Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Couch Tomato Cafe, West Chester PA

West Chester, PA is the town that inspired this blog.  Because, even though West Chester is a very livable college town with a wide variety of wonderful restaurants, when I moved here in 2009, it was Pizza Kansas.  Every pie I tried was another sad, soft, floppy Sysco-sourced bland belly-filler.
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Much has changed in the time since 2009. The wonderful Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza opened a location in nearby Exton, and it's not a long drive to world-class Neapolitan hybrid pies from La Porta in Gradyville. Spatola's in Paoli makes some excellent New York round pizza and some spot-on square Trenton and Brooklyn pies.

As the Pizza Renaissance continues, more pie options can be found in nearby Wayne, PA. Dave McGrogan offers up good (not great) pizza at Barra Rossa in Downingtown and Red Star Craft House in Exton. And Philly's famous Lorenzo & Sons is opening a branch in downtown West Chester. 

In 2003, Craig Mosmen and Michael Cassano opened the original Couch Tomato Cafe in Philly's Manayunk neighborhood. They opened this West Chester location late in 2014. We went to this attractive BYOB on a warm Monday night in April.

Located on Gay Street, a lovely boulevard of shops and restaurants that lends a lot of character to the town, The Couch Tomato Cafe has a spacious seating area on the first level and a modest rooftop deck with picnic tables after you climb a long set of stairs.

Just about everyone there - working or eating - looked to be a college student. There is no table service. You order (from a menu of pizzas and sandwiches) and pay; when your name is announced, you come pick up your food.

We opted for the $16.49 Italian Stallion 16-inch pizza with a white (vs. wheat) crust, fresh and aged mozzarella, provolone, crushed tomato, sausage, basil, and fennel. There is a nice fountain offering New Hope soda for $2.19.

The pie came quickly, along with paper plates and paper napkins. It had a lovely appearance, and by every indication, it was cooked properly. Not burnt, not wet, not floppy, no toppings sliding off. The crushed tomatoes might have been distributed a little more evenly, but that was easy to fix.

The flavor was terrific. The fennel seemed lightly pickled, but it blended nicely with the vibrant tomatoes, the cheeses, and the sausage. The sausage seemed authentic, but it was in smaller chunks than I would have preferred. Overall, you can tell that the chef behind this pie blended the flavors expertly.

The crust, however, fell short. It was bland and white-bready in a way that suggested it was mass-sourced. I'm pretty religious about eating the cornicione, but here you could toss them without much regret. This dough was indeed expertly cooked, but it was not qualified to carry the high-quality toppings.  

The upstairs deck was lovely, and the gestalt experience was positive. The ambiance earns an 8, the (limited) service also an 8, the topping combination was a 9, but the crust was a 4. Overall, the pizza at Couch Tomato earns a 6. 

Couch Tomato Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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