Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana, Collegeville PA

Let's make it official: 2016 is the year when the world (beyond Michigan and pizza insiders) discovers Detroit style pie.  At first glance, a Detroit pie looks like a Sicilian style rectangle pie with its thick crust. The Detroit pie is different, though, in a few key ways.
Collegeville slices. Click any image to enlarge

First, the cheese is applied all the way to the edges and beyond, so that it drips down the sides of the pie and caramelizes along the edge of the specialized metal baking pan. Second, a Detroit pizza typically relies less on mozzarella cheese and more on brick cheese or a mix of brick, cheddar, and/or mozzarella. Finally, the sauce is not cooked on the pizza, but ladled on top in two rows after the pie has baked.
Rigid crust on the Collegeville NY slice

I still haven't been to Detroit for the original at Buddy's Pizza, but I had stellar Detroit style pie during my visits to Norma's Pizza in Manheim, PA. Norma won the 2016 Caputo Cup for her astonishing New York style pizza, but her Detroit pie is just as good. In another spot far-removed from Detroit, Via 313 in Austin TX is serving up Detroit style pizza in addition to very authentic thin bar pies.
Detroit slice at Norma's Pizza in Manheim PA
Detroit pie at Via 313 in Austin TX
Detroit slice at Grande Pizza, Boca Raton FL

Most recently, I traveled to Boca Raton, FL for the very good Detroit pie at Grande Pizza. After lamenting that I couldn't get a Detroit pie near my Pennsylvania home, I was alerted to Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana. It's only about 35 minutes from my home, so I made a point to get there on a Saturday afternoon.

In the Philly suburbs (Collegeville, home of Ursinus College, is about 45 minutes from Philly), there is a tradition of bakery-made "tomato pies" which are like a Sicilian pizza without cheese, served at room temperature. I enjoy a Philly tomato pie, but not as much as the folks who grew up eating them. I came to Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana fearful of finding a white-bread bakery style tomato pie dressed up and pretending to be a Detroit style pizza.


What I found was that "bakery" is a misnomer. There is seating for over 100 here, and there is an extensive menu featuring freshly baked bread, rolls, cookies in addition to restaurant items like deli salads, wings, soup, burgers, cold and hot sandwiches, and an improbably large variety of pizzas: breakfast pizza, Roman style al taglio pies, NY style, Detroit style, and wood-fired Neapolitan 12" personal pies.
Breakfast pizza. From

Because I had a large crew of five to feed, I ordered two pies - one NY style with pepperoni, and one Detroit style topped with sausage. It's unfortunate that I got both pies for takeout, and it was 20-30 minutes before they came to our kitchen table, lukewarm. Not the best way to assess pizza for a first visit, but (spoiler alert) there will be many more visits.
Detroit pizza

The NY pie is advertised as 16" in diameter, but it looked bigger and filled the takeout box. First inspection revealed some lovely "spicy cup" pepperoni sitting atop a sea of lightly cooked cheese. Most notable was the cornicione, which was thin and dark and a tell-tale sign of an old-school approach.
NY Pizza

The entire crust was thin, crisp, rigid yet flexible in texture. Underneath, it was a uniform golden brown with little spotting. Its flavor matched the promise of its look, too. I imagine all the bread products are good here, and that bodes well for all the sandwiches on the menu.
NY slice

The sauce was lively, but applied sparingly and was almost invisible under the cheese. The cheese was tasty enough - conventional mozzarella - but I'd have enjoyed it more if it has acquired some top browning.
Wood-fired dome oven

The crust seemed perfectly cooked even as the cheese and pepperoni could have used a few minutes under a broiler.  The pepperoni was fabulous - all told, this was an excellent NY style pizza, authentic in every way.
Underside of the NY slice

The Detroit pie was the drawing card, though. This pie had an entirely different look, having been baked in a pan. It did have the crusty cheese on the edges, but it was about the same color as the dough. On other Detroit pies I've had, the caramelized cheese took on a much darker hue.
Detroit slice edges

The crust was thick, as expected. It had a nice airy interior, but it was more dense than the Detroit pie at Norma's, for instance, or its Sicilian cousin at NY Pizza Suprema. It had a lovely golden crunch underneath. And, of course, the cheese-crusted edges were a delight as we scrambled for the premium corner squares.
Light and airy

This pie was exceptionally well balanced, with perfect proportions of cheese and sauce on top. The excellent sauce was riding on top and applied generously. 

The sausage also sat atop the pie, and we were glad about that. Some Detroit pies and Chicago deep-dish pizzas are made with the bad habit of burying the meat under the cheese, which denies the sausage or pepperoni the chance to get browned and crisp.
Underside of a corner slice

All told, this terrific bakery and restaurant in an outer Philly suburb is - much like the highly acclaimed Via 313 in Austin - succeeding at crafting two very different kinds of authentic pizza. It's hard enough to get a decent NY slice; Collegeville Bakery nails it and then cooks up a superb Detroit style pie. Destination pizza.

Collegeville Italian Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 comment:

  1. Try Locali downtown brooklyn and Paulie Gees in greenpoint.Both awesome........