglia Russo.” That was a nice way of putting it to get lost when you are finished. Well... at least they tried to be professional about it. They probably experience a lot of loiters who sit there for hours and order one pizza. This is a fancy place and I understand that they have a big waiting list. This must be the solution that they have come up with after 13 years in business.

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza Review: First let me recommend ordering a specialty beer to wash down your pizza. While in an Italian restaurant you should drink Italian beer…Peroni of course. There are so many options on their menu that may make your head spin trying to decide on what to order. Although they specialize in pizza, Mama Palma’s also has a nice salad and pasta selection. Some of the gourmet pizzas that they have include: Peking duck, Maryland crab and asparagus, wheat pizza, low fat pizza, seafood, and veggie pizzas.

I ordered a medium 12 inch “pizza de mare” (seafood pizza). This pizza is a combination of fresco and garlic olive oil bases topped with shrimp, clams, and mozzarella. The crust was semi charred and thin. The slices became extraordinarily thin at the bottom so that the crust started to fold backwards automatically. This required the use of two hands. This may be due to the amount of toppings that were placed on the top of the pizza (plenty). The edge of the crust was also slightly charred from the flame and very crispy crunchy. This isn’t exactly the way New York pizza critics like their wood fired pizzas as there was only a very slight charring unlike Stella’s pizzeria which had a bit more char and air bubbles on the edge. Here the edge did not have any air bubbles from the dough and was very thin yet crispy. The 12 inch pie worked well. Someone who is a big eater can easily eat this whole pizza if they were very hungry (such as me).

The seafood pizza did not have any sauce per se but it did have big chunks of tomatoes throughout. There was also a good amount of small shrimp and clam slices. The mozzarella cheese was barely noticeable as the many other flavors in the pizza were the obvious dominant ones. Of particular notice was the olive oil base that made this pie a very messy one to eat. There was enough olive oil on the slices that they will drop off the edges and onto your fingers almost inevitably. This is not the same type of grease that you would experience at an average Joe pizzeria though. It was real olive oil and was only used moderately.

The price of this pizza was very expensive but it is a price that is deserving of true gourmet pizza. The 12 inch pizza was $19.50. This would be a few more dollars than Stella’s Pizzeria. Despite its price, I am very impressed with the overall package delivered by this place. The pizza was excellent. The menu selection of gourmet pizzas was diverse and unique. The atmosphere was very relaxing and comforting. The staff was hospitable. The location is ideal along a quaint street in Center City Philadelphia. The price was a bit high but I believe that you get what you pay for. In this case, the total package justifies the price; hence, there was much value to it.

Mama Palma’s Wood Fired Brick Oven Gourmet Pizza – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Mama Palma's Gourmet Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 19, 2009

LaScala’s Italian Restaurant Pizza Review

LaScala’s Italian American Homestyle Restaurant is located at 615 Chestnut, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Established in 2005, LaScala’s is actually the seventh location of Apollo Pizza. This is their only full scale restaurant and is their biggest representation of their company here in Philadelphia. Apollo pizza originated in 1969 with the birth of their family’s pizza recipe. The true history of this company began over 80 years ago when Frank Rocchino and Charles LaScala arrived in Philadelphia from Italy. This new location was named after these relatives to honor them.

LaScala’s Italian Restaurant in Center City Philadelphia is a beautiful place. The details inside there are amazing from the brick walls cleaned and pointed all around to the big bar. They also have giant windows for you to view the Philadelphia Center City passer bys while enjoying your meal. There is also a very big room in the back that I believe is reserved for catering.

The menu at Lascala’s is very diverse. You can order basically any type of Italian food there from pasta to pizza. They are famous for their pizzas though as they have won several awards. Their pizza is gourmet fine dining style pizza. They have many different types of pizza too and you can customize it based off what kind of toppings that you would like.

I ordered one of their specialty pizzas that had clams, bacon, tomato sauce, pepper flakes, and parmesan. Their pies were really good. Their thin crust crust was slightly charred and had a harder crust the closer you went towards the handle of the pie. Actually the edge had a semi irregular shape from the effects of the hardening of the crust.

The sweet tomato sauce had semi large chunks of tomato underneath all of the other toppings. The tomato sauce definitely stood out even though there were plenty of other toppings on there. The top of the pie had thin long slices of parmesan cheese spread throughout the pie. There were small slices of clams mixed well with small bits of bacon on top. The pizza had a nice spicy kick to it as the pepper flakes were used well. The final effect was a very good pizza.

There was one catch – the waitress. My waitress was nice but very airheaded. Her lack of attention to my group’s order caused a bit of a problem. I had order several items for our group and she forgot the main entrée. So everybody waited for about a half hour until finally we asked her for our food and she showed an expression of “I don’t remember you ordering that.” Thus, the meal was incomplete and my group was not happy.

Another problem that I had was when I presented a large dollar bill and asked for change the cents were not given (just the dollars). I don’t want to sound thrifty but a customer deserves to have their full change back not partial. It doesn’t matter if it is a penny. The common courtesy approach would be to ask if they want the small change not simply just to exclude it.

I really am having a hard time putting LaScala’s into the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club because of the bad service. However, there pizza and the atmosphere were really good. The price wasn’t bad either. The pizza only cost $12 and it is the type of gourmet pizza that is worth every penny. So I will give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they only have one airheaded waitress and hope that next time I will be served a little better.

LaScala’s Italian Restaurant – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Lascala's Italian American Home-style on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New York Italian Bakery Pizza Review

Do you recall when I first started this website that I said that I will disclose most of Philly’s secret pizza places? I introduce to you another fine example of what I meant. New York Italian Bakery is located at 2215 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148. Established in 1926, New York Italian Bakery should now be called Philadelphia Italian Bakery as they have become a pure example of a great Philly Italian bakery.

New York Italian Bakery is a buy and go place. They don’t have fancy options like delivery or dine in. Their store is very small scale. Actually there is only a small place to stand when you enter. They also sell a limited variety of Italian bread and they only sell 2 kinds of square pizza: regular tomato pie and white pizza. Despite their limited selection, what they do sell they make it well.

The story behind New York Italian Bakery pizza is that they used to sell it only on Sundays for many, many years up until recent times. Now they sell pizza seven days a week but only the tomato pie. The sell a white pizza but only make it on Fridays. This is their house and their house rules apply.

Let’s talk about their famous pizza that most true Philadelphians know about. It is so basic but so good that words can’t hardly describe it (but I’ll try). The tomato slices cost less than a $1 each. I actually bought 3 for $2.40 (that comes out to 80 cents apiece). The crust is definitely what makes this pizza unique. They make their square pizza in a small thin pan and cut them into many small slices to sell individually. The pan is nice and oiled up before it is put in their brick oven. The crust comes out crunchy with a buttery shining effect. The crust is not too thick compared to other Philly Italian bakeries (about ¾ inch). There isn’t a speck of char (ironic for a placed called New York Italian Bakery) on their pizza crust. Charring their crust is not their style.

New York Italian Bakery puts an extra thin coat of pure Italian tomato sauce on top of their crust. It is almost like they spread it on there the way you would spread butter on toast. In the sauce you can see dark specs of oregano or parsley under the tomato sauce (the sauce spread is that thin). There isn’t any cheese on this pie.

For the value and the taste, New York Italian Bakery is where you will obtain a true Philadelphia pizza experience. The staff is very friendly too. Just be prepared to eat the pizza room temperature unless you can wait 20 minutes for a fresh pan to come out.

