Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Review: Rize Pizza, Broomall, PA

Most of my pizza-eating lifetime has involved pies made in a round shape. There was the occasional diversion to a rectangular Sicilian style pie, but most pizza has been round, even the Chicago deep dish stuff.
From http://rizepizza.com/gallery/
But in contrast to that longer time period, so many of my recent pizza discoveries have involved thicker-crust rectangle pies. I'm not sure if the current trend is a revival of the simple tradition of home-style pan-baked square pies, or other mysterious market forces. But when I counted up the best pizzas I found in 2015, four of the top six were rectangles. 

I'm happy to report that the trend continues, strongly, into 2016. The newest contender is Rize Pizza, a small narrow space tucked into an aging strip mall in Broomall, PA (not far from Philly).
Rize seemed promising to me because, like the good folks at Denino's in Staten Island, it's all about the crust. Good pizza begins - and ends - with the crust. I also heard the term "al taglio" and wondered if indeed this was true Roman style pie.
Wall decor at Rize
The Rize website shows two pizza styles available as whole pies or by the slice:
1. "Rize Crust" - square and airy which we let rize for 2-3 hours
2. Traditional Neapolitan Crust - thinner and round like a traditional Neapolitan pie
Jim and Julia, Rize owners
We arrived around 7:30 on a weeknight, and we had about four different square pies from which to select slices, and one plain round pie. We chose to sample three different kinds of square slices and one slice from the round pizza.

The Rize interior is typical strip mall - deep and narrow. There is a counter where pies by-the-slice are displayed, and just a handful of small tables. Beyond the pizzas, the menu included several intriguing salads, fries, soups, and desserts that we didn't sample, as well as an above-average selection of soft drinks.

Let's talk first about the round pie. Despite the name, it is not a Neapolitan nor even a Neapolitan hybrid. It's not baked at 900 degrees, and it didn't have that puffy, flexible, and leopard-spotted crust typical to authentic Neapolitan pizza. No matter - this crust was as good or better than most Neapolitans.
Sickly looking cheese hiding the merits of this slice
The crust was medium-thin, firm and crisp, yet light and airy on the inside. The underside and the cornicione had a beautiful golden brown that reflected its excellent taste and texture. The sauce was lively enough, but it was hidden under a layer of pale and lightly cooked cheese.
Looking good under the hood
The cheese seemed to be some mild mozzarella blend which blanketed the sauce and the crust. Because the crust was so good, this was an excellent slice of pizza, but it could get to another level with a different approach to the cheese. 

Our three squares included:

  • a conventional slice (red sauce and mozzarella) topped with nitrites-free pepperoni
  • a slice topped with sausage and roasted orange peppers
  • the "Venus" featuring fontina, fresh mozz, & feta cheeses, artichoke, spinach, roasted garlic, and red onion

On all three slices, the Rize crust was spectacular. It had a wonderfully crisp bottom, a light interior that offered both crunchiness and chewiness, and a golden edge that made for a near-ultimate cornicione experience. Underneath each slice was an odd but welcome scattering of sesame seeds.

The pepperoni pizza - excellent overall - was the most conventional. Like the round pie, this slice was covered with a generous amount of the mild mozzarella. The nice tomato sauce was a bit obscured under there. The crust was certainly up to the job of supporting all that cheese, but I'd like to try it with a different sauce to cheese ratio.
Underside of the square slice
The sausage pizza was quite a bit more interesting. I would not have ordered it with the peppers, but they served to break up the monotony of the cheese. The sausage was good quality, but it had been cooked and sliced before going on the pie. I suspect that this terrific slice might be improved by baking it with chunks of raw sausage that cook on the pizza.
Sausage with peppers
My usual approach is that a conventional sausage or pepperoni slice is the best way to evaluate a pizza. The novelty slices, where the toppings take the headline away from the crust foundation, are rarely my top choice. But it's a different story here - the Venus slice was clearly the star.
With no red sauce, the cheeses properly were the main focus. They were smartly blended to yield superb flavor without imparting excess moisture into the crust. I often resist vegetable toppings for the same reason, that they bring too much weight and water to the mix, but the texture and moisture factors were in ideal balance.

Despite the fairly generous application of both the cheese and vegetable toppings, each bite offered an optimal mix of flavors and textures. Unlike the other two pies, I wouldn't change anything about the Venus.
From http://rizepizza.com/gallery/
I made a second visit one week later, and sampled a Southern Belle slice featuring fried chicken, bacon, and maple syrup (akin to the flavor combo of chicken & waffles). It was weirdly wonderful. Beyond the regular mozzarella, the pie is finished with a thin coating of cheese that takes on a wonderful flaky texture.
Fried chicken and maple syrup
Because I felt the sauce didn't get a chance to shine on the slices I tried on my first visit, I ordered a slice of the Upside Down pie, where the cheese is under the sauce. This simple slice was perfectly balanced and I got a full appreciation of how good the slightly chunky sauce is.
Upside Down slice

The crust on the excellent round pizza is reason enough to visit Rize. The square slices are materially better, and that Venus slice was about perfect. After two visits, I have a good idea of which slice styles suit my palate.
Underside of my Upside Down slice
We spoke with Julia and Jim, the owners. Jim is the genius behind that crust, which is the result of a lifetime of pizza experience; his father once owned a pizza shop in nearby West Chester. 
Cheesesteak stromboli at Rize
I started this blog in 2011 to document my largely fruitless search for "pizza worth the calories" in or around West Chester. So much has changed in five years. West Chester now has RapiDough and Lorenzo's, with LaPorta, Milito's, Anthony's Coal-Fired, Snap and other good to great pies nearby. Jim and Julia let us know that they have plans to open their second shop in downtown West Chester. There's no better evidence of the pizza Renaissance than that delicious bit of news.

The top tier of pan pizzas include the Detroit style slices at legends like Norma's Pizza and Via 313, the indescribable hybrid at Binge House Pizza, or the classic square at NY Pizza Suprema. The square pie at Rize Pizza now joins that elite group. This pie is so good that there should be a line out the door. Absolutely destination pizza.

Rize Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  1. The pizza looks good I will have to try it out. I recently had pizza from Enjay's at Smokey Joes in Philly. It was really good. Reminded me of La Porta

  2. Hi Kyle, i haven't had Enjay pie, but I see it is a partnership with Pitruco, the well-regarded wood-fired Philly pizza truck. On my list now!

  3. Good/excellent crust here (excellent for the square pie with the sesame seeds. I found the sauce too overpowering, intense and sweet to make a harmonious pie. (Sauce in great places harmonizes things, but doesn't take over.). So, I didn't love the place. (Great truffle oil fresh cut fries, there by the way.)

    A nice effort..good ideas. But, the sauce....is too much a part of the mix and too personable and sweet for the good of the pizza, IMO.

    BeauneHead in Bala

  4. Good to hear from you, BH. Interesting, because I felt that the cheese blanketed and obscured the sauce on the pepperoni pie. I wanted MORE sauce flavor. Either way, the crust is so good I'd eat it with ketchup and velveeta on top. :-)