|Alice management team member Antonella|
The pizza was spectacular, top to bottom, but mostly due to the medium-thick crust. If you start with great bread, you will have great pizza. Why don't they sell this Roman style pizza in America, I asked?
|Pizza al taglio in Rome|
At long last, true Roman style pizzerias are opening on this side of the Atlantic. I was particularly keen on sampling the pizza at Rione, which opened in downtown Philadelphia in May, 2017. In fact, I was walking to Rione along Locust street when I saw Alice.
Alice - pronounced ah lih che - is the first American outpost of an Italian pizza franchise that was founded by Domenico Giovannini in 1990; I had read a blurb about Alice in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the location at Locust and 15th looked inviting on this damp and drizzly evening. I punted my plans for Rione and ducked into Alice Cucina Romana.
|The pizza side|
My appetite allowed for about two normal size slices, but I could have had four smaller slices, because the pie is sold by weight and cut to the size of your choice. Next time, for sure I will try more varieties.
|The cafe side (photo by @AlicePhilly)|
All of the choices looked good, with the one exception of pale pink diced tomatoes on a few pies. At the time I made my selection, the only pie with traditional red sauce was a "plain" pie, so I wound up with two slices that lacked a tomato component.
I chose one slice with potato and bacon, and the other topped with sausage and basil. Service was earnest, but clearly the American staff was still being trained by the Italians. My slices came to me at room temperature - and I'm not sure if an oven warm-up was or should be an option. I paid about $3.50 each for slices big enough for each to be cut into two squares.
|My two slices|
I took a counter seat, looking out on Locust Street. You can often detect superior pizza just by its appearance, and this pie was beautiful. The medium-thick crust was golden brown outside, and it sported the complex hole structure of good Italian bread. The exterior was a little oily and ideally crisp, with a dense but light chewiness inside.
|Potato and bacon slice|
Antonella - part of the management team - told me that Alice uses a special ancient grain for the flour, grown outside of Rome. More details about that crust from the Alice website:
The secret is in the dough, characterized by a very small amount of yeast: 25 g of brewer’s yeast, generally used to make 1-2 kg of dough, makes about 25 kg of our dough. The dough becomes rich in oxygen and, after at least a 24 hours rising at a controlled temperature, is gently kneaded and rolled out in the baking tray.
The potato and bacon slice (Antonella's favorite) was tasty and well-balanced, but the flavors on top were a bit tame. I fixed that with some salt, but I'd add more bacon, sharper cheese, and/or seasoning to the potatoes. The texture, though, was perfect. Many attempts at potato pizza result in a pie that is wet or heavy, but this potato topping blended beautifully with the crust and cheese. This slice would be wonderful at breakfast with some strong Italian coffee.
|A crust close-up|
The sausage (salsiccia) slice was superb in every way. Large chunks of piquant Italian sausage had been cooked on the pie, and were melded into a tasty cheese blend on top. There was also a generous amount of a green topping that seemed like a fresh pesto - even though I could not determine if it was parsley or basil. A slice that was about perfect in flavor, textures, and balance.
After I had finished, I spotted a pie topped with large wavy slices of what looked like soppressata, just visually beautiful. I'm going to be surprised if Alice isn't regularly full of people coming for both the casual pizza side and the full-service side of the interior space.
|Photo by @PhillyInsider|
I'm generally skeptical of chain pizza, and there are over 100 Alice outposts in Italy. But this was not only good pie, it was one of the best pizzas I've had in 2017. There's something wonderful about all types of pizza, but the current Pizza Renaissance in America has seen a lot of Neapolitan pies and fewer pan-baked rectangular pies.
Happily, that's changing with places like Rione, the incredible Rize Pizza in West Chester PA, the expansion of Tina Fey's hometown favorite Pica's, and now Alice Cucina Romana. This is can't-miss destination pizza.