New York Italian Bakery – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

New York Bakery on Urbanspoon

Carangi Baking Company Square Pizzas

Carangi Baking Company is located at 2655 South Iseminger Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (between 12th and 13th on Oregon Avenue). Carangi's Bakery first opened in 1996 by Lou Carangi on 4th and Brown Streets in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The original Carangi's was just a bakery without the cafe or retail space. In 1998, Lou decided to move the business to the current location.

The slogan of Carangi Baking Company is “The most complete Italian bread bakery in South Philly.” I don’t agree with the “most” part but they certainly have their act together. They sell a wide variety of products including: coffee, cappuccino, espresso, various rolls, bagels, muffins, Jewish bread, breadsticks, dinner rolls, hamburger rolls, pane, Stromboli, and bread crumbs and dough. Oh… and pizza. There were several types of pizza laid out on a small pan upon my visit.

Carangi Baking Company has several pizza choices to select from. They have cheese, tomato, white, wheat, broccoli rabe and roasted peppers, pompei, sausage, spinach and tomato, tomato, roasted peppers, and capers, and white with brochette, long hots, or sautéed peppers and onions.

The slices here are so cheap at $1 for cheese and $1.25 for the rest. The slice is a nice 4-6 inch square slice (give or take). The crust had no signs of char and was about an inch or so thick with a small handle to hold the slices. The crust had a buttery crunchy texture as this pizza was baked in their oven with the pan (the pan was very thin).

I ordered the pepperoni slice. This consisted of 1 giant thin slice of pepperoni on the whole slice. The pizza was served room temperature. This appears to be the trend with Italian bakery pizza in Philadelphia. They don’t warm up the pizza unless you ask them. Otherwise the pizza ranges from cold to room temperature unless you just caught them taking it out of the oven. Even though it is not hot, the pizza still tastes very good.

The pizza had a significant amount of cheese on top. Under the cheese was about a half inch thick sweet tomato sauce. The texture and thickness of the crust allowed for a good portion of toppings to be placed on top.

Overall, the value of Carangi Baking Company’s pizza combined with an award winning taste has put them ahead of the competition. Actually compared to some of the pizzerias that I have visited near City Hall in Center City, there isn’t any competition. Those pizzerias were overpriced and lousy. If you want real Philly Italian pizza then you have to go where the Italians in Philly go. Little Italy, South Philadelphia happens to be one of the most popular of those places.

Carangi Baking Company - welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Carangi Baking on Urbanspoon

Villari’s Bakery Pizza Review

Villari’s Bakery is another perfect example of how you can find great pizza in Philly out of a traditional pizzeria setting. They are located at 2134 South 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148. Villari’s Bakery has been around since 1970 and continues to be very popular in Little Italy, South Philadelphia. They are a very tiny bakery run by an Italian family. Their operation is very small scale. The man who owns the place, Mr. Villari, serves many roles including baker and cashier. It appears that he only bakes a small amount of product at a time.

Villari’s Bakery is not a sit it or delivery operation. You buy and leave but mostly not without a good conversation, Italian style. The owner is very friendly and is always full of smiles.

Villari’s Bakery only sells bread and pizza (not pastries). The pizza that he sells is very limited in scope. I have only seen 3 types for sale: plain tomato pie square, plain tomato pie round, and white pizza (no cheese) round.

I ordered the tomato pie square and the white pizza. The crust on their pizza is very similar. There aren’t any signs of char just nice soft crust (this is the baker’s touch).

The slices on the square tomato pizza are about 4 by 6 inches (that is a guess considering I didn’t bring my ruler). The tomato sauce is a thin spread of sweet tomato sauce across the top of the crust. It is a thin coat of tomato sauce but yet not too thin (a little similar to New York Italian Bakery). The sauce has an undertone of various spices (possibly oregano and parmesan cheese). There isn’t any cheese on this pizza or any other of Villari’s pizzas either.

The round pizza is a 4-6 inches in diameter personal pizza that has an irregular shape around the edges. The white pizza is very interesting because there isn’t any cheese and yet the pizza tastes really good. In the center of the pizza are small slices of spices mostly chopped garlic pieces. There is also a thin coat of olive oil that is spread on top. The final effect is a really good pizza.

The best part about this pizza is that it only costs about $1.50 for both slices that I ordered. Do you realize how cheap that is in America today? This same pizza if sold in a fancy uptown coffee or pizza shop would range from $3-$5 a slice. Here we have 2 slices for half the price of 1 fancy pizzeria and the taste is so much better and fresher (they are baked fresh everyday).

Villari’s Bakery is another great example of great pizza in Philly that the tourists don’t know much about. Villari’s Bakery – welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Villari Brothers Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Criniti’s Ristorante Italiano Pizza Review

Criniti’s Ristorante Italiano Cucina Mediterranea Review

Criniti’s Ristorante Italiano Cucina Mediterranea (or Criniti’s Italian Restaurant) is located at 2611 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (a few blocks north of the Sports Complex on the corner near Broad and Oregon). Established in 1985 by Benito Criniti, Criniti’s Restaurant is now run by his son Massimo Criniti in a larger converted church just a few steps from its old location.

Criniti’s Italian Restaurant is in a big room with stain glass windows. This building once was a church so there are many extra touches that add character to this restaurant. This particular restaurant is known for many good Italian dishes including their pastas and pizzas. Criniti’s is a great place for a couple to go on a romantic night out for dinner. However, their lunch buffet that was just started this year has been quite a success. For approximately $10 per person you have a wide variety of Italian foods to choose from including chicken parmigiana, meatballs, Italian sausage, roasted peppers, tilapia, eggplant, mussels in red gravy (Italian sauce), soup, salad, and more. Their buffet is excellent and the value brings the meal home. For the price, you know that you are getting a quality traditional Southern Italian home cooked meal for every item on the menu. This is real South Philly Little Italy food owned and operated by Philly Italians that go the extra mile for their customers.

The waitresses and staff at this Italian restaurant are by far superior as their hospitality is very warm and receptive. They may be a little slow but that is because they have to be warm and receptive to all of their customers (so bring your patience as they are nice people).

If you want to have an occasion catered, Criniti’s Italian Restaurant also does catering as well. They have a second floor that is dedicated especially for their catering business.

Let’s get to their pizza. Their pizzas are thin crust American style (cheese on top) served personal size (about 10 inches). If you would like anything other than cheese than you need to make a special order. They can accommodate you with any toppings but you have to let them know exactly what you are looking for. Their thin crust pizza is very basic but it has old world Italian charm built into it. They use a wood fired brick oven to cook their pies. The price is $7.95 for a personal pizza with $1.50 for each extra topping.

The pizza that I ordered was a plain cheese pie. The crust was thin yet not too far from traditional pizza as it had a little weight to it. The pizza crust was foldable, not crackly, and had a nice handle on it to hold the slices. It also did not have any signs of charring yet it was cooked well. The pizza was very cheesy with signs of oregano and/or parsley showing through the cheese. The tomato sauce was sweet but there was a very thin coat below the cheese to make it barely noticeable. The dish that the pizza was served on was not flat but slightly high at the edges (a bowl form). This created an effect of the pizza to be dipping towards the center of the bowl due to the edges being higher than the center of the pie. This wasn’t a problem just an observation.

Overall, I was very impressed with the pizza and the total package at Criniti’s Italian Restaurant. This is the type of gourmet Italian pizza/food restaurant that you can eat as many courses as you need (Italian style) for a reasonable price.

Criniti’s Italian Restaurant – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Criniti Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Lazaro’s Pizzeria | Grill Largest Pizza Pie

Established in 1999, Lazaro’s Pizzeria and Grill is located at 1743 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. This place has an interesting set up. There are actually 2 buildings. The first building is where you order and get drinks. If you would like to dine in then you walk outside and through the doors of the building next door. In this building there are several tables to eat and a TV to be entertained with.

