Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: La Villa Pizza and Family Restaurant, Morrisville PA

There are several notable and distinct styles of pizza -- the soft-crusted, puffy and charred Neapolitan, the medium-thick crisp-yet-foldable New York style, the thin crust rectangles of Roman style, the thick doughy crusts of Sicilian style, and the thin, crisp, rigid crust that forms the base of the Trenton tomato pie (close relative to the New Haven pie, and not to be confused with the Conshohocken/Philly cheeseless tomato pie - see primer HERE). 
Square tomato pie at La Villa in Morrisville PA

Some Trenton purists insist that tomato pie is not pizza. I would suggest that while every pizza is not a tomato pie, every tomato pie is a pizza. The Trenton version is to add the cheese before the tomatoes (chopped or crushed canned tomatoes, usually not tomato sauce). The cheese does not get buried as it does in some Chicago deep dish pies or on an "upside down pie" but the tomato is the signature.
Conshy tomato pie from Tony Roni's

Even as Trenton is home to this distinct style (which is my favorite type of pizza), the number of tomato pie slingers still within the city limits has dwindled. Trenton was once home to the legendary DeLorenzo's (Hudson Street, reviewed HERE), the other DeLorenzo's (Hamilton Avenue), Papa's Tomato Pies (reviewed HERE), Joe's Tomato Pies, Sam's Roma Tomato Pie, Romeo and Juliet's, and Maruca's.

Trenton is evolving. While wonderful mainstays like Halo Farms and the Trenton Farmers' Market remain vibrant, the heady restaurant scene of the city's Chambersburg (the 'Burg) section has essentially ended. Trenton was once filled with a great mix of upscale Italian restaurants, old-school red gravy places, and tomato pie and pizza joints, but one by one those places closed or moved.
Exterior of La Villa

Trenton's loss is the suburbs' gain. The Landolfi family runs a great deli in Yardley PA (across the river) and now makes pizza in Pawley's Island, SC (review HERE). Nearby Robbinsville was lucky enough to land the two best Trenton pie slingers: DeLorenzo (Hudson) and Papa's Tomato Pies.
Landolfi's pie in South Carolina

At the same time, Trenton natives or Trenton-inspired folks are opening up tomato pie shops within shouting distance of the city. Palermo's in Bordentown, Nutt's in Titusville, and La Villa across the river in Morrisville. I've read a bit about each of these, from my Trenton-area friends and from a tomato pie group on Facebook. A recent trip to the Bucks County Grange Fair gave me plenty of reason to get to La Villa.
At the Grange Fair

La Villa, on South Pennsylvania Avenue near Bridge Street, is walking distance from my 1987-1995 home. There were no worthwhile pizzas or tomato pies in Bucks County then, sans for a short period when the Agabiti family ran a pizza-and-video-rental store on Trenton Avenue. When Blockbuster killed their video business, the pizza went away also. So I usually would make the drive to Trenton for DeLorenzo's (when I could get them to answer the phone; they opened at 3pm and the phone was usually off the hook by 3:05) or Joe's.
Inside La Villa

La Villa is housed, ironically, in a building that was once a Pizza Hut. I recall eating a "Philly Cheesesteak" pizza there around 1990, and putting ketchup on it, and liking it! I confess, I'd probably still enjoy a pie like that, even though I know it's crap.

At some point, a large dining room was added on. It's a big space for a pizza place, but they do have a full menu of other Italian foods. We arrived around 2pm on a Sunday afternoon and the place was quite busy! That's a good sign.

La Villa makes ordinary pizzas and "specialty" pies with a great variety of toppings, but we came for the "Chambersburg tomato pie." The tomato pies are $12.95 for a round, and $13.95 for a square. Other than the square Trenton pie I had at Spatola's Pizza (review HERE) in Paoli PA, my experience at Joes, Papa's, and DeLorenzo's was solely with round pies; hence, we opted for the square.

I was dining with Mrs. PQ, who likes pepperoni as a topping; I prefer sausage, so we order half sausage, half pepperoni. The pie came out reasonably quickly from our pleasant and helpful sever.

It did not look much like any tomato pie I've known, other than the lovely piles of crushed tomato. But once I pulled out a slice, I found a very thin yet crisp and sturdy crust, loads of vibrant red crushed tomato, and a modest amount of conventional mozzarella (although more than found on a DeLorenzo pie).

As always, it all begins with the crust, and this one was nearly perfect in texture. It also delivered a good flavor, if not quite at a DeLorenzo's or Papa's level. Crisp outside, with a good inner chewiness that was remarkable for a crust so thin. I enjoy a "crackerlike" crust but this had a lot more going on.

Under the hood

The crushed tomatoes were just right - bright and tangy, perhaps a hint of sweetness. The pepperoni was good (is pepperoni ever "great?"), and the sausage was the real stuff, beautiful hunks of savory genuine Italian rope sausage.

On the first slice, we agreed that this was wonderful pizza. Every element was good or great, and they also worked in harmony; this pie was exceptionally well-balanced. We ate about two thirds of it and took four slices home, which were fabulous again upon re-heat. If I still lived nearby, this would be my certain go-to pizza. Destination pie? Absolutely.
Conventional gas ovens

The crust earns a 9.5, the tomatoes a 9, the cheese an 8, the sausage a 10, the pepperoni a 7, the service a 10. You don't need a brick oven, a coal oven, or a wood-fired oven to make top-shelf pie. Some irony that destination pizza comes to Morrisville now that I've moved to West Chester.





La Villa on Urbanspoon

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