Sunday, June 23, 2013

REVIEW: Gennaro's Tomato Pie, Philadelphia

2016 Update: Gennaro's has relocated from Jackson St to 1533 S. 11th St in Philadelphia. Pizza Quixote has not yet visited the new location.

For most of my pizza-eating lifetime, pizza joints came in two varieties: those that have been around forever, and those with lousy pizza. Every new joint was either chain pizza, some money-laundering operation, or one more schmoe trying to compete on price by using mass-produced ingredients.

One happy exception in recent years has been the trend for producing fairly authentic Neapolitan pizza. True Naples-style pie, with a pale puffy crust, leopard spots, and fresh bufalo mozzarella cheese. Even though I prefer a crisp Trenton or New Haven pie, I can't say I've ever had a bad or even mediocre Neapolitan pie.

But an even more promising new place opened not long ago in South Philly -- Gennaro's. He's not trying to make a Neapolitan pizza, or a "New York" pizza. Owner Mike Giammarino operated the Philly branch of NYC's famed Lombardi's near Rittenhouse Square until 2005. Now he's back with what he calls "American" pie, a thin-crust pizza where the cheese goes on first. For background on defining tomato pie, read this primer.

The exterior at 1429 Jackson Street

Gennaro's has been getting a lot of press, and we feared a long wait.  But it's located in a part of South Philly that is, ummm, evolving. We arrived early, hunted for parking, and found very little of interest to occupy our time as we waited for the 5pm opening. As we sat on the stoop, a friendly staffer invited us in around 4:45. If I have any fear for the longevity of Gennaro's, it's the location. I hope that this neighborhood becomes the hipster destination it might be as center city rents go higher.

The counter and excellent staff on our Saturday visit

A 1940s theme inside
Inside, the place is small, tidy yet cluttered, and very inviting. There is a consistent 1940s theme, from the artwork right down to the Glenn Miller-ish music being played. I appreciate the notion that this place is a "throwback" but I'd be happy going back to the 60s, and listening to Rat Pack stuff. But that's an insignificant quibble!  

The pesto pizza

Three basic kinds of pies are on the menu -- a traditional red sauce tomato pie, a white pie, and a pesto pie. Knowing full well that we'd have plenty to take home, FEEP Jr. (Fellow enthusiast for eating pizza) and I selected two pizzas: a tomato pie with pancetta and red onion, and the pesto pie.

Pesto pie close-up
The pesto pie included both fresh whole-milk mozzarella and ricotta, and big swirls of olive-green pesto. Those toppings rode on a thin crust, pale in places but golden brown and darker along the edges, with a magnificent char on the bottom. The freshness resonated, and we both loved this pie, even though I rarely choose a pie without tomato.

Superb crust - no room for improvement!
When ordering the red tomato pie, we inquired about the onions. Some places cook them too little or cut them too thickly. Here, we were assured that the red onions were thinly sliced and more or less nearly melt into the pizza. That is what we wanted to hear!

This pizza, beyond being delicious, should serve as a lesson to any pizzaiolo about balance. Once again, the thin and crisp crust, tasty enough to stand on its on and sturdy enough to support its toppings. Then, top-line ingredients, such as the fresh mozzarella, thin-sliced pancetta, and thin-sliced onions. To make it all sing, the crushed tomatoes (so fine it seemed like sauce) were bright, vibrant, and good enough to eat with a spoon. And applied in the perfection proportions. This pie was a masterpiece.

Put a frame around this
When I go back, I will want to try it with pepperoni or sausage. The pancetta was excellent, but crust and cheese and sauce this good can stand up to a cured meat topping that delivers a bigger taste payload.

Close to perfection

The underbelly of the beast
So. We loved the look of Gennaro's, inside and out. We loved the service. The pesto pizza was wonderful and a worthy diversion, but the traditional tomato pie was the wizard and true star.  I can't fault anything here, or make a suggestion to improve. This pizza stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Tacconelli's (reviewed HERE) as Best of Philly. Both places are so good that I hesitate to rank them. Surely better than any Neapolitan pie, anywhere.

Even the take out box is cool
The crust gets a 10, the cheese a 9, the pancetta an 8, the tomatoes a 10.  Overall, this is 9.9 pizza. I can't say it's better than Trenton's (Robbinsville, now) DeLorenzo's Tomato Pie (reviewed HERE), but we can talk about them in the same paragraph. Best pies I've ever had include DeLorenzo's, DiFara, several New Haven pizzas, and now Gennaro's. 

We got a piece of Pineapple Upside-Down cake to take with us (after FEEP Jr and I ate 5 and 6 slices, respectively). Once we were finally hungry again, we enjoyed the cake too.

Gennaro's is destination, world-class pizza. I'd wait an hour in line for pie this good.

Gennaro's Tomato Pie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  1. This looks pretty good - on the list it goes! Living where I do in NJ usually requires travel to find Pizza that i like....Here are a few places i like that it does not look like you've gotten around to trying.

    - Biagio's Red Bank, NJ - This town certainly doesn not lack for pizza places but most of it is not very good. Biagio's is trying to make authentic, Neopolitan wood burning pizza and it is pretty solid. Some days better than others, but when he is on, it's quite good. Same owner as Mossuto's Market in Wall, NJ, but the pizza here tends to be better. It's been a bit uneven lately, so hopefully he holds it together - especially since its the only place reasonable close to me that i like.

    A few others you have probably heard of, and I can verify are worth a trip (at least for me) are:

    1. Keste - neopolitan pizza in the village
    2. Paulie Gee - neopolitan pizza in Greenpoint Brooklyn
    3. Joe & Pats - NY style pizza in Staten Island - haven't been there in over 10 years, but was a good pie back then
    4. Brooklyn Central - Park Slope Brooklyn

    They seem to be popping up in the city and boroughs like crazy, so looking forward to trying them out - Motorino just re-opened back in Williamsburg so hope to be able to head back out there soon.

  2. For two years, I was in Brooklyn (Dyker Heights) twice a week, and used that to get to Totonno's, L&B, Motorino, Grimaldi's, Staten Island, and many of the great pie joints around the Village. Paulie Gee is probably #1 on places I need to get to.

  3. yes get to Paulie Gee's - i think you'll like it. Two others in NJ i forgot about are:

    Arturo's in Maplewood
    A Mano in Ridgewood

    Put them on your list1