Between total bombs at Tacconelli's and Lorenzo's, I was about to give up on finding good pizza in Philadelphia. That all changed when I walked into Stella just on the cusp of Olde City and South Street.
Stella opened its doors just three months ago in September as a labor of love by renowned restaurateur Stephen Starr of Buddakan and Morimoto fame. The place has a funky 'recycled' feel to it, using old chalkboards and wood planks from the Coney Island boardwalk for tables (NY respect points).
Not long after being seated, I ordered one Margherita and one Tartufo (black truffle, egg, Fontina and Parmesan). As no surprise, the Margherita arrived just minutes later-
Followed shortly thereafter by the Tartufo. The waitress broke the yolk and evenly distributed it across the pie:
I'll start with the Margherita: it was better than I expected. The flavor of the tomatoes and especially the crust were divine, and the buffalo mozz didn't turn the whole pizza into a Neapolitan swamp. That being said, I do think they could have left it in that beautiful oven of theirs for 30 more seconds- while the cornicione was excellent with great hole structure, I think it could have used just a *little* more char, but I'm being petty.
I found it strange that Stella sliced their pies into six slices rather than four, though it worked out in our favor since there were three of us chowing down. I usually don't mind whether basil is thrown on a pie before or after the oven, but in Stella's case I think they should consider putting it on first.
Next came the stinky but delicious Tartufo. I think the Fontina is the primary culprit behind the pungent odor.
It actually looks pretty gross, doesn't it? I promise it's not. While I'm not usually one for straying from the Margherita when it comes to research purposes, I'm really glad I ordered this pie. In fact, I don't know if I've ever seen this on any other menu.
You can see just how fluffy the cornicione is. The egg was the icing on the cake- err, well you know what I mean. It was the best part of the pie, and gave some balance to the otherwise overwhelming truffle oil.
Nice speckles of char, eh? The oven is right at the front of the joint, surrounded by a large prep station and three guys hard at work (two prepping, one tending the oven).
My only disconcerting feeling about the place was a question that didn't start nagging at me until I left: who's behind this pizza? Did Starr create a pie he was happy with, then train a dedicated stand-in pizzaiolo? Where'd the dough recipe come from? Who taught these fine gentlemen to make such a great pizza?
I'm a huge supporter of the owner-operated pizzeria business plan- it puts a face as to who's responsible for what you're eating, and they're exactly that: responsible for every pizza that comes out of the oven. I loved Stella and I'll definitely be back, I just wish I knew who was responsible for the product.