Lazaro’s Pizzeria and Grill has very good thin crust pizza, their specialty. The also sell a wide variety of other fast foods like cheese steaks, strombolis, calzones, salads, wraps, Italian subs, wings, cheeseburgers, and club sandwiches.

Lazaro’s Pizzeria and Grill has character. Their pizzas are all thin crust (American style) and they have pizza sizes up to 26 inches in diameter. This is almost as big as Lorenzo’s and Sons pizza on South Street. This would establish them as having one of the largest pizzas in Philly.

They also sell by the slice. I bought a slice of pepperoni pizza for $3. This is generally high for South Philly until you consider the size of their slices. Their slices are thin crust but they are made from much bigger pies (if I had to guess I would say 20 inch pies). The slices were very charred on the bottom so they have an oven flavor. The edge of the crust was very small as well, which gives you more room for the toppings.

There were plenty of pepperoni whole slices on the pie. This may be a reason for the extra layers of oil on top. I think that is their biggest weakness. They need to watch how much oil comes to the top of their pies when they cook with meat toppings like pepperoni. There was a sufficient amount of cheese and a thin layer of tomato sauce on the pie. The size of the slice was so large that you definitely have to fold it to get a better grip. I try not to fold my slices but with Lazaro’s, this is inevitable.

Overall, I like Lazaro’s Pizzeria and Grill as it has value, size, good taste, and character. I would recommend that they watch their oil count on top of their pies. Lazaro’s Pizzeria and Grill – welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Lazaros Pizza House on Urbanspoon

Overbrook Pizza Will Smith Best Pizza

Overbrook Pizza Review - Will Smith Best Philly Pizza

Overbrook Pizza is not your typical Philly pizza joint. Celebrating 30 years in business this year, this little take out only (or delivery) pizzeria was highly recommended by one of the most famous living Philly celebrities, Will Smith. They are located at 2099 North 63rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19151, just a few moments from Will Smith’s high school, Overbrook High.

The staff at Overbrook Pizza was very nice but very busy (so you need to order and cut the small talk). The place was very small so again, just a reminder, there aren’t anywhere to eat unless you don’t mind standing outside and eating. The pizza oven used was also very small right behind the counter.

Will Smith is very friendly with the owners of Overbrook Pizza. He often ate there as a kid growing up in West Philadelphia. This may be the reason that when he comes home to visit his mother every now and then that he stops by to have a bite. Will likes Overbrook Pizza so much that he mentioned the place on an interview at 60 Minutes a few years ago.

Overbrook Pizza is good not only due to their popularity with Will Smith and the Saint Joseph University students but also because their pizza is one of a kind. Although they don’t have a dine-in restaurant, just waiting for your pizza for pickup is an enchanting experience. There are pics of Will and the owners on the wall and Overbrook Pizza’s awards (including World’s Largest Cheese Steak).

Overbrook Pizza makes their pizza in a pan. They are one of a small few in Philly that make pizza this style. I am not sure where they came up with this style of pizza making as the owners appear to be straight from Italy and not Chicago. Those facts become irrelevant once you eat their pizza. I ordered the Veggie pizza for $9. The pizza is a personal size (about 10 inches). They do not sell by the slice so I was forced to buy the whole thing but boy was it worth it. The veggie is made out of several major vegetable toppings including: mushrooms, black olives, broccoli, onions and green peppers.

All of the toppings were fresh and they loaded the small pie with them. The crust was not charred at all but very shiny, crunchy and with a buttery crust appeal as a pan pizza has. This is not a deep dish as the toppings and cheese were on top of the sauce. The cheese was very stringy and the eight small slices made eating very messy (especially considering the weight of the toppings). The sauce was very sweet but with all of the toppings you barely noticed it. The crust was definitely the highlight of the pizza though. Having good pan pizza is a treat in Philly where pan pizza barely exists.

Overbrook Pizza has value, popularity, taste, originality, and voted best pizza by the Philly legend Will Smith. Putting all of these factors together, I say Overbrook Pizza - welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Overbrook Pizza Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mama Angelina’s Pizza Restaurant Review

Mama Angelina’s Pizza Restaurant, located at 1337 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, has been in business for over 30 years. This pizzeria is another typical Center City pizzeria…and that is not a good thing. I don’t know why but Center City Philadelphia has some bad pizzerias. I am not talking about gourmet pizzas but your regular everyday pizza joints. When I say Center City I am excluding Old City, which happens to have some really good pizza places over there (even though it is technically considered Center City). Most of the pizzerias in Center City that are close to City Hall fit my prior description.

Mama Angelina’s Pizza Restaurant is a small little pizzeria near Broad Street and Locust. It appears as if the place hasn’t been modernized in over 25 years. There are only a few places to sit inside but they also deliver if you don’t want to dine in. They have a cheap old small pizza oven across the counter in the small work station for the chef.

I ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza. The pizza was reheated as it was sitting for some time. The pizza was served very quickly. There was a good portion of pepperoni put on top of the cheese (as this is an American style pizza place with cheese on top of the sauce). The pepperoni was cut into very thin slices.

The problem that I had with this pizza is the amount of oil that was bleeding through the pepperoni. The final effect was significant heartburn. I should have padded this down with some napkins as the oil was really out of control. The size of the slice was average size but you can find much bigger slices outside of Center City. The final price was $2.80, which is actually a reasonable price for Center City Philadelphia pizza but not Philly as a whole.

I thought that the service was about average. They didn’t do anything to piss me off like Joe’s Brick Oven Pizza but they didn’t go the extra mile for the customer either. Considering the quality of their pizza, that extra mile could have helped.

I am giving Mama Angelina’s Pizza Restaurant a yellow light (proceed with caution) as they have some areas mentioned above that they need to improve on.

Mama Angelina'a Pizza on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Brick Oven Pizza Review

Joe’s Brick Oven Pizza or Joe’s Pizza is located at 122 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102. From my understanding they have been open for many years (I have no idea how they have remained in business with their lack of quality customer service).

Joe’s Pizza is located in a very bustling area of Philadelphia so there is constant foot traffic into their business. They have a very beautiful building that has two floors of seating. There are plenty of tables on both floors so not to worry about finding a place to sit and eat.

Joe’s Pizza claims to have a brick oven but their oven is in no way a pure “brick oven.” It is more of a small high tech metal oven with a fake marble tile façade.

I have many complaints about Joe’s. First, the pizza…it sucks. Just horrible…no other critic can put it any better. The food was sitting there for how long on the counter. After being reheated it still came out bad.

I ordered a broccoli pizza…how can you mess that up (there is no sauce)? There was a good amount of broccoli (not a significant amount) but they definitely weren’t anything called fresh. There wasn’t any sauce on this pie as it was just a broccoli and cheese. The cheese was sitting under the broccoli and was very dry. The crust had zero signs of char. Matter of fact, the pizza was barely warm. The cashier/cook forgot to put my pizza in the oven. That leads me to the service.

The service at Joe’s Pizza was worse than the pizza. For starters, no one behind the counter cracked a smile to me or the thirty other customers the whole time I was there. I felt like the staff was talking down to its customers too with each interaction. Second, I ordered a slice of pizza and had to wait ten minutes before realizing the guy never put my slice in the so called brick oven. The second guy picked up on his mistake and put it in there for like 5 seconds. He gave it to me just barely warm. All this for $3.25 a slice. What a rip off!

What I don’t understand is how can you have such a nice place in one of the busiest areas in Philly and have lousy pizza and service. Where is the passion for your pizza? Pizza is an art and not to be treated with the disrespect that I felt me and every other customer in this joint was given.

Joe’s Pizza is NOT recommended by the Best Philadelphia Pizza Blog!

