In my youth, we got wonderful square pizzas baked by the chef at a local social hall. His real job was cooking for the members, but he had a side business selling pizzas out the back door of the kitchen to those in the know. The adults called him Chet; we kids referred to him as "Chetty Cheese."
There have been a few such places on my radar for a while. One, I still haven't visited - Clank's Bar in Marcus Hook, PA (leave a comment if you've been there). I also heard a lot of testimony about Felicia's. I pressed one fan to tell me why the pie was special. He mentioned the crust, and my interest grew. I found a menu and a few Yelp or Urbanspoon reviews online, and finally took the time to make the arduous drive on Lancaster Avenue for a pie.
From my office in Malvern, I called and ordered a large pie with sausage (they offer a lot of speciality gourmet pies, but most had too many vegetables for my taste). I departed in a driving rain thunderstorm that slowed me down a lot. When I got to Rt. 30 on the main line, power and the traffic lights were out, slowing me even more.
When my confused GPS finally got me close, there was no sign of 18 W. Lancaster Ave beyond the yogurt shop occupying that space. I remembered reading that Felicia's is hard to find, and a local advised me how to get behind the row of stores; access to Felicia's is only from a rear parking lot.
The power was out in Ardmore, and in Felicia's when I arrived more than a half hour late for my pie. The door was propped open on this steamy evening, and the only light inside came from the wood-fired oven. The counterman greeted me cheerfully; I sympathized with him over the loss of power, and he sympathized with me over my difficult journey from Malvern.
Felicia's is a small space, only a few tables for eat-in diners. My pie came to a few cents over $15, and I left on the journey home to West Chester. I gave it a standard oven reheat on a perforated pan, and we sat down to enjoy it with a nice bottle of old-vine red California Zinfandel.
The crust was on the thin side, but very dense and rather chewy (in a good way). It was not like a classic Trenton, New Haven, or even Neapolitan pie with char marks; the bottom was completely pale, colored only by the corn meal coating (beyond its effect on the texture, corn meal makes a pie slide off the peel into the oven more easily). The crust was thick and puffy at the cornicione, and one edge had a crispy darkness from being closer to the fire.
It had a generous cover of big chunks of real Italian sausage, and also a thick layer of conventional mozzarella on top of conventional red sauce. All told, a pretty handsome pie despite the pale color of the crust.
In terms of flavor, the sauce and cheese were tasty, but unremarkable role players. I would have preferred that the cheese be reduced by a third to a half, but I expect that most customers appreciate that deep layer of cheese (which was cooked enough to give it some color and tooth feel). The sausage was a little bit concentrated in the center of the pie, but that is a small matter. It was spicy and authentically flavored.
|Underside of crust|
The crust was clearly not a mass-produced Sysco-type product, but nor was it high-end flour. The best analogy I can find is that I got the sense of a bigger, somewhat thicker bar pie. If you read my review of Lee's Tavern in Staten Island (full story and pics HERE), you know that I see bar pie as a composition of conventional ingredients, made special by the skills of the pizzaiolo. And I think that is taking place at Felicia's, too.
This is not gourmet, high-end pie -- it is ordinary ingredients made into something special by the skill of the chef. In my view, ovens rarely make the difference, but a wood-fired oven can help a lot if the chef has sufficient skills. Bravo to Felicia's for the magic taking place in that tiny kitchen.
Destination pizza? Not quite, but surely superb local neighborhood pizza. If I lived near Ardmore, I'd eat a lot of pie from Felicia's. Crust gets an 8, sauce gets a 7, cheese a 6, sausage a 9, and the cooking skill gets a 10. Ambiance and friendly counterman? Another 10. Overall, a very nice 8.5 pie, worth the calories!