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Stella - Starr's new pizza place


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Here's a link to an Inquirer bit on the place, which is about to open in a day or two.

Looking at the pix of pies (linked at the end of the article) they seem long on crust and short on toppings.

Anybody had one of them yet?

Edited by heidih (log)
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I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but those pics look like perfect Neapolitan pies (in the true sense of the word, not the sense in which virtually all extant pizza in Philly these days seems to be called "Neapolitan"). If so this would be an absolutely huge deal -- it would be the first spillover into Philly of the Neapolitan craze that has been sweeping nyc, and there'd really be nothing else in Philly like it, with the exception of Osteria's occasional flirtations with Neapolitan crusts. We've been eagerly awaiting this spillover. But, like I said, trying not to get my hopes up.

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My hopes and thoughts are similar. Tottonno's, Lombardi's, Johns, Grimaldi's, Motorino, Una Pizza Naploitina, etc. etc.

Not easy to do it right. I am very concerned by the repoted lack of a pizziolo.

Kinda like the with the Phillies, I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

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If you're looking for a truly exceptional Neopolitan pie, a new place just opened in Hopewell, NJ. Not exactly within Philly city limits, but it's closer than New York. I seriously debated not posting this, as it's hard enough to get into as it is.

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2009/09/notes-from-nomad-pizza-co-company-hopewell-new-jersey-nj.html

I personally prefer it to Motorino and Co in NYC. Keep in mind, it's only open Wed-Sat.

---

al wang

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Stella-Oven1r.jpg

A few of us managed to squeeze into the counter at Stella on opening night. As you might expect, it was pretty busy, but they seemed to have things fairly under control.

The short version - is it the greatest pizza on the planet? Well, maybe not, but it's pretty darn good! They've clearly done extensive research, and are getting the feel of the oven, even in the early days. The attention to detail was quite impressive, with chef Chris Painter's critical eye, and finger-taps, resulting in a surprising number of pies being rejected. I guess it helps that it only takes a few minutes to refire a new one in this crazy hot oven, but I really liked the fact that they were being nudgey about it, rather than sending out marginal pizzas and hoping for some understanding that it was their first night of real service.

Stella-Margarita1r.jpg

Of course there will always be debates about the right recipe for dough, how bready it should be, how soft, crisp, sour, nutty, charred, etc. But I as pretty happy with how these crusts were coming out. I've had some that had a little more oomph, like the sourdough notes that Una Pizza Napoletana used to feature, but Stella's had a nice chewiness, and a good char, and a light flakiness that I enjoyed. There was some variation from pizza to pizza, even those made only a few minutes apart, but I suppose that's part of the charm of baking in a crazy hot oven with a wood fire. A few milliseconds longer on that side before rotating, a few millimeters closer to the wall, a tiny bit longer toss up near the ceiling.. they all can make dramatic differences, even beyond the variations that can result from the particular stretch applied to one ball of dough.

Similarly, there are many opinions on the correct balance of ingredients in a sauce, or how much cheese, or herbs, or other toppings to apply. Overall I thought the Stella crew did a good job. Sure, I've had sauce that happened to fit my tastebuds a little more perfectly, but who knows if that would be the same for the guy in the next chair over? Over all, I thought the ingredients were quite good, the technical pizza-making was being done at a very high level, and the quality control was very impressive.

Stella-Tartufo1r.jpg

We sampled a basic Margherita, with sauce, mozzarella and Basil; a Tartufo, with Truffle Cheese, a smear of truffle paste, a sunny-side-up egg and parmesan; a Marinara, with just sauce, garlic and herbs; a Pistachio, with nuts, onion and fontina; a Sausage pizza that had good, very fennel-y crumbled sausage.

Stella-Marinara1r.jpg

There are some appetizers and salads that looked interesting, and lots more pizzas to try. Wine list is pretty small, not especially thrilling, and a little pricey, except for a perfectly serviceable house wine. I meant to try the gelato, but had another pizza instead... next time. They have olive oil gelato that looked good.

Overall, really good. There's room to improve, it'll be interesting to see if they do, and if they can maintain the almost maniacal quality control they were demonstrating on the first night.

A little more blather here>>

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I can attest to the utter deliciousness of the pies at Nomad; not always perfect, but pretty damn good, some of the best I've had in a while. And I live amidst pizza riches in the Trenton area.

Rich Pawlak

 

Reporter, The Trentonian

Feature Writer, INSIDE Magazine
Food Writer At Large

MY BLOG: THE OMNIVORE

"In Cerveza et Pizza Veritas"

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There are lots on both the left and the right just west of 2nd Street on Lombard. On a weeknight or Sunday afternoon, one might find street parking below South Street on any number of smaller side streets or on Front Street. Below Bainbridge there are no meters and parking is for two hours. I live right in that area, and although I have the blessing of a parking space, I see lots of spots as I drive around the neighborhood on almost any given night except a Friday or Saturday. Beware the Parking Authority folks, though. They are merciless bastards...

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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We saw a surprising number of pizzas being tossed in the trash, not measuring-up to the critical standards of chef Chris Painter, who gave each pie a careful inspection, including a few taps to the bottom to test the structural integrity of the crust, before slicing them and sending them out.

(quote actually from Philadining's blog, not his EG post)

Based on that and your photo of your glass of wine, it seems that you got the special treatment. Either that, or they decided they were throwing too many pies away and they should just serve them as-is. I tried Stella last night and they obviously didn't do the structural integrity test on our pie, it was limp and floppy on one half, barely crisp on the other. Also, our wine pours (four of them between two of us) were about half the size of the one in that photo, the glass was less than half-full.

The pizza (we had a margherita) was OK but nothing you can't get at any other half-decent upper mid-level place like Bertucci's or whatever. I liked the look of some of the other pies on the menu but frankly, if you can't knock a margherita pizza out of the park I'm not sure how good the other ones can possibly be. After reading about Starr's pizza taste-test trip, I expected more. I actually liked our small plate (the sausauge and lentil ragu) a lot more than the pizza.

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Weird! Was it very busy when you were there? It had started to slow down when we sat down, so perhaps we were observing a period of service where they had the luxury of being nudgey, and when the orders are piling-up they just need to bang them out faster.

To be clear, it's not that they were tossing-out pizzas meant for us because we were watching them (although they did toss one of ours that actually looked pretty darn good to us!) we saw a fair number destined for other tables being rejected for one reason or another. It seemed that the rejection usually came after a tap-test to the bottom, so at least on opening night, they seemed interested in structural integrity of the crust.

That said, one of my dining companions mentioned that one of his pizzas had a hole in it, which I hadn't noticed, so I guess even during close scrutiny, some errors get missed, or deemed acceptable. Obviously there's going to be some variation in doneness, that's just the nature of baking in an oven like that, but one hopes that it's within a relatively tight range.

There have been extensive discussions on the NY eG board about how a moist center is perfectly appropriate, and very authentic in Neapolitan-style pizzas, but it seems to me that there's a limit, and especially given that Stella is slicing the pizzas in a conventional way, they don't seem to intend for any of the crust to be floppy.

I can only imagine that when you were there, they were moving really fast and not checking every pizza, as we saw being done. All of them that we saw were picked-up from the edge, and a floppy, barely-done crust would have been spotted, and rejected, or at least put back in the oven for a little while. I hope that's more the norm than an exception. But we'll see...

Bummer about the wine, we got decent pours, how was the temperature of yours?

Thanks for the report on the lentils and sausage, there are indeed a few starters that looked good.

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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We tried Stella tonight. There was a rather long wait (twenty minutes turned into an hour), but I'm glad we stuck it out. I was pretty impressed with the pizza. (Incidentally, we had some appetizers that were perfectly fine.) Now, this is not, pretty clearly I think, on the level of some of the top-tier nyc Neapolitan places, but it's quite good pizza more or less in this genre, and certainly the closest thing in Philly that we have. We had a Margherita, a Pepperoni, and a Sausage. There was nothing objectively wrong with any of them -- and this is really a big compliment. As philadining said, I would quibble with various aspects of the pies as a matter of personal taste, but it's quite good for what it is, and hopefully will encourage some competition!

Edited to add: I can't resist mentioning that it's was kinda weird how there were at least two people who didn't look to be in any way employed by the restaurant who, apparently, were, and were serving and clearing plates. Maybe this is a Starr thing, I don't know. But, in particular: guy wearing the jeans, untucked dress shirt, and jacket, your outfit was pushed way over the top by the sunglasses tucked into the front of your shirt. Did you just come out of a club and, walking by the restaurant and seeing our empty plates, decide to do us a favor and clear them, or are you actually employed by the restaurant?

Edited by dagordon (log)
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Stella was packed at Sunday lunchtime- lots of people out enjoying the beautiful fall weather, and, I imagine, more than a little spillover from the Head House Square farmers market. We sat outside- a little hot given the lack of shade, but great for people watching.

I enjoyed the margherita pizza: good sauce, good cheese, good basil. The crust wasn't as puffy (or as well done) as in Phil's photos: obviously there's always going to be some variation, but this seemed a little bit underdone. The sausage pizza was even less well done than the margherita: I think the crumbled sausage weighed the crust down. I wasn't wild about it.

Probably my favorite dish was actually the octopus and calamari salad: one of my favorite simple Italian dishes. I'd get that any time I went.

I caught at least three or four typos on the menu, but I guess that that's to be expected at a little mom and pop restaurant that can't afford to hire a proofreader.

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I caught at least three or four typos on the menu, but I guess that that's to be expected at a little mom and pop restaurant that can't afford to hire a proofreader.

Snicker

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Edited to add: I can't resist mentioning that it's was kinda weird how there were at least two people who didn't look to be in any way employed by the restaurant who, apparently, were, and were serving and clearing plates. Maybe this is a Starr thing, I don't know. But, in particular: guy wearing the jeans, untucked dress shirt, and jacket, your outfit was pushed way over the top by the sunglasses tucked into the front of your shirt. Did you just come out of a club and, walking by the restaurant and seeing our empty plates, decide to do us a favor and clear them, or are you actually employed by the restaurant?

that's Jonathan Friedman. used to be (and might still be) the GM at Barclay Prime. it's definitely part of the Starr culture, at least where i've worked, for managers to do anything that needs doing at any time.

--

matt o'hara

finding philly

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What is the ideal parking for going to this restaurant? Two things that always scares me away from the South Street area is the parking and traffic.

Take a cab? Bus? Walk? It's a pretty easily-accessible spot...

Nearest SEPTA service: Bus Route 40 eastbound (via South Street daytime, via Pine evenings and weekends) to its terminus at 2d and Lombard; Bus Route 12 eastbound on Pine to its terminus at 3d, then walk two blocks; Bus Route 57 northbound on 3d or southbound on 4th to Lombard, then two- to three-block walk east. It's also about a 10-minute walk south from 2d Street station, Market-Frankford Line.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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The pizza was undercooked, and the dough was not hearty enough to stand up to that heat. Lacked any real texture or flavor. Kind of like Pillsbury Pop'N Fresh dough. Well actually not quite that bad, lol. Way too light of a crust to make my grade. Compare to Tottanno's, DiFara, Motorino and Keste there is no resemblance.

As for the wine, my wife ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. It arrived chilled! We laughed, thinking of the chilled wine in some of our South Philly mom and pop places, but had to ask. Well, the answer surprised and shocked us both. We wished we hadn't asked. The explanation and apology we received was that the wine is stored near the oven, and that they chill the red wine each am to bring it up to a reasonable temperature. For real, this is what we were told. No one could have made that one up. We were offerred a new glass from a new bottle which was at at proper temperature.

That being said, I will be back, I want Stella to be great. I am a pizza addict!

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The edges weren't even cooked enough, and the 'upskirt' view revealed a very pale bottom and very little charring. While that may suffice for some 'upskirts', that is not what I am looking for in a pizza. Especially from someone who, presumably, knows better. I've had better from my own oven, cooking at 500-550F.

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This is very odd! We went back last night, and our pizzas were very nicely baked, crisp, not floppy in any way. In my perfect world, I'd have them a little more charred, but these were in the ballpark. There were a couple of changes though, that didn't appear to be random variation: the edges of the crust, the "cornicione" were much bigger, thicker, chewier than they were on opening night. This is more like conventional American pizza, and I do not like it in this context. I found myself not eating parts of the outer crust, which were just dense, chewy, rather blah. The other change, equally disappointing, was in the sausage. On opening night, the sausage had a vibrant fennel-seed kick, and a bright sweetness. Last night, the crumbled sausage had a nice enough texture, but significantly less flavor.

We also tried a pepperoni pizza, which, other than the cornicione being too thick, was quite good. The pepperoni itself was very good, although I'd love it sliced a little thicker, like they used to at Lombardi's on 18th st.

The star of the night might have been the octopus and squid salad, as mentioned above by professor Fenton. Ours was heavier on the squid than the octopus, but that squid was absolutely perfecty cooked, almost alarmingly tender. With its potatoes and a light dressing, it reminded me a bit of a great octopus salad that chef Painter used to serve at Tangerine. It made a great opener to the meal. I don't think I could tell from the menu that it would be cold, but I can't say I was disappointed.

We had a glass of white wine, and a glass of rose, which were each good-sized pours, and appropriately chilled. Sorry, should have checked the red wine. It's a little nutty that they're having troubles keeping it at a correct temperature, that's not exactly a new scenario for a restaurant. But, as Sr. Fenton says, we should give them a break, little mom and pop start-ups like this will take a little time to sort these things out...

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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But, as Sr. Fenton says, we should give them a break, little mom and pop start-ups like this will take a little time to sort these things out...

snicker...again

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