Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia

A Monday excursion to the relocated Barnes Foundation Museum in Philadelphia offered an opportunity to get some pizza for lunch, and specifically Roman pizza. 
A better Neapoliltan at Vetri

I've been hankering for Roman pizza since a 2012 visit to Rome, where the al taglio (by the slice) square pie was astonishing; our full review of Rome's Forno Marco Roscioli can be found HERE
Al taglio in Rome

We opted for Pizzeria Vetri and headed out to their 20th Street and Callowhill location, because it promised both Neapolitan and Roman style rectangular slices. Pizzeria Vetri sits directly behind the Barnes Museum, in a row of brand-new shops and apartments on Callowhill Street. 

Wood-fired oven at Pizzeria Vetri

Marc Vetri operates several Philly restaurants, including Osteria, where I had my first wonderful Neapolitan pie (and where we spent $100 for appetizers, drinks, and pizza for two). Trained in Bergamo, Italy, Vetri is among the elite "star" chefs in Philly, along with Jose Garces and Stephen Starr.
Great beer list

Osteria is big, grand, elegant. Pizzeria Vetri, by design, is small, homey, casual. There is a curved counter that faces the large wood-fired oven, and a handful of community tables. It was pretty quiet around our 1:45pm arrival, but Vetri wants the place to be loud and energetic.
The menu - click to enlarge

The menu offered several Neapolitan pies, and two different daily al taglio slices - one meat, one vegetable topped. From the Neapolitan pies, we chose the $12 Marinara (crushed San Marzano tomatoes and garlic), the $18 Crudo (bufala mozzarella, parmigiano, and prosciutto), and the $12 Renato (white pie with mozzarella, rosemary, olive oil, sea salt). We also began by splitting an al taglio square with sopressata and fresh basil. That was a huge order, but we planned to take some home.

The al taglio slice, a huge square, arrived quickly. It was made with a thicker crust than the slices I had in Rome, and it sported four eye-pleasing cuts of sopressata riding on top - applied post-bake - along with small delicate leaves of fresh basil. We cut it in half to share.
Underside of the al taglio

The medium-thick crust was delightfully light and airy, in a perfectly moist-but-not-wet way. This made it different and miles better than the light and airy crusts of Philly/Conshohocken region tomato pies (defined HERE). The immediate comparison is the legendary squares at Brooklyn's L&B Spumoni Gardens (review and pics HERE)  - but this slice leaves L&B in the dust.
Square slices at L&B Spumoni Gardens

Beyond its perfect crust with a crisp golden bottom, this slice offered richly complex flavors. The sauce and cheese - deftly applied in a minimalist fashion - seemed to meld with the crust, creating that magic where each bite delivers the al dente feel of the crust, the tang of the tomato, and the salty savoriness of the cheese. The thinly sliced sopressata was the ideal capper, and the small basil leaves added just one more dimension to this essentially perfect slice. This one slice is $6 and yet a great value. 
The Marinara

Tough act to follow as our Neapolitans arrived next! I began with a slice of the Marinara. Vetri's Neapolitan pie has a dough modification that makes it a little heavier and chewier - and both qualities are improvements. If there is a beef with typical Neapolitan pies, it is that the thin, light, and puffy crust is delicious on its own but quickly becomes waterlogged mush under the weight and moisture of tomato sauce and heavy, wet, fresh mozzarella cheese. None of that issue here.

Under the Neapolitan

This Marinara pie had a substantial layer of crushed tomatoes, but the crust did not deteriorate. On this pie, the crust certainly flopped, but it did not require knife and fork. Overall, the crust was magnificent in flavor and texture, and the sauce was especially fresh and vibrant. The garlic was most welcome, but somehow tame. It could stand thicker slices of garlic and a few more. In the world of cheeseless pies, it beats all the Philly-style tomato pies, and stands at the top with Tacconelli's (also Philly, full review HERE) and the aforementioned al taglio slices in Rome at Forno Marco Roscioli.

Next, I tried a slice of the Renato. On this white pie, despite a substantial topping of cheese and olive oil, the crust was even better. Much like the Marinara, part of its success was its simplicity. Top-grade mozzarella, seasoned with rosemary, salt, and olive oil, riding on that magical crust. 

The final pie was the Crudo. It was also a sauceless white pie, with parmigiano and bufala mozz. The prosciutto crudo was applied post-bake, and the heat of the pie turned it to glorious translucent flags of flavor. The bufala was applied in uneven chunks, taking on the appearance (but not the bland flavor) of ricotta. This pie, $18 compared to the $12 for the other two, quickly justified its premium price. The parmigiano added depth, richness, and saltiness that complemented the creamy bufala mozz, and the cured ham was tender and bursting with its own savory essence.
How about that hole structure? Great crust bubble!

We ate a lot of these wonderful pies, but did manage to take home more slices than would make a whole pie. That evening, we re-heated several slices (following the directions Vetri provides 4-7 minutes at 400 degrees). It's been my opinion that Neapolitan pizza does not travel or re-heat nearly as well as standard American pie, but this pie with this method was 95% as wonderful as when it hit our table in the pizzeria.

Very recently, the Neapolitan pizza at Scuola Vecchia in Florida (full review HERE) astounded me, and made me reconsider my notion that Neapolitans could not stand alongside the top American pizzas. Vetri now helps to make the case. Scuola Vecchia remains the King of Napoli, but Vetri is right there with Pizzeria Bianco, Motorino, Forcella, and Nomad

The crust earns a 9.9, the cheese a 9, the sauce a 9.5, the execution a 9.5, the meats a 9.9. Wonderful stuff, clearly destination pie. Great service was a big plus, and I can't wait to get back there.

Pizzeria Vetri Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  1. This looks outstanding. Must try next time I'm in Philly. Agree that Neapolitan can go toe to toe with any variety for the proverbial blue ribbon. Roman pizza can be a let down, even in Rome, haha. Glad to see this option exists stateside.

  2. Elliott - I was generally surprised at how good the pizza was in Rome, and even the tourist areas of Venice. I did see some awful stuff made for tourists, but it wasn't too hard to root out the good stuff. Still need to get to Napoli...

  3. Next time you are there you have to try the rotolo

  4. Pizzeria donna stella in Amalfi was tops for us in Italy. I've never been up north. Naples has great places, but it's not the most pleasant city to visit. Blog is strong! Keep it up, man.