Joe's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen Review

Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen is located at 1107 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. This is another typical Center City Philadelphia pizzeria. They have been established now for several years and are open seven days a week.

Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen has a very colorful place and has a nice layout inside. It is not a fancy place the way the name makes it sound but it is not a hole in the wall either. It is a nice laid back yet attractive open space pizzeria/restaurant. They serve a wide variety of foods but pizza is their specialty.

The reason that I say that this is another typical Center City pizzeria is because their pizza was average. I didn’t form a bad impression about the Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen but I wasn’t positively impressed either. The counter pizza that they had also appeared to be sitting there for a long time. This includes the slice of plain cheese that I ordered. They reheated it for me but I felt like I was eating leftovers because the slice didn’t look fresh.

The cashier was polite unlike the other pizza places in Center City that I have recently been to but that is just one element worth considering when looking at the big picture. The slice of the pizza was $2.15, which is actually cheap by Center City standards but not by Philly standards as a whole.

The crust neither was charred one bit nor was it crunchy or crispy. The pizza that I ate was American style with the cheese on top. There was a good amount of cheese but the problem was the slice was too small compared to many other slice shops throughout Philly. The slice was cut from a 14-16 inch pie instead of an 18-20 inch pie. Thus, it was narrower and shorter. The crust at the edge was about 2 inches long before you hit the cheese. I don’t agree that this style of pizza should have an edge like that as it takes away from the space you could be using for more cheese and sauce. The sauce used was your standard bland tomato sauce and spread very thin. There was definitely more cheese used, which made the sauce a very miniscule background flavor.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen into the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club now. But I thought the place was nice, the staff was friendly, and the price was reasonable for Center City Philadelphia. They need to work on their pizza though to stand out from the competitors. For these reasons, I give Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen a yellow light (proceed with caution) for their pizza.

Top Tomato Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

New York Pizza Department Review | NYPD

New York Pizza Department (NYPD) is located at 140 South 11th Street (11th & Walnut), Philadelphia, PA 19107. NYPD Pizza is family operated and is not affiliated with the pizza franchise with the same name. To me this is your typical Center City Philadelphia pizza, bad to horrible. Center City Philadelphia pizza joints are the reason that Philadelphia has a bad name for pizza (or just isn’t credited with good pizza). The tourists come here, stay in Center City, and then are forced to eat the high end, low quality, convenient to tourist crap they call pizza.

This pizzeria doesn’t come close to representing New York pizza either. Many New York pizza enthusiasts probably would agree. Fortunately, I have been all over New York and come to their defense that this is not New York pizza. New York pizza is much much better. This pizza barely had any char on its crust – that is not New York pizza. New Yorkers will attest that they love a nice black char mark throughout the pie. They also like them crispy, which was not found here.

New York Pizza Department won best of Philly in 2006 and has sparked up some popularity. They are a small little hole in the wall pizzeria with various pictures around for display. There are several small tables to sit or you can pick up your food and go. They also have delivery service available too.

It is not that I have anything against this place but I was just all around not impressed. First, the service was lousy. The cashier/janitor/cook never cracked a smile once. I ordered a slice of reheated counter pizza that looked like it was sitting there since the grand opening of this joint.

The pizza that I ordered was a tomato pizza with no sauce. The pizza was traditional crust served with tomato slices on top. The size was a smaller type of slice as it was cut from about a 16 inch pie instead of an 18 or 20 inch pie. The tomato slices were plentiful on the slice and were thinly cut. The cheese under the tomatoes was an appropriate amount but the pizza was a little stale. Even though I am aware that it was reheated the question was how long was its sitting there before being reheated? All this for $3.25 – so not worth it!

I cannot make a recommendation for NYPD Pizza Department as they do not meet my pizza standards to be considered the Best Philadelphia Pizza.

NYPD Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 13, 2009

Soho Pizza Buffalo Chicken Review

Soho Pizza is located at 218 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City). Established over 10 years ago, Soho Pizza is a very narrow pizzeria just a few steps away from several of its competitors. They have a very nice wood burning oven (somehow it manages to fit in this small place). The staff could have been a little friendlier as they greeted me with lack of smiles. This is a sit in pizzeria with several tables along the side wall.

Soho Pizza serves American style pizza and they do sell by the slice. They were very quick in warming up my pizza. The pies that they had on their counter top all looked fresh. The large amount of customers in there would create a high turnover of new counter pizza available. Thus, their popularity helped confirm the freshness of the slice.

I do have to say that I was extremely impressed with the aesthetics of their pizza pies. This is not your typical American style pizza joint. They have a wide variety of pizza options and their pizzas all look very appealing. Whatever the major sauce is that goes on each pie; they created concentric circles on top of the pie with it. The illusion is a very appealing and interesting looking pie. Eat and be entertained at the same time – what a concept!

I ordered a slice of the buffalo ranch chicken pizza for $3.25, a bit pricy. However, I did feel like I got my money worth. The slice is very big and loaded with toppings. There were plenty of chicken slices throughout the slice. There was also a good amount of cheese as well. But the highlight was the ranch dressing that was swirled around the whole pie, which created a good distribution for each slice. The final effect was plenty of taste in the pizza.

The crust was slightly charred with traditional American style thickness (also triangular shaped). Although it didn’t have much char, the crust was still very crispy as you bite into it.

I only ate one type of pizza at Soho but all of the pizzas on their counter looked appetizing, which is a rare quality for a pizzeria. The other thing I like is that they make the pies fresh right in front of you so that you can ensure that their cooking is up to the highest quality standards – your standards. This includes the time that they make the dough until they pull the pie out of the oven.

Soho Pizza – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Soho Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizzicato Italian Pizza Restaurant Review

Pizzicato is an upscale Italian pizza restaurant located at 248 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City – corner of 3rd and Market). Established approximately in 1998, Pizzicato has become a very popular choice for many gourmet pizza goers. They have a beautiful restaurant inside with a very large wood burning oven off to the left when you first walk in the door. The place is semi large and holds about a dozen or so tables. They are very friendly there…actually almost a little too friendly. When I walked in the waitress almost knocked me over trying to say hello.

I ordered the Margherita pizza for $9 as I sat at their table and ate. There are several other options of pizza to choose from also if you desire. I happen to like the Margherita though. This is definitely not a pizzeria where you can walk in and order a slice (they don’t serve by the slice). It is more of a classier restaurant so dress nice. They also have a very nice bar that runs parallel with their wood fired oven. Watching the fire crackle while you eat also makes a more soothing setting.

Back to the Margherita pizza review. The pizza was worth the $9 considering the classy atmosphere that you become absorbed with. The pie was a personal 10 inch pizza with six slices. The crust was thin and crispy but not charred at all. This was a surprise as I would have figured that the crust would have had at least a speck of black considering the nice oven that they have. The mozzarella cheese was spread out over the pizza in various locations. There was a nice ratio of cheese to sauce (about 50/50). The sauce was sweet but not thick. They could have used a tad bit more sauce as there was such a thin coat of it. The basil was in small thin slices spread over top. I prefer to have whole leaves fresh and green and put one on top of each slice. I don’t particularly like small strips but it wasn’t a big deal. It would have been a big deal if the basil wasn’t fresh.

Pizzicato is a nice little pizza restaurant in Old City Philadelphia. Although I don’t believe their pizza can compete with a place like Pizzeria Stella, I do agree that they should be in the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Pizzicato on Urbanspoon

Sarcone’s Bakery Italian Pizza Review

The following review is a very special review of Sarcone’s Bakery is South Philadelphia. Located at 756-758 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, Sarcone’s Bakery is one of the most popular old world Italian bakeries in Philadelphia. Established in 1918 by Luigi Sarcone, the bakery is still run by the same family with the same recipe as their Italian ancestor. In 2000, the business was fire bombed but survived and was opened for business the next day. Sarcone’s Bakery does also have a deli that they opened about 10 years ago that is a few doors down.

