Finally: a pizzeria in Philadelphia that’s not only thought deeply about how to get it right, but is striving to get there. Could domenica sera pizza parties actually be in my Philadelphia future?
Going to Stephen Starr’s Pizzeria Stella tonight was a total surprise, so no pictures. Our group included the chef, the architect and his cousin the art historian: all foodies, all Italian-born, and all longing for a taste of home.
The art historian ordered, unsurprisingly, the classic pizza margherita: with basil, tomato and mozzarella di bufala, it’s the standard by which all other pizzas are judged. The basil leaves were giant-sized, the sauce not too heavy-handed, and the cheese neither scant nor plentiful. From across the table, it looked just about right. She neither said much about it nor shared it with others: a good sign that she was, in fact, enjoying it.
The chef ordered the pizza marinara: with san marzano tomato, oregano and sliced garlic, the least appealing choice on the menu, imho. Its center failed to hold its form as he picked up slice after slice, but the chef says the tomatoes were good. The crust, not so much. Some work is needed.
The architect got what most intrigued me, the finocchio: braised fennel, black olives, tomato and I’m not sure what else, as the pizza is not published on any of the online menus I’ve seen! I know we did, indeed, eat it, and that its flavors were lovely despite the sagging crust. Apparently, getting the right amount of toppings and the right “cottura” in the center of the pie is a trick the kitchen still needs to work out.
I was seduced by a twist on my all-time favorite prosciutto e arugula, and ordered the San Daniele: smoked mozzarella, San Daniele prosciutto and baby arugula. The crust on mine was just right: crispy through the center, bubbles of char, a bit of chew in the crust. It was a bit dry, however, with the smoked mozzarella unassuming, and a bit salata (oversalted), masking what should have been the sweetness of one of Italy’s finest prosciutto. While no Il Pizzaiolo pie, it was by far the closest approximation to authentic Italian pizza that I’ve eaten in Philadelphia.
Am not sure what I think about the communal seating or the design of the dining room, but the service was good and the host/manager – a friendly bald man with an inviting smile – provided something of intrigue to gaze upon. Looking forward to my next visit!