Saturday, October 31, 2009

Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria Philly Pizza Review

Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches Review

Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches is located at 2119 West Oregon Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19145. Established in 1996, Uncle Oogie’s has a well established reputation in Philadelphia. Actually, those who like their pizza swear by it and won’t have anything else.

Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches has a giant menu of items. They serve hamburgers, Philly cheese steaks, Philly chicken cheese steaks, low carb wraps, pastas, hoagies, chicken sandwiches, salads, appetizers, wings, and of course, pizza. They serve all styles of pizza including: gourmet pizza, white pizza, old Italian pizza, classic pizza, stromboli, and a very interesting breakfast pizza. That’s right, breakfast pizza (so it does exist). They have many variations of the breakfast pizza, which include egg and cheese and western.

Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches is a small pizzeria which includes dine in and take out (or delivery). The dine in section has about 10 small tables to sit and a nice flat screen TV to watch. There is also a restroom available. An observation I made about this place was that there were about 20 people working behind the counter and only a few customers eating in. They all seemed very busy too so they may have been preparing delivery orders. But 20 people…is that necessary for this small scale operation?

My review of Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches is as follows:

I like Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches for a variety of reasons. They have good pizza, you can eat in there, there is a wide variety of food options, there is a wide variety of pizzas to choose from, and they have many specials available.

I ordered a large Margherita pizza there. I had a major problem with their pie…it was served cold. The pizza may have been sitting behind the counter for sometime before I finally was called. It wasn’t frozen or very cold but slightly less than warm. For this type of traditional pizza, the wrong temperature will ruin the quality of the pie when eaten. Pizzas always taste better hot (the degree of hot is debatable). This strikes me as odd because with twenty employees there and a giant pizza oven you would think that they could get the hot part right.

They are lucky that I have tried their pizza before or it may have swayed my opinion of them.
The Margherita pizza had a semi charred traditional thick crust (not pure thin crust). The Mozzarella cheese was about 30% of the toppings. The problem I had with the cheese goes back to the cold factor. The semi cold temperature of the pie caused the cheese to not have the warm stringy appeal. Instead it was harder and more firm.

I liked the sauce on top which had chucks of tomatoes. There was a substantially amount of tomato sauce on there compared to the cheese. The sauce was very sweet too. There were only a few sprinkles of basil on the entire pie. The basil didn’t look too fresh either and the leaves should have been bigger.

I am not impressed with my past visit to Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches. Overall, there pizza would have been so much better if served warm. These kinds of mistakes can’t happen especially when you get a surprise visit from a pizza critic. I would suggest a few changes. First, reevaluate how many employees are necessary to run your shop.

Miscommunication between many sections could have led to my pie served cold. Second, you need bigger fresher slices of basil. Third, double check the quality of the cheese and how much you are putting on your pie. Fourth, don’t change a thing about your sauce, it was good even cold.

I am going to make an exception and let Uncle Oogie’s Pizzeria and Specialty Sandwiches be a part of the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club. The reason I am doing this is because all other factors considered, they are a really good pizzeria. If the pizza was warmer I am sure that this pie would have been top quality Philadelphia pizza.

Uncle Oogie's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria Review

Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria is located at 1549 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147. Established in 1985, Franco and Luigi’s has moved from their old location on 10th and Ritner to their current place. Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria has a very unique business. Their operation works in conjunction with the High Note Café / Restaurant in the adjacent building. Essentially this is a pizzeria that opens as a full scale restaurant on certain nights of the week. The unique part is that the owner Frank (Franco) Borda is a very famous opera singer in Philadelphia. Thus, on various nights you can eat and be entertained with various singers.

Franco and his business have such an exciting story that I have provided the following excerpt of it from his website:

Franco's first musical performance was as a pretzel vendor in South Philly. He
pushed the pretzel cart at age seven and sang his "Fresh Pretzel" aria at the
top of his lungs. His daily salary was five dollars a day.

