Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: Phil's Pizza, Berwyn PA

In the tiny South Jersey town of Riverside, there was one pizzeria in the 1960s: Rosa's.  It was fabulous. As a kid who didn't travel, I didn't know that this was an authentic Trenton-style tomato pie. I just knew I loved it.  In the 1970s, competition came, just a few blocks away - Angelo's "New York Style" pizza. Well, Angelo's served that soft and cheesy/gooey style of pie so common now in the ubiquitous faceless storefront pizza joint. Tasty enough, but ultimately just a belly filler, not an artisanal production.

It's kinda cool that in my teens I already knew great pizza from common pie. I will say that for decades, I presumed (SO wrongly) that all NY pizza was as uninspired as Angelo's "NY style."  After Rosa's closed, I rarely had a decent pie.

One notable exception was at the shore in Sea Isle City. There, a small joint named Phil's Pizza turned out some good pies. Always and deservedly crowded in summertime, I have fond memories of the pizza there. Way better than anything else I had found (in my very limited travels) since the closing of Rosa's.

Hence, in my pursuit of good pizza in the western suburbs of Philly, I was delighted to learn that Phil's was still in business and had opened a branch in Berwyn PA on the Main Line. I set off to sample their pie with two FEEPs (fellow enthusiasts eating pizza).

Phil's in Berwyn has a reputation (if you can trust online reviews) of brusque service and big crowds on Friday nights. We hit it on a Monday around 5:30, and it was pretty quiet. We got pleasant service and our pie (a large plain, as recommended by FEEP1) came quickly. Probably too quickly. Some folks really enjoy a slice of pizza with oozing and dripping cheese, but to me it's a sign of a poorly made pie. And I have to say, Phil's pie was, in the center, a wet hot mess. The pie was so wet that the crust was useless. There I was, eating pizza with plastic knife and fork.

FEEP1, like me, loved Phil's in Sea Isle and had been to Phil's Berwyn previously. She noted, however, that this pie was not up to Phil's usual standards. FEEP2 really enjoyed the pie. I tried quite hard to enjoy it. I did find that the ingredients were above-average, especially the crust! Too bad that half the crust was ruined by improper baking. I rate the center of the pie about a 2. By the time I reached the cornicione, the pie was a six or a seven. At the hands of a competent pizzaiolo, this could have been the best pie west of Philly. 

What went wrong?  Was there too much sauce?  Oven temp too low?  Cooking period too brief? Not enough top heat?  It's a shame -- the bottom of the crust looked good with a decent char. What's your theory on why some pizzas are wet and sloppy?

FEEP2 saw someone order a cheesesteak, liked what he saw, and decided to have one. They screwed up his order and gave him a pizzasteak instead of a cheesesteak. He did not complain and generously gave me a sample. It was very good!  Nice touch that they toasted the roll, and the beef/cheese/onions/sauce was full of flavor.

Phil earn a 7.5 for the cheesesteak. Sadly, the pizza is a failure. Maybe we hit it on a bad night. It coulda been a 7, but the pizza soup we got earns just a 3.

Phil's Famous Pizza & Steaks on Urbanspoon

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