Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Stella Rossa, Downingtown PA

From 1985-2009, I never lived more than 5 miles away from Trenton NJ, and thus had relatively easy access to great pizza (tomato pie), even though my favorite - DeLorenzo's Hudson St - opened at 3:00 pm and the phone was off the hook by 3:05. 

My 2009 move to West Chester PA resulted in a generally futile ("quixotic") search for good pizza and prompted the creation of this blog. A mere 56 miles from Hudson Street, but in virtual pizza Kansas.

Finally in 2012, La Porta opened in Media, PA (full review HERE). Not exactly West Chester, but less than a half hour away. I also discovered, in nearby Wayne PA, an outpost of the superb Florida chain, Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza (full review HERE). 

Even as West Chester lacked a decent pie, it is a wonderful dining destination for almost anything else. My personal favorite is Nonna's (upscale Italian) on Gay Street, but I also enjoy Doc Magrogan's Oyster House (also on Gay Street).
See another excellent review at

Now, "Doc Magrogan" initially struck me as a made-up name for a funfoodanddrinkery place like "T.J. McGillicuddy's" or "P.F. Winberie's" or "H.R. Pufnstuf." But in fact there is a real Dave Magrogan, who operates several restaurants including four locations of the Oyster House, Kildare's in West Chester, Harvest Seasonal Grill, and now Stella Rossa. My high opinion of the Oyster House made me optimistic about Stella.

Stella Rossa is housed in a partially-restored former paper mill on the Brandywine River in historic Downingtown. It's a big yet cozy space with a 225 seat dining room, a 50 seat patio, and 25 seat bar. There is a full menu of appetizers, cheeses, salumi, olives, and salads in addition to a big selection of "pizza rossa" and "pizza bianca" Neapolitan pies.
Linguine with jumbo lump crab

We arrived on a Thursday evening in November, and the place was two-thirds full and buzzing. Stella has a destination ambiance - surely a place to see and be seen. Magrogan has his finger on the pulse of what appeals to hip diners in 2013.

We ordered one entree - linguine with jumbo lump crabmeat in a spicy marinara - and one pizza. We opted for the salumi, which is a Neapolitan pie with hot soppressata and fresh mozzarella. Fancy cocktails are around $10, but a half-liter of the house red wine was a bargain at $12.
"Salumi" Neapolitan

For a big new place on a busy night, the food arrived swiftly - another sign of an experienced restaurateur.  The linguine was cooked al dente - very nice but not the equal of Downingtown's Avalon Cafe, which is the next best thing to being in Italy. The flavors were wonderful, and that is noteworthy because many chefs - even the pros at La Porta - fail when mixing red sauce with crab.

The pizza had a typical Neapolitan crust - puffy edges, leopard spotting, and a thin soft base. Impressively, the center was not wet. The pie was well balanced with the sauce, cheese, and soppressata so that the toppings were in harmony with the base.

Beyond its excellent texture, the crust was especially tasty. The sauce was piquant, with a fresh tomato burst and a spicy tang. The cheese - house made - was tasty but floated on the pie like big, white, undercooked clouds. This was the only notable shortcoming, and it reiterates for me that fresh mozzarella is better reserved for your Caprese Salad. Pizza is generally better with aged cheeses that can be properly browned in the oven; fresh mozz is too wet.
The underside of the crust

I've had better Neapolitan pizza, but not much better. Stella Rossa earns a 10 for ambiance. The pie gets a 9 for its crust, 9 for the sauce, 6 for cheese, 8 for the soppressata, a 10 for its balance, and 9 for execution. Overall, an 8.5 pie, a destination pizza in a destination setting.  Stella Rossa is the hippest place I know this side of Philly.

Stella Rossa Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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