In 1980
Franco graduated as a drama major from the Creative and Performing Arts High
school on south Broad Street during their inaugural year. The walls of that
school could probably tell you a few stories of Franco and his friends during
that first year. From there his vocal studies took him to Settlement Music
School, followed by Bryn Mawr Conservatory under the tutlelage of Catherine
Barone. After Bryn Mawr, Franco began study with Marianne Casiello of the Curtis
Institute of Music, and found outlet for his talent with the Bel canto Lyric
Opera. He still fine-tunes his lyrical voice with Enrico DiGiuseppe, formerly of
the Julliard School of Music, and leading tenor with this country's premiere
opera house The Metropolitan Opera in New York. Franco's name has become
synonymous with Italian Music in South Philadelphia. He has been heard at
Vendemnia, the Italian Mercato and the Ocean City Pops. He has sung in several
operas with the Lyric Opera of Philadelphia under the baton of Maestro Carl
Suppa, and Tony Publiese. He is a strong advocated of young talent. He is
constantly providing young singers with numerous performance opportunities as he
himself understands the perils of the music business and wants to give as many
young artists as he can the opportunities to move forward in a very competitive

Franco is a completely self taught chef. Much of his training
comes from the "old-world" Southern Italian recipes of his family who come from
Calabria, Italy. He has been cooking professionally for 20 years. His Pizzeria
has been thriving since he began, and his restaurant HighNote Cafe has been
tuning out great pasta dishes for almost 14 years (1994). Franco believes that
great Italian food is simple to prepare, using only a few ingredients and
letting them sing out in the dish. The greatest food of Italy is to be found in
the home, using the ingredients available to these "home-cooks" with a powerful
combination of passion and knowledge. He always strives to give the guests in
his restaurant that "Prepared at home" feel and taste with every dish. Italian
food has no pretense; it doesn't need any.

The two most defining aspects
of Franco's personality have always been cooking and singing. Years ago he
combined the two in his HighNote Restaurant, thus giving his guests a sensory
experience that they never forget. Food and wine have always been a great
marriage, but with Philadelphia's singing chef, one more level is added with his

Now as Philadelphia's Singing Chef, Franco is taking performance
art to the next level. He will be "performing" singing and cooking at the same
time, while combining food education with music education. His dream is to have
his own cooking show where he will do just that. In the near future, Franco will
be "Cooking Puccini" where he will be singing the arias of the great Italian
composer while cooking the foods and serving the wines of Puccini's particular
region. Franco will be joined by several of South Philadelphia's opera singers.
Guest of this event will be directly involved in the cooking process, be able to
see the food being prepared with detailed instruction by the chef, and then be
able to enjoy the dishes while listening to the music.

If you are
planning a fundraiser, the singing chef is a great addition. Franco makes all of
his fundraising expertise available to his clients and becomes directly involved
in the planning process.

Franco loves his hometown, so The Singing Chef
can be seen anywhere he can to promote Philadelphia's food, sights, and talent.
He will also be bringing the foods of Philadelphia to other cities as a culinary
and musical ambassador.

Franco has his own music CD which you can hear
him sing Italian & Americam Songs, and can be bought at the restaurant for

Franco is in good company. Many of this country's greatest
singers come from Philadelphia, including Mario Lanza, Enrico DiGiuseppe, and
Frank Guarrera (formerly of the Metropolitan Opera). The Singing Chef also sings
popular Italian songs, as well as jazz standards, and musical theater.

Inspiration comes to Franco through the melodious laughter of his two
beautiful children Anthony and Maria, and from the tender and supportive love of
his wife Teresa. He is carrying on the traditions of his family by teaching his
children his values, his music and his great taste in fine food.

Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria has a beautiful building with various pictures of the owner and his singing career. I encourage you to visit this pizzeria as you can learn more about Philadelphia and its culture.

