Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: Spatola's Pizza (Paoli, PA)

In February 2013, we published our list of "58 Pizzas Worth the Calories" (Link HERE).  It generated some reader comments (always appreciated) and we got a tip from a West Chester resident to try Spatola's Pizza in Paoli, PA.  I could not be more pleased to report that there are now 59 pizzas worth the calories. Something special is taking place at Spatola's.
My awesome lunch at Spatola's, Paoli

Quite recently, we noted here that the boom in Neapolitan-style pizza is surely welcome, but we want to see more new places making artisanal versions of classic American pies - New York, New Haven, Trenton style. (Link HERE). Thin crisp crust, homemade dough, quality ingredients, hand-crafted. One such new place dedicated to traditional American pie is Gennaro's Tomato Pie in South Philly; we're anxious to get there and have some.
20 W Lancaster Ave, Paoli PA 19301

It's taken some time since I arrived in Chester County in 2009, but I'm finally fulfilling the Quixotic Quest to find destination pizza in West Chester PA or anywhere on Philly's Main Line (What is the "Main Line?" Find out about these tony suburbs at this Wikipedia LINK). La Porta in Media heads the pack (review HERE), and Wayne PA is blessed with both Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza (review HERE) and Jules Thin Crust. Now standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those great pies is Spatola's.
From the Spatola Pizza website,

After I got the tip from a commenter on this blog, I found a little (and conflicting) info about Spatola's on the web. Googling, you can find Spatola's in Doylestown, New Hope, Ambler, and Lansdowne. Not certain if they are all linked or not. There are just two locations identified on their website -- Paoli, and Chalfont. The site notes "From Palermo, Sicily to Philadelphia and finally ... Chalfont PA." The Paoli location is the newcomer.
Sicilian, left, and Trenton, right. From

What I saw at the counter

On a weekday, I stopped in to the Paoli location on Lancaster Avenue (very near Paoli Pike, the Paoli train station, and the WaWa) for two slices at lunch. It is a small space, just six stool seats along a window counter. Even the display counter was small - too small to easily see all the pizza choices as well as other options like garlic knots and cannoli. The conventional pie (NY style) had eye appeal, but I had come primarily to investigate the Trenton-style and Brooklyn-style pies.
Owner is in background, at the oven

Chatting with the friendly counter man (who I later learned was the owner), I discovered that the Trenton pie is a large 16" square pie (quite a bargain at $14.95) that resembles a Sicilian pie (also on the menu) but has a thin crust and a pronounced raised edge. It's made with plum tomatoes and conventional mozzarella. I've had plenty of Trenton pizza, and the main similarity to Trenton pies I know is the thin but crisp crust. The closest thing to this style would be Brooklyn's "Granma" slice, which is another thin-crust square pie (see a Granma slice at Brooklyn's Lenny's Pizza, where Tony Manero ate pizza in Saturday Night Fever, at this LINK). At Spatola's, their version of a Brooklyn pie is identical to the Trenton pie, except that fresh mozzarella is swapped in for the conventional dry mozz.
The pie I took home. Box filler!

I was keen on the Trenton style, so I ordered a slice and also a more conventional NY slice that was topped with sauce, regular mozzarella, diced tomato, and what looked like spots of bufalo mozz but may have been ricotta. Anyhow, both slices had a very thin crust that had a wonderful crispness, and was somehow sturdy enough to support a generous cheese and sauce topping. 
A pepperoni slice, after the re-bake

Sausage slice. You can see the fennel seeds!

The Trenton pie was sufficiently promising that I ordered an entire pie for takeout, and it cooked while I ate my two slices. The friendly owner hails from Palermo, Sicily. For the Trenton pie I ordered to go, he was reluctant to fulfill my request for meat topping -- "Why mess with perfection?" he asked. We spoke about how so many pizzas are ruined by piling on too many toppings. We spoke about balance and he noted that "simple is often best" (a lesson I learned in Rome - see link HERE). This pizzaiolo understands the yin and yang of crafting a destination pie.

