Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Pica's, Upper Darby PA

Some background for my visit to Pica's Restaurant:

Beyond the conventional pizza varieties, there are thick-crusted rectangular Sicilians, thin and crisp bar pies, puffy and charred Neapolitans, thin squares of Grandma pizza, flatbread pizza, pan pizza, and endless topping varieties.

Adding even more pizza diversity are the countless regional styles. Detroit pizza, St. Louis style, New Haven apizza, Midwestern thin party-cut, Trenton tomato pie (my favorite), and the nearby but entirely different Philly tomato pie. 

The Philly tomato pie (defined HERE - also known as the Conshy tomato pie) is rectangular, pan baked, with sauce, but with just a sprinkle of cheese post-bake. 

Pica's makes a pizza that is a cousin to the Philly tomato pie. In March of 2014, Philly native Tina Fey appeared on the Tonight Show, where she surprised host Jimmy Fallon with a delivery of pizza from Pica's, her hometown favorite. 
Click on any pic for full size version

I remember 80s-vintage Philadelphia radio ads (on the Sundays with Sinatra show, hosted by Sid Mark) for Pica's Italian Restaurant. It sounded like the kind of old-world place I would enjoy, and it's been on my pizza radar for a while. I was finally prompted to visit Pica's and sample their famous "upside down" rectangular pizza.
My dining companions, Kevin and Mary Ann

I met two colleagues for dinner there on a slow Monday evening in summer. Pica's is indeed a big, old-school, red-gravy Italian restaurant. I plan to go back to sample the other fare, but this visit was all about the pizza.
Fresh from the oven

"Upside down" pizza is simply pizza where the sauce rides atop the cheese. It has the advantage of cooling quickly to avoid burning the roof of your mouth, but the distinct drawback (like a Chicago deep dish) in that the cheese never gets any delicious browning from exposure to oven air.

We ordered a pie with half pepperoni, and half mushrooms. The pie arrived quickly, and one glance confirmed its unique nature. While the mushroom side looked mostly like a Philly tomato pie, the pepperoni under the sauce was visible in the way that the sauce had pooled atop each big circle (two per slice) of thin pepperoni.
A pepperoni slice

Mushroom slice

The cheese peeked out from under the sauce in only a few places. How is Pica's pizza like a Philly tomato pie? It is rectangular, baked in a pan, and the crust is the light and airy bakery style. Distant cousin, also, to the celebrated squares at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn (full review of L&B HERE). 
Crisp, airy crust

This crust was delightfully crisp and browned on the bottom and edges. The airy bakery style crust will never be my favorite - I like a more doughy chew - but this was executed about perfectly for the genre.
Busy kitchen & takeout area

The sauce was, much like the best Philly tomato pies, the star of this pie. Bold and concentrated tomato flavors.  The cheese was kind of lost under the sauce. Pica's fans swear by this style - but I would prefer the cheese on top. The pepperoni, in thin flat and wide slices, was not at all like the thick, small, curled cups found on my recent pie at Lombardi's in NYC (full review HERE).

The mushrooms were fairly standard - I'm fine with fresh or canned mushrooms on a pie.

Even with the cheese under the sauce, I categorize Pica's as a Philly tomato pie, and one of the best ones anywhere. It stands right up to great ones like Tony Roni's (full review HERE) or Corropolese (full review HERE). 
Kevin and Mary Ann with our server, John

Although Trenton, New York, and New Haven style pizzas remain my favorite due to the crunch & chew in the rigid crust, the Philly tomato pie is justly celebrated. Its lighter nature makes it a better snack or party dish. Try it if you haven't yet; and you won't find one much better than the pie at Pica's. Toss in the great service, long tradition, and old-school red gravy ambiance, and this is destination pie.
Pica's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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