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

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