Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review: Rione Pizza Al Taglio - Philadelphia, PA

In 2012, I first experienced Roman "al taglio" style pizza at the glorious Forno Marco Roscioli, near the Campo di Fiore Farmers Market in Rome. This rectangular, medium-thick "by the slice" pizza was a revelation, and it made me wish I could find it back home in the U.S.
Slices at Rione. Click on any image for full size picture
In 2012, the Pizza Renaissance in America was mostly about Neapolitan style pies. Superb renderings of the personal-size puffy and charred pies were coming out of 900 degree wood-fired ovens in the hippest parts of Brooklyn and other leading edge foodie towns. 
Image from facebook.com/rionepizzaphilly
Happily, creative pie-o-neers have continued enhancing traditional styles and importing the classics. Philadelphia, a great pizza town by any measure, now has two Roman-style al taglio pizza joints.


I've been to Alice, the first American branch of an Italian chain, and the slices there were wonderful. It's a hip space divided into simple slice shop on one side with a trendy full service cafe on the other side. Rione, which opened its doors some months before Alice, is a simple BYOB slice shop with perhaps ten tables.


Rione is close to the tony Rittenhouse Square region of center city Philadelphia. Arriving around dinner time on a warm Monday night, I noticed a brisk take-out business, but I was the only dine-in customer at the time (I can imagine a solid lunch hour business in this upscale part of Philly).
Dining area at Rione
Behind the counter there were about 10 different long rectangular pies from which I could choose slices, smartly arranged into "has meat" and "no meat" divisions. Unlike my al taglio experience at nearby Alice and in Rome, this pie is priced by the slice, not by weight. I chose a baseline Margherita slice ($3.25) to get a taste of the red sauce, and a "Salsiccia & Rapini" slice (sausage and broccoli rabe, $3.75). I rounded off my dinner with a San Pellegrino water for $2.50.
My Margherita slice
Perfect structure & texture. Image from facebook.com/rionepizzaphilly
The re-heated slices came out pretty quickly on a metal tray while I waited listening to the little-too-loud hipster soundtrack playing. Before I even took a bite, I made note of the terrific aroma wafting up from these slices.
My Salsiccia & Rapini slice
Next time, the potato pie. Image from facebook.com/rionepizzaphilly
Both slices were medium-thick. In other words, thicker than a Neapolitan or traditional American pizza, but much thinner than a Sicilian slice. My first impression was about the noise of the crunch. The bottom of the crust was as crunchy as any pizza I can recall, but only for a wafer thin layer. Above that, the crust was dense yet airy and it had a delightful al dente chew. Texture means a lot for any pizza, and this texture was remarkable. I wrote in my tasting notes "like a super crispy foccaccia."
Underside of the crispy crunchy crust
The Margherita slice was topped with some very mild fior di latte mozzarella, fresh basil, and a generous amount of olive oil. The red sauce, smooth and thick, was tangy but surprisingly subdued. With relatively mild sauce and cheese, it was left to the crust to stand out, and it did. I'd eat this crust with no topping because its flavor was wonderful and its texture unparalleled. But the sum was greater than the parts, even if the sauce and cheese were essentially role players.

The sausage and rabe slice contained a much more intense cheese blend of mozzarella and a shaved aged Italian cheese that I couldn't precisely identify. The meat topping was real chunks from ropes of genuine Italian sausage, which everyone in Trenton knows is the only proper format for a sausage pizza.

The rapini added another bright and sharp flavor to this slice; the only thing I would change is that I'd chop the rapini into bite-size pieces. The overall experience of this slice, though, was a brilliant combination of bold flavors and - again - that ethereal texture. This is the best slice I've eaten so far this year, and I've had some great stuff already.
Image from facebook.com/rionepizzaphilly

I'd have been delighted to have either Alice or Rione within driving distance of my home; Philadelphians are blessed to have both of these authentic Roman style pizza sellers in town. Because they are so close to one another, on my next trip I may need to do a side-by-side comparison.
Barry (left) and Paul, the General Manager at Rione
"Suppli al telefono" fried snacks. From facebook.com/rionepizzaphilly
Rione also offers "fried Italian snacks" as traditionally offered in Roman al taglio shops, as well as salads and dessert. This is can't-miss destination pizza. 

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