On a recent visit to South Philly's Italian Market, we planned a stop on nearby Passyunk Avenue for some old-school pizza at Marra's, a full-service Italian restaurant.
With Birra, Santucci's, and Lorenzo's only a short walk away, Marra's faces some worthy competition for the best pie in South Philly.
The Zagat reviews really capture the essence of this place, where your grandfather may have dined: “This is what Buca di Beppo is trying to parody.”
Most of my favorite pizzas come from such long-standing establishments, such as Totonno's, Frank Pepe, Lombardi's, DeLorenzo's, Regina (click on any for full review). So I really wanted to like this place.
We arrived early on a warm weekday, and the place was not busy. Our waitress was prompt and friendly when we ordered a large pie with mushrooms and sausage, after we confirmed the use of real chunks of Italian sausage that go on the pie uncooked.
Our huge 18" pie (only $13.75 plus $3.00 extra for two toppings) arrived quickly. The sauce exhibited some good South Philly "red gravy" character, but was mostly a role player. Both the sauce and the standard mozzarella were applied a bit too thickly.
The crust was expertly cooked, but it lacked character and flavor. Its generic nature made me suspect a mass-sourced (such as Sysco) origin. This was an above-average pie, but the crust was soggy in the middle from the overload of cheese and sauce. Even on reheating some slices a few days later, much of the crust remained saturated and limp.
The sausage topping was superb, squeezed out raw from real Italian sausage ropes. The sauce and cheese worked nicely with the sausage for an excellent flavor despite the flaccid crust.
The cornicione, sadly, was dry and lacking flavor. This pizza could go - quickly - from good to great with better dough. The char on the crust showed some genuine pizzaiolo skills, and the rest of the pie was sound.
Overall, a decent pie and a nice value, especially when you consider the throwback ambiance and the friendly service. Marra's enjoys a solid reputation even as the neighborhood evolves and gentrifies; I wish that we had more time and appetite that day to try more of the menu. Surely worth a revisit.