Philly is home to quite a few artisanal pizza joints. You know I'm all about Pizzeria Vetri and their delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas. Fairmount has it on lock down with Bufad, Osteria (another Vetri joint), and of course, the aforementioned Pizzeria Vetri. Midtown Village provides great pizza in the form of Barbuzzo and Zavino. And for those lucky enough to live in Society Hill, Stephen Starr's Pizzeria Stella has got you covered.
How so? Their 800 degree oven whips out 12 inch artisanal pies like nobody's business.
If there are any doubts above the wood-fired oven, just take a gander at the stacks of timber ready to provide the leoparding on your crust.
So this past fall, the GF and I stopped by Pizzeria Stella to try their pies. We grabbed one of the best seats in the house - the doors were completely open to Headhouse Square so we were essentially dining al fresco, inside.
Bourbon, pomegranate liqueur, sweet vermouth
I was in the mood for a drink, so went with the Melohattan - a clear nod to the oft-enjoyed whiskey-based cocktail. The bourbon base provided some smoky sweetness, with the pomegranate coming through on top of the sweet vermouth. Easy drinking and delicious.
Sheep's Milk Ricotta [$11]
I first tried sheep's milk ricotta at Andrew Carmellini / Robert DeNiro's Laconda Verde in TriBeCa and since then, if it's on the menu anywhere, I will order it. Pizzeria Stella's version was a bit grainy, but the flavors were still there - salty, creamy, delicious. The chewy rosemary flatbread was especially nice, just begging to be slathered with the ricotta.
Risotto, parmesan, marinara
This was the GF's first time trying aranchini and since this visit, she's ordered aranchini everywhere she goes. These were perfectly executed - crispy on the outside, with creamy risotto with just enough bite within.
The tangy marinara and the salty Parmesan helped to add flavor to each bite. But really, it's all about the outer crunch for me. Yum.
San Marzano tomato, basil, buffalo mozzarella
But on to the Neapolitan-style pies. We started with the margherita - easily a standard by which all artisanal pies should be measured. Pizzeria Stella has it in spades. These 12 inch pies had a pliant, soft chew, with just enough crust from the oven to provide texture. The sweet, tangy San Marzano tomatoes meld beautifully with the buffalo mozz and the fresh basil.
When you see leoparding like this, you know your pizzas are being made right.
Black truffle, egg, fontina
We had to try the truffle-egg pie as well. Sure, every pizza joint has one of these. But that doesn't make it any less delicious - especially when a farm fresh egg is broken in front of you - tableside.
The salty fontina was a great foil for the heft of the egg and the earthiness of the truffle. Fresh shaved black truffles would have been nice, but hey, we'll make do with the truffle oil - despite all the critics.
And for a sweet note, we had to try some of the homemade gelato. Mascarpone imparted exceptional creaminess to the rich, french vanilla, with additional sweetness coming through from the honey. Decadent. The GF and I aren't big fans of biscotti, but this pistachio iteration was pretty good - great crunch and flavor.
So if you're looking for a casual and relaxing night out or are simply craving great food in the form of an artisanal pie and more - Stephen Starr's Pizzeria Stella has got you covered. Say what you will about this restaurateur, but there's a reason why all of his places (in Philly at least - sorry Questlove!) are a hit.
420 S. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106