Sarcone’s Bakery sells all types of breads and desserts but obviously we are discussing them here because of their famous pizzas. Also, if any of you have read our Philly Cheese Steak Blog you may have noticed that Sarcone’s rolls are a very popular choice for many steak shops in Philly. This place is one of the most famous Philadelphia bakeries alongside with its competitors: Cacia’s, Amoroso, and Iannelli’s. Their philosophy on business deserves respect as well. They refuse to expand beyond what they can handle as to be careful not to sacrifice quality. I really like the quote that Luigi Sarcone states “Put too much food in your mouth and you can’t chew.” He was speaking of growing too big such as some of their competitors.

Sarcone’s Bakery sells pizza but their operation is a little different. If you want to try their pizza then you need to get there early (as in no later than about 1 or until they sell their last slice). They are open six days a week except Mondays but the pizza is sold only in the morning/early afternoon and goes fast.

Their pizza is usually cold unless the tray was just made. I happened to eat a cold slice but it is still good (it’s actually room temperature). They have only a few major selections of pizza, which include: tomato or white pie, regular pie, pepperoni pie, and their gourmet pie. I ordered a slice of their gourmet pie for $2. All of their pies are square pies served from a baking tray. The gourmet pie was 95% cheese and no sauce. The slice was topped with slightly hot peppers (mild) that were cut into small sluices. The peppers were not plentiful as there was only a few on each slice. I think that they were used mainly as an accent. I would recommend that they add a little more peppers or something else as there was just too much white on the pizza. There was plenty of space to fill the top of the slice.

Other than the cheese and the peppers the slice was very basic except for one thing. Did you forget that this is one of the best bakeries in Philly? The crust was made out of the brick oven of one of the best bakeries in Philly thus producing awesome crust. The crust was about an inch thick on the square slice. There were no signs of charring but it was extremely crunchy. It was so good that being served room temperature was not a problem (but I am sure that hot is better).

Sarcone’s Bakery has a very friendly family like atmosphere. There aren’t any tables to sit as it is take out only so be prepared to order and keep on moving.

Sarcone’s Bakery is a legend in Philly. It is my honor to welcome them into the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

L Sarcone & Son on Urbanspoon

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica Old City Pizza

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica is a major player in the Philadelphia pizza market with 3 locations throughout the city. Established in 1994, Gianfranco runs their pizzeria like a true business. They are open seven days a week, they have catering services, they deliver, and they have online pizza ordering available. Gianfranco Pizza Rustica’s three locations are: 248 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Center City); 6 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City); and 2124 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19145 (South Philly).

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica has won many awards including 7 years Best of Philly Pizza award. They were also featured on our friend JAB’s website, LA Pizza.

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica’s location in Old City is the subject of this review (the same location that LA Pizza went to). The Old City location is very small but still holds several tables for the customers to sit. What I like about this place is the options. They have so many different types of pizza to choose from in addition to a wide sandwich selection.

You can order almost any kind of pizza here. If they don’t have it on their menu they appear to have the type of operation that will try to accommodate you by making a personalized pizza for you. They have all kinds of interesting pizzas besides your normal pie, including: taco pizza, Mexican pizza, meatball, pizza, and artichoke pizza.

When I went to Gianfranco Pizza Rustica they were extremely quick. There were about five people in front of me in line and I still managed to order and receive a hot pizza in less than 5 minutes. That is quality speed.

Let’s take a look at the pie review: I ordered a slice of what they call the traditional tomato pie for $2.25. The size of the slice was rather large so there was value to the price. This tomato pie was served American traditional crust style with average thickness (triangular shape). I would say that most of their pizzas are served with this type of crust except for their Sicilian pies, which are fresh to order. The crust was very slightly charred but crispy.

Their tomato pie was made from pesto and romano cheese. Their slice consisted of about 90% sweet tasting thick tomato sauce (a nice red slice). There were also small thin slices of cheese strategically placed on top of the sauce. A nice slice of pizza for $2.50. This place has some good turnaround time with its customers. This is good to know if you like ordering by the slice because this will ensure that your pizza wasn’t sitting on their counter to long.

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica – Welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Gianfranco Pizza Rustica on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery

Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery Review

At the southern part of the Italian Market is Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery. Established in 1910 (according to their advertisements), Iannelli’s is located at 1155 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19147. They are open every day except Monday. Since their business is a bakery and not a pizzeria they have bakers’ hours. There are open Tuesday to Sunday 8am-6PM and Friday and Saturday Nights until 11PM.

If you have never been to Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery then you are truly missing out on a real Philadelphian Italian pizza experience. Iannelli’s is a pick up or delivery place only. There isn’t any room to sit as there is barely any place to order in this tiny shop. In the summer they do have outdoor tables but that won’t help in the winter.

Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery is your quintessential Philly Italian pizza bakery. However, this bakery is special because they serve various types of gourmet pizza. After all, who would be more equipped to make pizza than a good Italian bakery? The oven in this place is supposed to hold up to 60 pies. In addition to pizza, they also serve desserts like cannoli’s (fresh), homemade crab gravy, sandwiches, and salads.

But let’s talk about their pizza. The pizza is Sicilian style as this is where the Iannelli’s roots are from. Thus, all of their slices are Sicilian square style. They have a wide variety of pizza but you have to order them in advance so that they can make them fresh for you. If you are looking to show up and buy pizza then you will usually only have their traditional tomato pie to choose from (they are served cold so you will have to ask them to be heated if that is your preference). The slices are $2.25 but are huge square slices (something around 8 by 8 inches). They sell whole and half pies (a tray of square slices), which prices vary for wholes from about $18 to $40.

I ate their traditional Sicilian tomato pie. First, let me say how nice the staff was. She was so kind and gave me a free pizza slice to sample. This kind of treatment is a rarity in a tough city like Philadelphia. They have pictures on the walls of the Iannelli family and the pictures truly do speak of such a kind family. But back to the staff. The woman working there was very polite and kept asking me if I wanted something else (napkin, bag, etc.). She also tried to sell me on her desserts but I will have to take her up on that another time. This place just reminded me of what Old World Philly was like over 50 years ago where the local butcher knew you so well that they knew exactly what you were looking for without opening your mouth. That was old world business: customized and personalized. I think many businesses have seemed to lose this important touch in the modern world. This is a sure quality that keeps the customers coming back.

The tomato pie: the crust was not charred at all just cooked crunchy and semi thick. As mentioned the size of the slice was large and so was the tomato sauce. The tomato sauce was about an inch thick. They use quality gravy with a lot of spices. Spicy “gravy” is a trademark of Southern Italians as Northern Italian sauce is blander. Thus, spicy sauce would be expected considered that the Iannelli’s are originally from Sicily. There wasn’t any cheese in this pie but they may have hinted it in the sauce.

There is a pie at Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery that I have wanted to try for some time but haven’t gotten around to it. It is called the Jumbo Lump Crab Meat Pizza. You need to make an advance order as this is a specialty pie ($40 for a whole). This consists of fresh sautéed crab meat on a bed of mozzarella, with roasted red peppers, and black olives. This pizza has won many awards. If you get a chance, order this pizza and then tell us what you think.

Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery is a true representation of what Philly pizza is and should be. I am giving them a green light into the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club and can tell you now that they are a strong candidate for the Best of the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club (when I eventually create it). They are great all across the board from price to authentic to quality.

