Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: SLiCE Pizza, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

SLiCE Pizza has three locations - On Sansom Street near Rittenhouse Square, in South Philly's Italian Market, and in South Jersey. We visited the Sansom Street location for lunch on a Tuesday; I was accompanied by four out-of-towners: one from California and three from Chicago. There are just a handful of small tables and a counter in the front window. Clearly, the experience here is focused on the pizza, not the ambiance. On the www.slicePA.com website, the pie is described this way:
We wanted to make true Italian pizza, so we started by opening one block from the Italian Market. Then, we made pizza. For months we baked and tasted, mixed and flipped until what we had would beat any Americanized slice of pizza out there. Most consider us gourmet, we consider ourselves what pizza was meant to be. 
SliCE is an award-winning Neapolitan style pie. This means our dough is made fresh each day with the best flour. Then, it’s hand tossed and topped first, with the highest grade mozzarella cheese, and then with our homemade, hand crushed San Marzano tomato sauce. Lastly, we finish the pie with extra virgin olive oil. Each pizza is baked on hot stones and cooked to a crisp, delicious perfection. The outcome is a thin, lightly topped, fragrant pie.
I'm going to (politely) dispute the term "Neapolitan" applied to this pie, because it ain't the puffy crusted leopard spotted style you'd find at Zavino or Stella. This thin crisp crust has lots more in common with pie in Rome, in Tuscany, and in Trenton than with pie in Naples. But SLiCE is not the first pizza joint to misuse the term.
Americano with arugula. Click any pic to enlarge!

Rick Nichols, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, spoke to SLiCE's founder and confirmed its Trenton-based inspiration. Excerpts from his article (full story HERE) :
DeLorenzo's (my review HERE) serves "tomato pies" with the mozzarella is on the bottom and the crushed tomato is on the top, making its flavor the distinguishing characteristic. The thin crust supremely crunchy, the cheese playing second fiddle, the bright tomatoes perfectly balanced and tart-sweet. For SLiCE owner Jason Dilks, growing up near Yardley PA, De Lorenzo's was true north, the place he gravitated to for pizza.
At SLiCE I bought a slice of the Americano, the style closest to the Trenton original, the melted mozzarella smiling up through the splotches of San Marzano tomato. Dilks says he combines bread flour and two other flours with a secret ingredient in his daily dough.
Dilks' standard of crispness? "My ideal is to hold a slice out straight; I don't want it to sag." Neither does he want a fat lip rim around the perimeter: "I don't like to chew through all that crust." Here the surrounding border is just as thin and flat as the rest of the base. It's what's not in the sauce, he says, that counts. If my memory serves, De Lorenzo's simply hand-crushed canned California tomatoes, adding a little tomato puree and a touch of seasoning. (At Slice, the oregano is a whiff.) 
The mozzarella is a brand called Grande, out of Brooklyn, which Dilks says resists burning on the stones in the heat of the gas oven. And that's it, almost. There's a final dusting of Parmesan, a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. You can add sausage from Maglio's, the sausage house near Third and Pattison. 
Enough backstory - let's talk about our slices at SLiCE! My out-of-town guests were a sophisticated group, and two nights earlier we had all thoroughly enjoyed the fine fare at Garces Trading Company. (Duck fat fries!) But, even as residents of a midwestern legendary pizza town, they were east-coast pizza noobs, and they gleefully violated almost every pizza tenet that I hold dear. 

They resisting cured meat toppings, piled enough veggies on a slice to make it into a bread-based salad bowl, and added pineapple to Trenton tomato pie. But their graciousness (and tolerance of my pizza snobbery) more than made up for their, ummm, curious pizza choices. Heck, I'd even go to Pizza Hut in order to share a meal with such fine company.
Americano with sausage

Our preferences were too wide apart to agree on two or three pies to share, so in compromise we got one basic Americano to which we added garlic and arugula, and then we each chose a slice of our own (you can order by the slice or whole pies).
Good spotting and cracked from slight folding!