Tasted even better than this looks

Generally, nearly every pizza tastes pretty good, so I often discriminate more by texture. These slices had my ideal texture - no tip sag, no need to fold it to eat it. But more importantly, they had a savory balance of sauce, cheese, crust that made it the tastiest pizza in my memory. I expected to like the Trenton slice, and I loved it. The plum tomatoes had a sweet note and plenty of fresh tomato flavor. The thin crust had superb flavor and texture. This Trenton slice was firing on all 8 cylinders.
Another look at the lunch slices. Chunky plum tomato sauce!

I expected less of the NY slice, but it may have been even better. There was some oil pooling on top of this slice, but I don't seek out pizza as diet food; the oil imparts flavor and I welcome it, whether it oozes from the cheese or is added olive oil. 

The pie man did relent to my request for meat toppings on my Trenton pie; I got half pepperoni and half sausage.  The meat went on only after the pie was nearly done; this big square cooked in a large black pan. All the pies were cooked in a conventional commercial pizza oven, just like DeLorenzo's of Trenton (link HERE) and Di Fara's of Brooklyn (link HERE). There's plenty of fuss about brick ovens, coal fired ovens, wood fired ovens, but this confirmed my sense that ingredients and technique matter a lot more than the oven.

I took the finished pie and placed it in my trunk, where it spent the next 4 or 5 hours. Naturally, it steamed itself in there -- never a good thing for the crust. About 7 hours later, I took out five slices, put them on my perforated pizza pan, and heated them for about 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
They made a full recovery! Supremely crisp (but not hard) on the bottom, with the lovely chunky plum tomato and cheese complemented now by some high-grade pepperoni and genuine Italian sausage, sliced from the rope. Again, this pie nails it on flavor, on balance and harmony, and on texture. The ridges on the cornicione were crisp with small bubbles and especially delightful to crunch down. I hate to see any pie eater leave pizza bones behind; with this pie, it would be criminal.
The edge crust was an  amazing bubbly crunch
In my pizza quests, I've discovered Neapolitan pie, gourmet pie, and legendary pie. I loved them all, but mostly I've been looking for a pizza shop that can execute a crisp and tasty American pie that doesn't get soggy. This is an every-day and any-day go-to pizza. The quality is high, the craftsmanship higher, and the prices are modest. It's American pie with a genuine Italian sensibility. I'm delighted to have it nearby.
At home, but before the re-bake
Ratings:  The crust gets 9.5.  The sauce gets a 9. The cheese is 8.5. The pepperoni is a 7, the sausage is a 9. The yin/yang is a 10.  Overall, I will split hairs and call this pie a 9, a destination pie, and a grand bargain.

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  1. Like the pizzaiolo, I too am reluctant to put toppings on a good pizza, but that cut with the sausage looks inviting. And the handle on that pepperoni cut... I'm sold! I need to try this pizza.
    - James

  2. Hey I am the one who posted on here originally about this plae and I am glad you enjoyed this place as much as I did!! I have question for you though. Are you a fan of bar style pizza at all or ever tried any pizza in the lehigh valley area?

  3. Kyle, I love bar style pie. The best I had was at Ivy Tavern in Trenton, until I had pie from Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. You can find my review of it on this blog. I have not had any Lehigh area pizza, though. Check out NEPA Pizza Review, maybe he has!

  4. Okay I was just wondering because I grew up in the Lehigh Valley and was curious to see if you tried to any pizza places in that area. I also asked about the bar style pizza because I grew up eating pizza pizza at a place called the Paddock in Allentown and was wondering how their pizza stacked up with more famous bar style pizzas. It looks similar to Orange Tavern if you ever heard of that. Another great bar style pizza in that area Crossroads Hotel in Hellertown. Also in Allentown in a place called Atillios which has 2 old Italian guys making the pizza and has been there since I have been born and their pizza is awesome so if you are ever traveling through the Lehigh Valley area those are places you could check out!

  5. I just found your blog and I love it! I am a self declared pizza snob and when I moved to Berwyn I tried a few places that really never made the grade. Then I found Spatola's! I will be perusing your archives for some more suggestions in the area :)

  6. Hi Amber, Thanks for the comments! I started this blog when I moved to West Chester (from Bucks County) and could not find any worthy pizza. Happily, I found some gems and some great new places opened up. You have Jules and Anthony's Coal-Fired in Wayne (chains, yes, but still excellent) and of course Spatola's, Best of the burbs is still LaPorta in Edgemont. Here's a rundown: