My husband calls Philadelphia restaurateur, Stephen Starr, “King Midas”. Every restaurant this dude touches turns to pure gold. Although, I think his success has less to do with him having super human powers and more with him being a smart business man who knows food and knows even more what people want. Apparently people want variety because he owns 13 (plus) restaurants in Philly and they run the gamut……high end steak houses, new-Mexican cuisine, a place that serves thanksgiving dinner every night! But I’ll save the “Stephen Starr experience” for another blog post (also it will give me time, and more importantly reason, to visit the few restaurants of his that I haven’t…I’m nothing if I’m not thorough…ok, and hungry). Today I’ll be talking about his newest venture…his aptly named pizza place, Pizzeria Stella.
Oh how clever Mr. Starr is. He named his pizza place after the Italian word for “star”. Cute Stephen, cute. But whether he was hoping to name it after himself, or, just imply that the place would be out of this world doesn’t matter, because it’s great, any way you slice it. Pizzeria Stella serves the kind of pizza I love. It’s got a thin,chewy crust and it’s topped with amazing quality ingredients. I mean, what’s not to love?
We showed up the week that Stella opened at around 6:30 and the place was packed…of course. They took our cell phone number and told us that it would be about 20 mins and they would call us if we wanted to go grab a beer at a nearby bar. 15 mins later the phone rang and the very polite hostess invited us back. We were seated communally. Most of the tables in Stella are communal…big, long, farmhouse looking tables. Now, this is where I think some people might walk away. Very few people I know actually LIKE eating with strangers. The list, actually, is probably limited to my Dad, who will talk to just about anyone and in 5 minutes time be telling stories and buying rounds of beer (honestly…you just can’t take that guy anywhere without this very thing happening…I’m having dinner with him this weekend and I’m thinking of hooking my dog’s leash to his belt so I can keep track of him). The rest of the world, in my opinion, doesn’t want to feel like they’re back in the middle-school cafeteria when they’re out for dinner. That being said….I honestly kind of liked being seated at the big table. It was warm and cozy…a bit loud and raucous…and informal in the best sort of way. The tables surround the kitchen and the big, beautiful wood burning oven at the center of it. It kind of feels like you’re sitting around a camp fire with good friends. I thought it was fun, and my husband, much to my surprise, agreed.
As always we thoroughly studied the menu before dinner. We would order the octopus and calamari antipasti and the pizza Tartufo (truffle). The waitress said that the truffle pie was their unofficial signature dish. Oh, and speaking of the waitress, Stephen Starr must run his wait staff through a boot-camp-like training process because they are good…really, really good. Always knowledgeable and super gregarious. Our waitress at Stella was all of these things and more. Of course the wait staff is important, but the food is what you’re there for, so here goes……..
The antipasti was amazing (notice the blurred fork in the frame…the hubby obviously liked it too). The octopus and calamari were tossed in a lemony sauce with olives, new potatoes and red onions. The hubby thought it resembled a ceviche, and I thought it resembled a sort of nicoise. It was the perfect start to the meal. (FYI: The menu offers Antipasti, Insalata and Pizza…that’s it…and that’s ALL you’ll need…I promise) We also ordered two glasses of the house red. They have a great wine selection for a “pizza” place and the price for a glass of the house was only $5.50. It was good…not great…and I wished that they offered it in a litre size (if so it would have taken me right back to Rome) but they only offer individual glasses of the house so we made do. The Tartufo pizza was, in my honest opinion, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. It’s a bold statement, I know, but a sincere one. The pie was the perfect size for two. The crust was toasted to perfection in that wood burning oven and it was covered with fontina, parmesean, truffle, of course, and a sunny side egg that was lovingly broken and smeared across the pie like icing on a cake table side. The truffle perfumed the entire pie and the egg “glaze” added a richness that sent me into a pleasure coma.
So it looks like Philly’s own King Midas did it again. Starr gave Philadelphia something I think it was lacking…really GOOD (and unique) pizza. In my opinion, I think he deserves a gold star for this one.
Pizzeria Stella – at 2nd and Lombard (at the Headhouse Shambles)