In 2009, I moved from Bucks County PA (close to Trenton, NJ) to West Chester, PA. Less than an hour west, but a world away in terms of pizza. My early and futile attempts to find a West Chester pizza "worth the calories" was a Quixotic Quest and led to the creation of this blog to chronicle my findings.
Many locals advised me to try the pizza at Carlino's Specialty Foods, a gourmet grocer on Market Street in the heart of downtown West Chester.
Carlino's is a treasure of often-decadent gourmet foods, much of it Italian-themed. Upon entering, you first encounter a dizzying set of salumi choices, both domestic and imported, and then the cheeses.
The pasta selection is likewise superb, and Carlino's also features a nice olive oil bar where you can taste before you buy - a heady mix of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I was especially enamored of the Israeli olive oil and its peppery finish.
All of this comes at a price, but it's still a great value to have this high quality and great selection all in one place, and staffed by friendly and informed workers who truly care about the products.
I had visited Carlino's before, but had not been inspired by the visuals of the pizza offerings in their prepared foods section. However, on a recent trip there buying holiday provisions, I decided it was finally time to sample the pizza. Being the best pizza in West Chester is still a pretty low bar; Carlino's seemed a good candidate to claim that prize.
I opted for two (huge) slices of tomato pie and one triangle of conventional pizza with pepperoni toppings. The pizza was sold by the slice ($2.50) and the tomato pie by the pound (which worked out to about $2.75 per rectangle). I took them home and gave them my standard oven re-heat on a perforated pan.
Let's dispense with the conventional pizza; it was forgettable. The crust was limp, it had been baked on a screen (cardinal sin), and nothing was distinctive about the sauce, cheese, or pepperoni. Was it better than DiGiorno? Sorry to say, it was not. Not worth the calories and not worthy to be offered alongside all of the truly excellent fare otherwise found in Carlino's.
The tomato pie was not the Trenton variety (thin crisp crust, cheese first, then crushed tomato, served hot). It was the Philly/Conshohocken/bakery style, which is a thick, airy, almost-Sicilian crust, topped with a chunky sauce and seasonings and no cheese (frequently served at room temperature).
This tomato pie was a very nice rendition. The crust had an excellent crisp and airy texture, but came up a bit short on flavor when compared to the best tomato pies, such as the ones at Corropolese. The star was clearly the sauce. It was a brilliant red, and its bright, fresh, tangy flavor delivered on the promise made by its color. Not quite a destination tomato pie, but worth a repeat for any regular visitor.
Wonderful pizza has recently come to the area - Stella Rossa in Downingtown, Anthony's Coal-Fired in Exton, and La Porta in Media. But West Chester remains uncharted pizza territory.
I love Carlino's, and I'm very glad to have it nearby. These people know food and they know customer service. I think they have an opportunity to build on this very good tomato pie (and take it to great) and figure out how to bring destination pizza to a foodie town that still lacks a signature pie.