As far as the review of Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria…their pizza is mostly American style. They do have good Sicilian tomato pies there (you can buy it by the slice if you like). I ordered their Mama’s Homestyle pizza, which is their closest pizza to the traditional Margherita pizza. The pie was very good but I don’t think it shows any resemblance to a true Margherita pizza. The crust was slightly charred and the large pie was 18 inches. The tomato sauce was very flavorful but was minimal compared to the amount of cheese on there. The cheese was very stringy as you bite into it. They use mozzarella cheese but there was about a 60/40 ratio of cheese to sauce. I think that an ideal Margherita pizza should have about 50/50 ratio.

There was also no basil on it so the idea of considering this a Margherita pizza is useless. But as an American style pizza I thought that the package was excellent. The crust, cheese, and sauce all worked well together. Plus, the atmosphere and the price (large at $11.45) were very comforting.

I would recommend Franco and Luigi’s Pizzeria and thus, welcome them to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

Franco & Luigi's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pica's Pizza Restaurant

Pica’s Restaurant is located at 7803 West Chester Pike, Upper Darby, PA 19082. The history of this restaurant is worth mentioning here as this is one of the oldest active pizza places left in Philly.

Established in 1941 by Frank Pica, Sr., Pica’s first location was in West Philadelphia on 62nd and Race Street. Frank Pica sold only his original square pizza there as a very modest business. In 1956, Pica’s growth required the move to a much bigger place at their current location.
Some interesting observations about Pica’s old pizzeria:

At that time women had to be accompanied up to the second floor by gentlemen. There were no exceptions as this was the house rules at the time. Also, Frank Pica’s original pizzas were $1 for a large and $.75 for a small. It is interesting to compare these prices to that of today where pizzas went up on average almost 1500%.

Pica’s small pizzeria is now a large restaurant that features a large menu of food in addition to the original square pizza that built this business. The place is very nice and would be a few steps down from being a high class restaurant. The staff was very friendly and made me feel at home. They have a bar that you can sit and drink at too.

Although the menu was very large, I came there for the pizza. Their options are all square pizza but have many toppings to choose from. I tried half pepperoni and half regular. They don’t have Margherita pizzas there. Actually, this is what bothers me a little that I know New York pizza critics will give Philly slack about. This pizza establishment has been in existence since 1941 and they don’t even know what a Margherita pizza is. I am finding this a lot in Philly. Even though the pizzas can be very good and unique. How can you have a pizza business this long and not know pizza’s roots and history?

Despite their lack of pizza knowledge and Margherita pizza option, Pica’s pizza was very different than many other Philly pizzas. They have only square pizza like Santucci’s Brothers Square Pizza but yet different. Their pizza is served fresh on the square tray it was cooked on. Pica’s put their cheese on the bottom and then sauce on the top. Their sauce is very distinguishable. It is a very basic tomato sauce yet very sweeter than many other Philly pizzerias. The cheese is a nice amount under the sauce and is very stringy when you bite into it. Also, the pepperoni pizza had giant thin slices places two on top of each slice.

The crust is slightly blackened (charred) and has a small crackly edge on it. They serve 8 slices in a pie for a reasonable price of around $10.

All in all, I liked Pica’s pizza as they are truly an original and historical pizza place in Philly. I do, however, still question their lack of pizza knowledge considering their length of being in the Philadelphia pizza business.

Pica's on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Famous Napoli Pizza

The Famous Napoli Pizza Review

The Famous Napoli Pizza in South Philadelphia has been around for over 50 years. It sits at the corner of a small intersection. The place has a big red awning and cannot be missed. There are several booths in there to sit and eat.

Running this blog I am faced to select only the cream of the crop for review here considering that there are over 2000 places in Philly that serve pizza (this is probably an understatement). It is not possible for me to review every single place as this may take about 7 years (assuming that I ate at least one pizza place a day). With this in mind, I visited Napoli pizza to give them a review because they have been there for a long time. If you are in Philly and have been in the pizza business for fifty plus years then I feel obligated to at least give a review.

I was not impressed with Napoli Pizza. Napoli Pizza is located at 944 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19147. Napoli Pizza does offer a large menu of items including: buffalo wings, salads, Italian pasta, and sandwiches. Pizza is what they promote themselves for the most.