Iannelli’s Famous Brick Oven Bakery –welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Iannelli Bakery on Urbanspoon

Lorenzo’s Pizza Italian Market Style

For many years, Lorenzo’s Pizza has been faithfully serving pizza in one of the most tasteful areas in Philadelphia, The Philadelphian Italian Market. Located at 900 Christian Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, Lorenzo’s pizza complements the other fine ethnic cuisines along 9th street.

Lorenzo’s Pizza sits at the corner of a very touristy area in Philly but are staffed but very local people. The final effect is to feel like you are truly immersed in the Philadelphian culture. The inside of Lorenzo’s has several tables as well as the counter for those who would like to dine in. The place looks and feels like a place from several decades ago (I can’t really tell which decade though). It is a bit run down in appearance but very laid back. They have a TV in there that complements my former point about the pizzeria’s age. The staff was very nice and the food was served super quick. What more can you want... well…quality and price…so let’s take a look.

The price was $1.50 for a large size American style plain cheese pizza slice. This a great deal as these are prices from 10 plus years ago. The size of the slice is very big and the crust is traditional crust but very thin at the end of the slice.

The cheese covered the top of the pie and was a very thin layer. The sauce underneath had a nice undertone of oregano, which can be seen through the cheese in sporadic patches. There weren’t any signs of charring on the pie but it still tasted good.

Overall, Lorenzo’s Pizza has very good American style pizza in the heart of the Italian Market. The place is a little run down but you are not eating the place just the pizza. The price of the slice was a tremendous deal for the size given. When you’re done your pie you can walk outside and get some coffee and dessert from the local shops around the way.

Lorenzo’s Pizza welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Lorenzo Pizza on Urbanspoon

Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria Philly Pizza Review

Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria is located at 1336 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Established around 1997, Paolo Gourmet Pizza has become very popular in Center City Philadelphia.

Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria has delivery, pickup or dine in options available. If you choose to eat there, they have several tables and booths to sit at. Their tables are very colorful and their radio was blasting rap music when I was there so this pizzeria is not your typical gourmet pizza shop. Actually it is not fancy in appearance at all like a true gourmet pizza place like Pizzeria Stella. I think that these pizzerias like to throw around the word “gourmet” but don’t truly comprehend what gourmet pizza is.

Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria has a very extensive menu including tomato pies, traditional pizzas, and would you believe that they have a pizza with French fries on top. Strange…but sometimes strange may be good.

I ordered the chicken parmigiana pizza to spice things up. This is made with breaded chicken, marinara sauce and sharp provolone. The crust was crispy and small signs of charring on the bottom. The crust was of a traditional American style thickness in a triangular shape. This particular slice could have been much better. They only put 3 small blocks of chicken on top of the slice.

There was more sauce than cheese on the pizza and the minimal amount of sauce that was on there still was not the right proportion. All this for $3 a slice...way too expensive. Two blocks away you could go to Pine Street Pizza and pick up a slice about a dollar cheaper.

I am going to give Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria a red light (not recommended). They need to loosen up on the prices and give back more to their customers. Another thing that I noticed was the pizzas that were sitting on the counter appeared to possibly have been there over an hour. How could you possibly give a quality slice of pizza to your customer and be considered Philly’s best pizza if your slice were sitting out for a long time. Then when you go to reheat the slice (and you will have to) the slice will take on a different form (the form of reheated leftovers). This could never be good if you want to be considered a true gourmet pizzeria. Finally, the quality of the pie was just not the taste of gourmet pizza or quality pizza in general. Paolo Gourmet Pizzeria…remember that the key to gourmet pizza is fresh ingredients made and served now and not a few hours ago.

Paolo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Philadelphia Pine Street Pizza Review

Pine Street Pizza is located at 1138 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA (corner of 12th Pine, hence the name). Established at some point in the late 1970’s (about 30 years ago), this pizzeria is still serving Center City Philadelphia residents. They are open 7 days a week and have a very extensive menu.

Pine Street Pizza is a pick up or delivery operation but if you would like you can also sit and eat inside (they have several tables). They staff is very pleasant and if you like arcades they have them too in the other room.

Pine Street pizza mainly serves American style pizza with the cheese on top. I ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza for $2.25, a little high. The highlight of this slice was the shape. The shape was a traditional triangle slice shape but the length was shorter and the width was much wider. The crust was traditional style thickness but very crispy. However, there weren’t any signs of charring. There was a slight residual of oil on top but this may be due to the massive amounts of pepperoni that they packed on top (all of which were very big slices).

The cheese was packed nice on top of the sauce. The sauce was barely tasted from the overpowering of the cheese and pepperoni.

I enjoyed this pizza but I think the slice price could have been a tad cheaper. Then again, they are located in Center City Philadelphia and this is the premium the customers must pay to buy there. If you were to buy a large pepperoni pie the price would be $8.95, which becomes much more reasonable.

Pine Street Pizza welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Pine Street Pizza on Urbanspoon

Philadelphia Pizza Hut Restaurant Review

There are five dine in locations for Pizza Hut in the Philadelphia area currently. Their addresses are: 3501 Aramingo Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19134; 3000 Island Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19153; 1401 66th Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19126; 6613 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19135; and 300 East Baltimore Pike, Clifton Heights, PA 19018.

The Pizza Hut location that is the subject of this review is at 3501 Aramingo Avenue. Established over 20 years ago, this location is one of the most popular Pizza Hut locations is Philly. Although there are about 10 Pizza Huts in Philly that have delivery and pick up services, only the five locations above are pure dine in restaurants. Most of the restaurants have the same Pizza Hut franchise look with the one story brick building and the red A shaped roof (thus the logo of Pizza Hut).

The inside of this Pizza Hut location brings back a nostalgic remembrance of the 1980’s. Actually I would bet that barely anything has been changed in this place since that timeframe. I felt like I was walking in a time warp. The building appears well kept but nothing has been modernized. There are plenty of tables and booths in the restaurant. They also have a pizza buffet there but you have to get there before 2 or 3.

I recently ordered the stuffed crust pan pizza with half pepperoni and half sausage for approximately $10. They have a special now $10 for any pizza, any topping. This pizza has an extra ring of cheese around the inner circumference of the pizza.

To recall, pan pizza is similar to Chicago deep dish pizza in that it is cooked in a pan with a layer of oil at the bottom to give the crust a more buttery taste. The major difference with traditional deep dish is that the pan pizza has the toppings on top of the sauce and cheese. The regular Chicago deep dish has the sauce on top of everything. I like both approaches but Pizza Hut has perfected the pan pizza version as this is their signature pie.

Pizza Hut is one of the very few pizza places in Philly where you can get Chicago style pizzas (in this case pan pizza). That is why I thought that one review of Pizza Hut would be relevant here. The other major player would be Chicago Pizzeria Uno (the inventors of Chicago style deep dish pizza) and that will be a review for another time. So if you want this style of pizza in Philly, these are your two main options (after all this is not Chicago).

Although this is a pizza chain and my traditional opinion of pizza chains is that they are generally lousy, I have always had a soft spot for Pizza Hut. It may be that their style of pizza is hard to find in Philly and I like deep dish and pan pizzas…yea..that is probably it. I bet if I lived in Chicago where this kind of pizza is served everywhere I probably would not feel the same. But here in Philly, franchise or no franchise, Pizza Hut presents an opportunity to bring Chicago a little closer to home.

The crust is a nice buttery colored crust on the bottom and the edges. That extra buttery flavor really adds value to the pie but I am sure that it adds to your cholesterol level as well. The pies at Pizza Hut are 14 inches served in a pan that was probably as old as Pizza Hut. There are 8 slices in a pie. Each slice is more filling than a regular American slice as this is pan style, a thicker crust style. This pizza was very cheesy but it tastes great the way Pizza Hut does it.