I got lucky and seized upon a slice of a sausage pie fresh out of the oven, as Nichols had described. Lovely, uneven big chunks of real Italian sweet sausage. The crust was snappy crisp, full of flavor, thin and flat, yet still with a nice chew.  It easily supported not only my properly crafted slice, but also the slices my out-of-town friends ordered, loaded up with wet vegetables and fruits.
Alice, Californian with overloaded slice

There is a slice of pizza under there somewhere!

The sauce surely did dominate the cheese, but not quite in the magical way that DeLorenzo's hits. To my taste, the DeLorenzo tomatoes are sweeter, less acidic, and the DeLo cheese is saltier and more robust, and a bit more of it peeks out from under the crushed tomatoes. This was a wonderful and satisfying slice at SLiCE, but not magical like Trenton's Papa's Tomato Pies (review HERE) or DeLorenzo's.
Chicagoan Irfan demonstrates: No Tip Sag

Adding garlic to the Americano was a splendid idea. Adding arugula was kinda pointless. I like pizza, I like arugula, but I prefer them separately most of the time. Arugula works on a Neapolitan pie or a white pie, but not on a red sauce pie. This pie was much like my slice of sausage pie, minus the sausage. Easy to eat a lot of it, too, because of the thin crust.
Chicagoan Gary's well-chosen slice

I don't have much to say about the produce-laden slices that my pals ordered, other than that they enjoyed them and the crust stood up to the load. They promised to take me to Pizano's for thin-crust pizza when I next visit Chicago. I may have to ferret out some deep-dish, too, even though I'm a skeptic.
Chicagoan Enriqueta's pineapple pie

Philly is a town with a LOT of great pizza: Zavino, $tella, O$teria, Tacconelli's, Nomad, Pitruco, Rustica, Pizzeria Pesto. Verdict: SLiCE also qualifies as destination pizza. The crust earns a 9, the cheese an 8, the tomatoes a 7, the sausage a 9.5. Bonus points that you can get SLiCE by the slice.

SliCE on Urbanspoon

4 comments:

  1. Glad you FINALLY got to SLICE!! Overdue...way overdue. For me, with Delorenzo's Robbinsville as the "grail", SLICE is the closest it gets in Phil-delfya. Crispy, good cheese (though less of it, as you point out) and , I think, a "sauce" that is crushed Marzanos and not added puree (unlike Delorenzo's), so a bit more acidic bite. Good toppings...and by the slice, too. There is no better slice in Philadelphia than SLICE's...and...I'm not sure that there is a better pie..of this decidedly NOT Neapolitan style. (Though with pineapple...who could tell anything...yuck.)

    Glad you liked it. Now get to Dimeo's in Roxborough (Andorra) for their "real" Neapolitan, but order the "plain" and it's more like the US style...and...to Mama's to try to have a cheesesteak epiphany.

    Keep up the good work, albeit a little slow on finding the best in your home area...though..admittedly, it isn't easy.

    And, please don't use stewed tomatoes on your home pies...it makes me cringe when I read about it. Crush some Red Pack plums and add some puree and herbs instead...you might find, you get what you love....from Trenton.

    beaunehead in bala

    heading for another eval of Totonno's this weekend, hopefully....

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  2. Beaunehead,

    Thanks for the feedback! I actually had slices from SLiCE two other times. Once, at the Rittenhouse location, but before I began this blog, and once at the South Philly Pizza Olympics (reviewed on this blog). The SLiCE slices there probably came in from the Italian Market location and they did not show well.

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  3. I'm not surprised re: the showing at the "Olympics"....I don't think pies/slices show well when taken out of the place, for the most part.

    I once got the guys at the new Delorenzo's to agree to a pizza tasting: had people lined up to bring DiFara, Modern, Pepe, Patsy's...and some others including Tacconnelli's...They agreed to heat them up , on a day before they opened for dinner. It never happened due to logistics....but...I'm not sure how much it would have "proven".

    keep up the "hard work" here...

    bh

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  4. Nomad kicked butt there at Pizza Olympics, because the other pies sat steaming in cardboard boxes while Nomad cranked em out fresh from the oven truck in the parking lot. Neapolitan took the day (according to me) due to its location advantage

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