I tried a regular pizza slice as the margherita pizza is only available in a large. Napoli Pizza serves mostly American style pizza with the cheese on top. Their plain cheese pizza is nothing special. It is prepared with a large amount of cheese on an average sized slice. The sauce was bland and the crust was average. The crust had average thickness and was not cooked until black. The edges were slightly crisp. This was just a plain Jane pizza that did nothing for me.

It is not always just the pizza that can make a pizzeria be considered the best – it is other factors as well. The staff that I encountered at Napoli pizza was not friendly at all. Actually, I didn’t see the cashier smile once the whole time that I was there. This is huge factor for making a pizza place shine. The atmosphere has to be welcoming and if it is not then the business will suffer and never reach its fullest potential.

I do not recommend Napoli Pizza for the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club. If you are looking for a quick bite and don’t care about taste or hospitality then you can visit Napoli Pizza. If you are looking for above average to great pizza then you may want to reconsider something else.

Napoli Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Lorenzo and Sons Pizza

Lorenzo and Sons South Street Pizza Review

My third stop on my pizza tour today was to Lorenzo and Sons on South Street. Lorenzo and Sons was established in 1988 (although their website claims that they ere open for more than 30 years). They are located at 305 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147.

I have ate at Lorenzo’s for a long time and will attest that they are a great late night pizza place after a long stroll down the famous South Street in Philly. On a Friday or Saturday night, you may see lines around the corner waiting for Lorenzo’s slices. Since they are open seven days a week until 3 in the morning, you are bound to have an experience at Lorenzo’s if you are there at the end of their night shift.

Lorenzo’s is an interesting place because they have absolutely no variety. As their customer slogan says “the customer is always wrong.” They serve basically one type of pizza by the slice, plain cheese American style pizza. They do not have a place to sit inside so plan on eating your slice on South Street.

Despite these limitations, Lorenzo’s is very unique. They sell probably the biggest pizza in Philadelphia. Their large box is a 28 inch pizza (wicked big). I personally do not know of any pizza in Philly that is larger than this (if you do then let me know so I can pay them a visit). This is similar to what DC pizza has become to be famous for – giant pizzas (actually much bigger than Lorenzo’s)

Lorenzo’s large pizza is so big that they actually have to put it in 2 boxes. If you bought Lorenzo’s by the slice, their pizza is still probably the biggest slice in Philly. It is the widest and the longest. The slice is so long that they serve the pizza with the end of the slice flipped over back on top of the pizza so that it can remain on the paper plate.

Since they don’t have much variety, I just took a regular cheese slice. This is a round crust pie, American style (as American as it can be). There is plenty of cheese on Lorenzo’s pizza as this is what makes there pizza taste unique. If you are into cheese and big then you should be here. Lorenzo’s sauce is of average taste but I will not lie to you: It is very difficult to taste the sauce as the cheese overpowers it. There is a large amount of cheese on this giant of a pizza slice.

The crust is cooked in their pizza oven before any discoloration. There was not a sign of burnt or blackness on my crust. The crust was of a thin to average thickness.

Overall, I think that Lorenzo’s and Sons should join the Best Philly Pizza Club. They make a cool, large, cheesy, American style pizza. This recommendation would drive New York pizza critics crazy as they would disagree. If these same people were to see the amount of business this place gets at night then they might reconsider.

Lorenzo & Son Pizza on Urbanspoon

Cacia's Bakery and Cafe

Cacia's Bakery and Cafe Review

Cacia’s Bakery is a famous place in South Philly that makes all types of oven cooked products like bread, deserts, and pizza. Cacia’s was established in 1953 but has recently expanded with their fourth generation of family members taking over the family business.