The extra ring of mozzarella cheese around the edge of the pizza’s crust complements the pie. The pizza in general is very cheesy but the sauce underneath balances it out. The pepperoni and sausage toppings have created a little extra oil on top of the pie. If this is too much for you then you may want to put a napkin over it to make it to your liking. They were very generous about the amounts of sausage and pepperoni on the pizza as well.

Overall, Pizza Hut has good pan pizza for a reasonable price. The waitresses were very nice and helpful. As an unusual twist of events, I am very impressed with a major pizza franchise. Pizza Hut, welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pizza Reviews Question

I have just received an email from a fan of Best Philadelphia Pizza Blog and thought it was be easier to a address his questions here. I have included his message below.

I disagree with your review of Mack's I just had it tonight and while it is
not perfect, I did enjoy it. I feel that a lot of pizza in Philly is pretty bad,
and they are way above average. And interestting too.

I don't understand the Slice reviews, I find it to be bland and boring
although it is beautiful.I agree about Marra's and Franco & Luigi's being
good, but you have missed a few down here in south philly.

Sarcone's makes pizza too! It may be sicilian style, but it's one of my
favorites, but not always avaialable (only weekends?)

Another bakery pizza to try is Iannell's on passyunk near federal. They
close early so it is more of a daytime pizza (I haven't had their thin crust
yet, but their tomato pie and Sicilian is great. Also check out their breakfast pizza (eggs and thick bacon) it sounds gross but it is pretty amazing.You should also try Soho pizza on market, it may be a little different (is it NY style?) but I consider it one of the best in Philly and I rank them with Rustica (A few blocks away).

Who do you consider the absolute best? Your blog doesn't say.

I still can never decide who to to order from, so I keep trying the new
flyers they stuff in my door hoping to discover something new.


Mike Garson

South Philly


You have very good suggestions and due to various time constraints, I haven’t introduced many very good pizza joints yet. Over the next few weeks though I will be providing a significant amount of reviews as my time will be freeing up a little. I am glad that you mentioned Sarcones and Iannelli’s as they are 2 of my favorites too and have planned to review them eventually. I am curious as to how you can find Mack’s pizza good though?

After I round up about another 25-30 more reviews I will create a “best of the best list.” For now I am just reviewing what is deemed to be the most popular pizzas plus a few local secret pizza places like the two that you have mentioned above. Keep reading Best Philadelphia Pizza Blog and stay tuned as your answers will unfold.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stephen Starr's Pizzeria Stella Review

The long awaited Pizzeria Stella review is finally here. Pizzeria Stella is another fine creation by Philadelphia restaurant genius Stephen Starr. Located at 420 North 2nd Street (2nd and Lombard Street), Philadelphia, PA 19106, this pizzeria is open seven days a week.

Before I provide my review I would like to include a short profile of Stephan Starr from his website. I think this is in order as this new Philadelphia pizzeria (opened at the end of September 2009) has drawn national headlines.

Stephen Starr, owner of Starr Restaurants, began working in the restaurant
industry at the age of 21 when he opened his first club in an Old City diner,
Grand Mom Minnie's, which served food during the day and comedy at night. Next
he opened Stars, a cabaret/restaurant that featured acts who were just starting
out such as Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Belzer and Pat

Continuing to promote live entertainment, Starr opened a larger venue,
the Ripley Music Hall, which showcased new talent such as U2, The Eurythmics,
Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen, who were still very small at the time.
Eventually he began The Concert Company to bring large-scale stadium acts to
Philadelphia. Starr was responsible for memorable shows including: Madonna,
Lionel Ritchie, George Michael and others. In 1990, when Electric Factory
Concerts bought him out, he used the profit to open several new venues
including: Shake, Burger and Roll, a kitschy diner; The Bank, a trendy dance
club which later became District Nightclub; and Cafe Republic, a Russian-themed
caviar and vodka bar.

Founded in 1995, STARR Restaurants is now one of the fastest growing
multi-concept restaurant companies in the country. STARR Restaurants
include Buddakan, Morimoto, The Continental, Barclay Prime, Continental
Mid-Town, El Vez, Jones, Alma de Cuba, Pod, Tangerine, Parc and Butcher and
Singer in Philadelphia and Morimoto and Buddakan in New York City's thriving
Meatpacking District.

STARR Restaurants expanded to Atlantic City, NJ, with Buddakan and
Continental at The Pier at Caesar in 2006, and Teplitzky and Chelsea Prime at
the Chelsea Hotel in 2008. Most recently opened is Steak 954 at the new W Hotel
in Ft. Lauderdale. With more than 20 years in the hospitality and
entertainment industries, Starr likens the experience of dining out to that of
attending a theater production, where the players, props, backdrops, lighting
and rapport are integral components of an overall dramatic effect. When this
atmospheric drama is paired with edgy, delicious cuisine, dining out at an STARR
Restaurant becomes entertainment for all of the senses.

Pizzeria Stella has been a long awaited Philadelphia pizzeria. From my understanding, Stephen Starr has circled the globe to make this place perfect. He has scaled every major New York and Napoli pizza joint and has studied every aspect of pizza beginning with its Italian roots. Starr obviously wanted so deeply for this place to be a success that he has given it his name in Italian (Stella translates to Starr).

The ambience at Pizzeria Stella is amazing. When you first walk into the door you are greeted by a beautiful big wood burning oven where the pizza chefs are at work. You can watch the pizza makers need, toss, and cook the pizza from any seat in the house. The pizzeria is not extremely large but it can serve around 75 to 100 people if necessary. Everything in Starr’s place is new and well thought out from the shiny decorative tile to the lighting.

The hospitality at Pizzeria Stella was superb. The waitresses catered to me on hand and foot. Their actions make you realize what gourmet pizza is all about and why you need a place like this to serve it. Pizza is a food that many people fail to realize that can be served at all scales of the restaurant industry. At Pizzeria Stella you can understand how pizza can be promoted to an upscale level of food. Forget about street pizza or your local neighborhood pizza.

Pizzeria Stella brings back the definition of high class pizza. Yes you will spend more money but you are getting the best pizza. Many people have a hard time spending around $15 for a ten inch thin crust pizza, especially when they are used to getting 2 giant 16 inch pizzas for less than the price for one gourmet pizza. That is because these types of people have never experienced the pleasure of real gourmet pizza. Gourmet pizza is totally worth the price if it is made correctly and the atmosphere is amazing. To these doubters, I say eat at Pizzeria Stella and then let me know if it is not worth it!

Pizzeria Stella had some negative feedback the first few weeks of opening and this is understandable as it has to correct any initial problems. This is why I waited a few weeks before eating there. I am more than impressed with what Starr has done. Below is a sample of Pizzeria Stella’s wood oven pizzas and their prices:

1. Margherita: san marzano tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
2. Marinara: san marzano tomato, oregano, garlic .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3. Finocchio: black olive, caramelized fennel, mozzarella, tomato .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
4. Sausage: wood roasted sausage, hot pepper, tomato, basil, mozzarella .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
5. Pepperoni: abbruzze pepperoni, oregano, mozzarella, tomato . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
6. Tartufo: black truffle, fontina, egg, parmesan .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
7 . San Daniele: smoked mozzarella, prosciutto, baby arugula .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
8. Pistachio: red onion, pistachio, fontina, extra virgin olive oil .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
9 . Piccante: capicola, aged provolone, crushed red pepper, tomato . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
10. Vongole: clams, garlic, parsley, scamorza .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
11. Spinach: baby spinach, sun dried tomato, garlic, pine nuts .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
12. Quattro Formaggi: tomato, mozzarella, fontina, scamorza, taleggio .. . . . 14

I sampled the Margherita and the Tartufo pizza and was impressed with both. The pizzas are ten inches long served in 6 slices. The crust is thin crust slightly charred on the edges and on the bottom of the crust. The way the crust was prepared demonstrated to me that Starr really took the time to study his market. The reason I say this is because if you analyze the crust on this pizza you can tell the pizza was carefully made to meet the best New York critics’ tastes. The way the crust is charred is patterned to perfection with various patches of char sporadically placed on the crust.

