Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: Tonito's Pizza - West Chester, PA

When I moved from Bucks County PA (near Trenton NJ) to West Chester PA in 2009, it was only one hour west. But when I begin searching for good pizza near my home, I felt like I'd gone to Montana. 

There were three or four pizza joints within a mile of my house, but each was standard strip mall pizza made with mass-sourced ingredients. Big, soft, floppy slices overloaded with generic mozzarella and processed red sauce. 

It wasn't until 2017 that you could find true "destination pizza" in West Chester, when Rize opened on Market Street with its unique take on a Sicilian-style pan pizza.
Before the re-heat
The final frontier is my own suburban neighborhood. One small strip mall has always housed a pizzeria, and it has changed hands 2 or 3 times since I've been here. The great news is that the newest occupant - Tonito's Pizza - is operated by the Spatola family. I ate and loved the Trenton and Brooklyn style pies at the Spatola's Pizza in Paoli PA, and I saw them on the menu at Tonito's.
Every bite is different
In Trenton, a tomato pie is a round pizza that is made with cheese applied first, then large clumps of chunky red sauce on top. It is generally superior to conventional pizza because the cheese protects the crust from becoming soggy. It is better than "upside down" pies where a sea of red sauce covers the entire pie, because much of the cheese is still exposed to oven browning.

At Spatola's and Tonito's, the Trenton tomato pie is a large square pizza, much like the wonderful pies at La Villa in Morrisville PA. The "Brooklyn" pizza has nothing to do with Brooklyn unless you think it has something in common with a New York Grandma slice. Here, the Brooklyn is simply the same as the Trenton pie except fresh mozzarella is substituted for standard dry mozzarella.

I ordered a Brooklyn pie with sausage to go. Inside, Tonito's is a small standar strip mall space with just a few tables; clearly, the emphasis is on takeout.
Slices at Spatola's Paoli location
Like Spatola's, Tonito's uses thin longitudinal slices of pre-cooked sausage. It was a perfectly fine topping, but any pizza could be improved by the application of fresh raw sausage in chunks, squeezed right from the rope, to be cooked on the pie.

At home, I opened the box to see a beautiful pie, but it was the Trenton, not the Brooklyn I had ordered. I had to decide if I was going to give it an oven re-heat and re-crisp; the square slices were a bit soft, so I broke out the 12 slices over two perforated pizza pans and gave it 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
Crispy oiled crust
That was a great idea - and why this pizza is so good when you just buy a slice in the shop - because the re-heat really improves the texture.  The crust is very thin, but the cheese and sauce payload is pretty substantial. There is just enough oil on the crust to help it become crisp and rigid while keeping a nice dense chewiness.

I was fearful that the pizza would not be as good as the one in Paoli. However, this pie matched and even exceeded my memory of the Paoli location (Spatola's has Downingtown and Phoenixville locations, too). The thin crust was a little crisp, a little chewy, and ideally al dente after the re-heat.

The standard mozzarella cheese was plentiful and adhered perfectly to the crust, but it was a role player here. The red sauce was especially vibrant; chunky and dense and piquant. Its distribution could be improved by spreading it around a bit in smaller pools atop the cheese, and I did a bit of adjustment before the re-heat.

Each bite provided a true Trenton tomato pie experience of a rigid and tasty crust, with varying ratios of cheese and chunky red sauce. I shared this pie with 3 others for dinner, and we demolished the entire pizza. Superb.

Like Spatola's in Paoli, Tonito's also makes a more conventional round pizza. Those pies too are above the standard strip mall fare, but the star offerings here are the Trenton and Brooklyn pizzas. Seven years into the Pizza Quixote Blog, and there is finally a wonderful pizza that is practically walking distance from my home.

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