Cacia’s also is one of the last brick oven bakeries left in Philadelphia. Their bakery is open for service 363 days a year being closed only on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Cacia’s specializes in Italian breads and rolls, stromboli (pepperoni & cheese, vegetable, Philly cheese steak, roast pork, broccoli rabe and sharp provolone stromboli), pizza (red cheese, tomato pie, pizzazz, vegetable, white, and their famous hoagie pizza), and cannolis or pastry. Their Hammonton and Blackwood locations offer full service Italian Delis with over 30 specialty hoagies to choose from. Their newest location in Northern Liberties features specialty coffees as well as sandwiches. Cacia’s Bakery now has seven locations: Philadelphia, Blackwood, Cherry Hill, Hammonton, NJ, Macdade Blvd, Folsom, PA, and their newest location on 2nd Street in Northern Liberties.

I have recently visited the Cacia’s Bakery and Café in Northern Liberties located at 719 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Growing up I always frequented their original South Philly bakery and was very impressed with what I discovered today. Cacia’s expansion operations appear to be successful.

Cacia’s pizza is a small square style (not Sicilian because it is not really thick). Cacia’s pizza is truly a unique type of pizza that if you held any other pizza next to it, Cacia’s can be spotted from a mile away. They just have an original recipe that is consistent every time. It still appears to be consistent despite their expansion. Cacia’s bakery is very famous in Philly and has visitors from all over the world who come to for their products.

I ordered their original tomato pie pizza (one slice). This pie is true old fashioned Italian style pizza that focuses on more of the tomato sauce. I wouldn’t even call this a marinara. The pizza consists of a rectangular crust, about a 4 by 6 inch slice, with about a ¾ inch crust. This is on the way to being Sicilian style but still needs to be a little thicker.

This pizza is one of my favorites so I am a little biased. The taste has never changed. The tomato base on top of the crust has to be about a half inch of tomato sauce from one end of the crust to the other and completely level too. It is truly a tomato pie. The sauce is special too. You can taste the strong tomato flavor with all of its spices included. I have noticed that they have added red pepper to their sauce as well (in South Philly they call it “gravy”).

Cacia’s does not sell Margherita pies. They don’t have many options of pizza actually. But what they do sell they make it well. I think that the tomato pie reviewed today though has to be their most popular. Cacia’s Bakery is truly one of the best of the best Philly pizza spots and is a legend for what they are known for.

Cacia's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Rustica Pizza

I went on a Philly pizza tour today and made it to 4 key pizza businesses. The first one that is up for review is Rustica.

Established in 2000, Rustica is located at 903 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA, which is the Northern Liberties area. Rustica is a hip pizzeria that serves various types of pizza. There is indoor as well as outdoor seating available. Their name probably comes from their rustic looking, particularly their old style hardwood floors. Rustica has won several awards from various sources and is a very popular pizza spot.

My pizza tour consisted of four spots so I had to make room for at minimum four slices of pizza. With this in mind, please understand that I am making these reviews with the best of my resources. For example, I usually review Margherita pizzas as they are very traditional Italian pizzas. Some of the pizza places today, however, only sell this pizza as a large and not by the slice. Since it wasn’t practical for me to order a whole pizza, I decided to choose what was available by the slice.

Rustica did not serve a Margherita pizza at all so I went a little fancy. I ordered a slice of their spinach and roasted peppers American style pizza (cheese on top). After a few minutes of warming up, round 1 was served. By the way, Rustica pizzas are mostly round. The crust on their pie was lightly darkened, average thickness, and burnt slightly on the edges. The crust was also foldable without much drippage. There sauce was sweet and tasty and did not slide off the crust like some pizzas do. The spinach was ok but nothing to brag about. The roasted peppers were a nice touch on top with the cheese. The sauce was tasty but I think a little more would have made it just right. The cheese melted well on top and was a little darkened in some spots.

I think Rustica pizza overall was very good. I would have just added a tad bit more sauce and spinach. For a fountain drink and a slice the cost was $4, which is a reasonable price considering the fancy location of the pizzeria. I wouldn’t say that Rustica is the best of the best pizzas in Philly but they still deserve a green light.

Rustica has a nice business going for them and would bet that they will be around many more years. I may have to revisit to give them my full attention one day by ordering an entire meal. a few moments I will post my next review of Cacia’s Bakery so stay tuned…

Rustica Pizza on Urbanspoon