The crust was strategically planned. If you think that this sounds crazy it just may be. The crust was identical from pizza to pizza and it was made almost as if the chefs were given specific orders to follow to create consistency. There were no signs of over burning or undercooking, just pizza made right. The charred spots demonstrated that each pizza walked the fine edge of being cooked too much but yet this edge made it just right (as the edge of overcooking never occurred).

The basil used on the margherita pie was large fresh green leaves placed on each slice. This is a sign of a good pizza. I hate when Margherita pizzas are served with shriveled up black basil leaves. Basil should be green on a Margherita pizza and not any other color. If you view the history of pizza you will find that the creation of this pizza was supposed to contain the colors of the Italian flag: red, white, and green (not burnt shriveled black).

The Fresh Mozzarella cheese was truly fresh tasting as you bit right into it. There was a proper amount of cheese on the pie too in relationship to the sauce (about 50/50). The tomato sauce was a nice sweet tangy tomato flavor that carried well with the rest of the pie.

The tartufo pie was very interesting. This was made from black truffles (a type of mushroom). The truffles were very fresh and plentiful on the pizza. The highlight of the tartufo pizza was the cooked egg on top (sunny side up). The waitress came over to the table once served and poked the egg on top and then spread the yolk with a spoon all over the pizza. Weird but really good! The tartufo also had parmesan cheese and fontina on top.

Another difference observed in Pizzeria Stella’s pie was that a slight glaze of olive oil was circled on top of the pie when served. It was so slight that it was hardly detected. This is not a problem as many famous pizza places choose to do this to their pizzas. I am fine either way. However, I don’t like when anything more than a little oil is placed on top. One particular example is a pizzeria in Philly called Mack’s Boardwalk pizza that drowns their pie with oil.

After you eat their excellent pizzas, you can have a sample of their dessert gelato ice cream and coffee. Also, I forgot to mention that you can eat your pizza with a glass of red wine from Stella’s wine list. This helps solidify the fact that you are eating real gourmet food. What is fancy food without wine?

The only critical thing that I can say is about Pizzeria Stella and Stephen Starr is to be more proud that you are serving Philadelphia pizza. I understand that you have traveled all over the world and New York for best pizza ideas but now you are making pizza in Philly. Thus, promote your pizza as authentic Philly pizza. Italian pizza will always be Italian pizza but the location where it is served is equally important. Your pizza is now a product of Philadelphia as this is where you are serving it. I also want to say that I hope that you incorporated Philadelphia pizza in your world pizza adventures. If you haven’t then you may want to review some of the Philly pizza reviews on this website because Philly has a distinct character in its pizza that deserves recognition. Lack of knowledge of true Philly pizza and its history may be a serious undermine to your business (especially as this is the main audience that you are catering to).

Stephen Starr’s Pizzeria Stella – welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club! Your pizzeria is one of the best pizzas in Philly and one day when I create an elite Best of the Best Philly Pizza Clubs, I am sure that you may find yourself on there.

Pizzeria Stella on Urbanspoon

Maggiano’s Little Italy Italian Restaurant

Maggiano’s Little Italy Italian Restaurant Philly Review

Maggiano’s Little Italy Italian restaurant is located at 1201 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Maggiano’s was first opened in Chicago in the 1980’s by a man named Richard Melman and his company Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Later in 1995, Brinker International bought Maggiano’s from Melman and added it to their extensive collection of restaurants including Chili’s.

Maggiano’s Little Italy Italian restaurant is located all over the country but the location in Center City Philadelphia is spectacular. I know that this blog is about pizza but it also presents an opportunity to discuss other great Italian foods. Maggiano’s does not make pizza although they carry many other traditional Southern Italian foods. Their foods include various Italian appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, seafood, steak, veal, pork and chicken. Their pasta dishes are of a wide variety. Below is a short sample of their current pasta selections:

Coach Joey Z's Angel Hair Pasta
Pomodoro Sauce

Shrimp & Angel Hair al' Arrabbiata
Angel hair pasta tossed with a blend of our Diavolo sauce with sauteed shrimp, roasted garlic and crushed red pepper.

Fettuccine Alfredo, Broccoli
Traditional fettuccine noodles tossed with broccoli and garlic in a creamy alfredo sauce.

Garlic Shrimp Linguine
Linguine pasta tossed with sauteed gulf shrimp and roasted garlic, white wine, fresh tomatoes and basil in a flavorful shrimp sauce.

Gnocchi, Tomato Vodka Sauce
Ricotta pasta simmered in a delicately balanced sauce prepared with our classic pomodoro cream and finished with vodka and roasted garlic.

Chicken Pesto Linguine +
Linguine pasta tossed with roasted chicken, pesto, and pine nuts in a parmesan broth with a hint of lemon.

Linguine & Clams with Red Clam Sauce
Linguine pasta tossed with fresh clams, basil, tomatoes and chopped clams in a red clam sauce.

Linguine & Clams with White Clam Sauce
Linguine pasta tossed with fresh clams, basil and chopped clams in a white clam sauce.

Rigatoni "D"®
Rigatoni pasta, herb roasted boneless chicken, mushrooms and onions, tossed in a light Marsala cream sauce.

Spaghetti, Marinara
Spaghetti served with our classic blend of tomatoes, basil, oregano and olive oil, slightly sweet.

Spaghetti, Meat Sauce
Spaghetti served with our Italian meat sauce.

Spaghetti, Meatball or Sausage
Spaghetti with your choice of meatballs or Italian sausage; served with our meat or marinara sauce.

I really like Maggiano’s. It is one of the only Italian franchises that makes you feel like you are in an actual neighborhood Italian American restaurant. This warm feeling follows you from the time you walk into the door hearing the Frank Sinatra music until the time you sit on their giant cozy red booths or large family style tables.

Maggiano’s Little Italy is also a place that gives you your money’s worth. This is one semi fancy restaurant that you can walk away for about $50 a person and know that you received more than your money’s worth. The chances are that you will be taking food home because the portions are extra large, real Italian style.

The salads are gigantic with all of your favorite extras in there, like peppers, etc. The bread keeps coming to your table and is served with olive oil. The bread is really soft too and you are able to eat a whole loaf or two before your appetizer even comes out (so be careful not to overeat as it is very tempting).

I have been to Maggiano’s many times and can say that I still don’t have a favorite meal there, until they serve pizza. All of their dishes from seafood to pasta are out of this world. One of my most popular dishes that I order is the lobster ravioli, which is basil and saffron pasta filled with lobster meat. The sauce on this meal is a light lobster orangey cream sauce. Magnificent!

The best part of the meal is that afterwards you can order any one of their amazing deserts and wash it down with a cappuccino or espresso.

Maggiano’s Little Italy in Philadelphia is in a big building near the Reading Terminal. After you eat you can walk around the beautiful center city area and stroll through various shops.

I have heard that certain Maggiano’s offer a pizza appetizer but I have never tried it and it wasn’t on the menu on my recent visit. I am curious to taste a pizza from such a wonderful Italian restaurant so please let me know when Maggiano’s Little Italy does offer pizza so that I can pay them another visit.

Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon