Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pizza Challenge Round 2- Marra's

The oldest of the old school. Marra's has been slinging pies and plates of spaghetti and meatballs since the 20's. This place is red gravy legit, prominently peacocking on Passyunk. The service can be somewhat chaotic. Ladies who probably danced on American Bandstand when it was still in Philly do their best to keep up with the tables and the random string of commands being shouted over a loudspeaker. For some reason there's a flat screen in the main dining room tuned to college basketball.  The booths are tighter than jeggings on J-Lo and leave barely enough room for four people and their assorted cups & plates. 

What they lack in ambiance they make up for in pizza. All the pies we had were good. Bubbling hot out of the brick oven with great toppings and sauce. It's an unexpectedly good departure from the standard plates of chicken parm and fettuccini al fredo that you see on most of the other tables. This is a neighborhood place that has catered to generations of families in South Philly. Why mess with winning recipe?  Give the people what they want.

A note here before I start talking pizza. We didn't try any appetizers or pasta dishes. And none of us had ever been here before. The Yelp reviews are not particularly glowing for Marra's - most advise to stick with the pizza. Don't walk in here expecting Vetri style Italian. This place is about as unpretentious as it gets, and there's something to be said for that.

The pizzas come out pretty quick - no more than 10-15 minutes wait.  And they won't be spaced out. You'll get each one as it's ready to come out of the oven. Our favorite was the Parmigiana with thick cut slices of fried eggplant, sprinkles of parmesan and gobs of fresh ricotta, seasoned with fresh herbs for a beautifully speckled look. There is something magical about that mix of eggplant and ricotta. You feel like you could be whisked off on the Hogwarts Express before dessert.

The Alla Bianca featured some absolutely delicious Italian fennel sausage that lends a great tooth and sweetness to counteract the bitter and garlicky broccoli rabe & sundried tomatoes.  Marra's swaps out the standard mozzarella for sharp provolone and get's this pie humming.  Honestly one of the best toppings mixes I've had - a great suggestion from out waitress.

The margherita was tasty, with hunks of fresh mozzarella, whole basil leaves and maybe just a bit too much sauce.  The cheese was good, but not so amazing as to leave you pining for more. If you're only going to have cheese and sauce, it better be top notch stuff. It also could have used another minute or two in the oven to melt.  Of the three we ordered, this would get picked last for kickball. 

I have to say the sauce was a big step up from Zavino. Not nearly as sweet and with a better depth of flavor.  You can taste the fresh tomatoes that they started with.  Toppings were great on the first two pies, with some room for improvement on the mozzarella.

The crust was the only real negative I can speak to. It was more than sturdy enough to hold up to the heavy toppings, but the outer ring ends up being tough as venison jerky.  You could lose a crown trying to chew through that. This might be a symptom of the heavy hand used for the toppings themselves.  They give you an overly generous portion, which is appreciated, but they have to make the crust so thick to compensate that it loses any chance of being light and airy.

Overall I was pretty happy with dinner. Three pies and two carafes of wine only cost us $90 for the table, with tip.  Definitely worth a trip on the Broad Street line to check this old school Italian joint. Leave the pastas though, take the pizza.

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

1734 East Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

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