Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: Clank's Bar, Marcus Hook, PA

Destination pizza is usually found in one of two different styles of pizzerias. One type is the venerable pizza joint that has been serving the same kind of old-school pizza to generations of patrons. That type of pizzeria often enjoys fame beyond its region, and it includes legendary places like Joe & Pat's in Staten Island,  Santarpio's in Boston, Papa's Tomato Pies near Trenton NJ, Sally's Apizza in New Haven, and Totonno's in Coney Island.
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The other major category of destination pizzerias includes the new artisanal places that, to the delight of foodies everywhere, are springing up all over America. Many of these are crafting authentic Neapolitan pies in wood-fired domed ovens at 900 degrees; the best of them include Scuola Vecchia in Delray Beach, FL, Forcella in Brooklyn, Zavino in Philadelphia, Pane Bianco in Phoenix, and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco. Others are making throwback style pies, such as La Villa in Morrisville PA and Gennaro's Tomato Pies and Pizza Brain, both in Philly.

There is one more much smaller category - the cherished local place, somehow undiscovered by the foodies, flying under the pizza radar. One such place is a neighborhood taproom in tiny (2400 residents) Marcus Hook, PA

Clank's Bar was established by Clank and Bert Mongoia in the 1950's. It has changed hands a few times over the years; Dawn Clymer is the fifth and current owner; at age 12, she began working there by helping to make pizza boxes. Clank's website notes that the pizza recipe hasn't changed since inception. 
View of the bar from dining room


From the exterior, Clank's looks like it was once one of the neighborhood row homes; the entry way even has a storm door. There is a bar in the front (where smoking is permitted!) and a long, narrow dining room in the rear. There is an odd but charmingly camouflaged faux brick on the inside of the front door, and an old shuffle bowling arcade game next to the bar. It was immediately homey and comfortable; an old-fashioned shot-and-beer type of watering hole. My guess is that most of the patrons live close enough to walk there.
Wall lights are fashioned from liquor bottles

Shuffle bowling arcade game by the bar

We arrived before 5pm on a Saturday. A handful of happy regulars populated the bar, and one other dining room table was occupied by a large group enjoying the food and the Army-Navy game on the wall-mounted TV. The tipsy laughter coming from the bar made me wonder what it would be like there as the evening wore on.

The menu featured a lot of typical bar food - appetizers, sandwiches, a few salads. The bottled beer selection is mostly domestics; we had a Blue Moon and a Magic Hat ($4 each).  Clank's highlighted menu items are the pizza, the stromboli, and the fried pepperoni appetizer. On our visit, we tried only the pizza. 
Slate serving slab on each table

Men's room decor

I usually prefer sausage on my pizza, but only when it is genuine Italian sausage, applied uncooked in rough chunks. At Clank's, though, our server told us that the sausage was the crumbled, pre-cooked variety, so we opted for a pepperoni pizza. All the pies are rectangular and cooked in a pan; it has much in common with a Sicilian pie and a Philly-style tomato pie. 
Pica's pizza

Much like the better-known Pica's restaurant (also in Delaware County, PA), this is an "upside down" pizza where the cheese is under the sauce. Even though I like the cheese on top to get some oven browning, I had very much enjoyed the pie at Pica's. Our large pizza here at Clank's was $15.00 ($13.25 plus $1.75 for the pepperoni topping).
Pepperoni pie at Clank's

The pizza was served in its well-aged oven pan; on our table it rested on a thick bed of slate that carried a Clank's logo that oddly resembled the Chicago Bears "C" logo. (The Bears reference was particularly peculiar, in light of the crude but funny Philadelphia Eagles deco in the men's room).

There were twelve slices to this thick-crusted rectangular pie. The sauce was a lovely deep red color and visually striking; a generous cover of thick and lightly charred pepperoni circles adorned each of the slices. The uneven edges around the thick cornicione gave the appearance of a home-made pizza.

This pizza crust was a little thicker than the typical Sicilian style pizza, yet lighter in density. It was not quite as airy as the bakery-style crust of a Philly tomato pie (read about that style HERE). It was, actually, about ideal for a thick crust - nicely oiled and crispy on the bottom and light but not "white bread" through the center. We agreed that the crust would be excellent bread; it had its own distinct flavor and delightful crunch. That sets it apart from the typical Philly tomato pie, where the crust is often insubstantial and bland despite its thickness.
A view of the pizza pan

The rich color of the red sauce promised a full flavor, and then delivered on that promise. I loved the red gravy nature of this sauce, although it was messy to eat because it was generously applied and it did ride on top of the cheese.  The cheese - buried under the sauce - seemed to be conventional mozzarella and it was a useful role player.  The generous cuts of pepperoni added that salty and greasy aspect that I like from cured meats on pizza.
Perfectly crisped underside

This is not - obviously - a high end, gourmet undertaking.  This is a simple square pizza rendered from ordinary ingredients, with a terrific result. It won't make you forget the legendary pies or the artisanal Neapolitans, but it has a place in the hearts and bellies of pizza eaters who want to try and enjoy all varieties. Clank's is a special kind of place that once populated urban corners all over, and which has been vanishing since the advent of cheap and convenient chain pizza. We had great service, even though we were outsiders to this cozy neighborhood venue.

Ratings?  The crust earns a 9, the sauce a 9, the pepperoni 8, and the cheese a 5. Destination pizza? Absolutely. We made the wretched drive on Route 322 (the Conchester Highway, a.k.a. the "Con-gested Highway") to get there and I'm glad we did. If you like Pica's, you should like Clank's. And if you want to know what pizza and beer was like in a blue-collar town in the 50s and 60s, this is about as close as you can get in modern times.

Clank's Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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