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Oct 18, 2009 06:56 PM

Unstellar Stella? Pizzareria Stella Revisted.

We returned for another meal excited by our visit last week, and, regrettably, must report that the Margherita pizza underwent a major change in preparation and in taste. For unknown reasons, the restaurant changed its mozzarella. No longer did Stella use the traditional buffalo mozzarella, but, inexplicably changed to the local mozzarella! It made the pizza much drier and the bubbles were absent and the pizza was dry. The pizza was crisp, for those who like it that way, but it lost its authenticity and its Neapolitan character that so impressed us on our first visit. This experience made it clear that Stella is not serious about brining Philadelphia its first true pizza experience. The pizza bianca was still good that was served with the prosciutto as was the fresh ricotta. The gelato remained attractive and inspirational, especially the ricotta gelato. This time we tried a Lambrusco, which was excellent, but priced like a Barolo!

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  1. We finally got to Pizzeria Stella and were terribly disappointed. We had very high hopes, generally being fans of Starr's endeavors. And usually being willing to pay - often dearly - for the quality and consistency he usually offers. But this was really not great pizza. (And we LOVE pizza.) The crust was positively spongy - nothing about it was crisp. And nothing about what was on top of that crust was particularly memorable,
    The olives were lovely. The salad was tasty (if small for the price). The wines were well chosen. But the pizza . . . the truth is, our delivery guy does a better job. And that's just sad. The best pizza in town's still at Osteria. Hate to say it, but the bar pizza at Table 31 is better than what they're serving at Stella.

    2 Replies
    1. re: amy626

      Really? I loved Stella. Yes the dough was not crisp / soggy in the middle but the flavor combinations were awesome.

      I put them a few notches above Osteria and Batali's Otto in NY, but as far as I'm concerned Tacconnelli's is better than all 3. Maybe not in terms of fancy toppings (the truffle pizza at Stella is INCREDIBLE) but just in terms of sheer consistency.

      No neighborhood bias / loyalty here either, I ate at all 4 of these places within a 2 month period.

      Slice can be great or terrible. Inconsistent. For non-thin crust, Franco & Luigis is terrific.

      1. re: phillydogs

        I agree. I think alot of the sog problem would be fixed if they let the pizza rest for even 2 minutes on a rack or something to let it dry out underneath. That's all condensation, esp. when paired with wet ingredients, it makes some pieces bad.

        I can eat an entire sausage pizza. It's amazing. I am a fennel junky and thought that the finnochio could have used more of a fennel punch, but the olive flavors were nice and bright.

        Is the pepperoni at Stella as good as the sausage? On tap for our next visit is the pepperoni and the pistachio.

    2. I have to say, I've very much enjoyed the Margherita pizza as well as the green salad and a glass of wine both times I've been there. Am looking forward to sitting at the bar again in front of the pizza oven on a cold night.

      1. What a total disappointment! Starr should be ashamed of himself for calling this dreck pizza and claiming that he did nationwide research to formulate his recipes. I bet John's on Bleeker Street (New York) is mortified that Starr puts forth such pricey fare that cannot even compare with Bertucci's chain quality. It was not merely bad, it was god-awful.

        First, the supposedly "thin crust New York style" was nothing of the sort. It was thin crust all right, but it was wet, cold, limp, and literaly floppy. We ordered 3 pizzas for the table (Margherita, sausage, and fennel w/proscuitto), and all of them had the consistency of wet toilet paper (but didn't taste as good as wet toilet paper). Second, the ingredients were nothing special. The sausage was weak, crumbled into little pieces, and tasted like low-end Acme product. The mozzarella was bland and flavorless. The proscuitto was good, but that was the only edible part of the 3 pizzas. Third, the servers were friendly and attentive, but they brought all 3 pizzas out at once instead of staging them, so they got cold before we were even served. Then, they kept trying to close out our table and move us out - even though the place was 3/4 empty. Last, the prices were unbelievable for the abysmally poor quality. The pizzas are indivudual size (12 inch), priced at $12-$18 each! For $18, you can get a fabulous 18 inch pizza at Marra's that is the other end of the spectrum in deliciousness from Stella. Lunch for 3 people (with a couple of appetizers and sodas) set us back $70 (plus tip). We actually left slices behind, they weren't worth taking home.

        We LOVE pizza, and had such high hopes. But, we definitely will not go back to Stella. We can't believe Philadelphia magazine gave them an "A" for food quality (unless it's a new rating system and "A" stands for awful or more likely "A"dvertiser!). Save your money, go anywhere else (even your local mall) for better pizza.
        If our city knows its pizza, this place will close by New Years Day 2010!

        2 Replies
        1. re: foodiepair

          Don't count on it closing, the rumor is Starr is going to open a second one in Center City or maybe Chestnut Hill.

          1. re: foodiepair

            As in Asia since it opened, have not been yet, but it sounds like you have my `mouth`. Been a Tacconelli fan for long time,but was looking for the hopefully New Haven style here since Starr did a lot of research as you said. Soggy and cold is my death knell. As in a particular body part, the slice should stick out unsupported, non-floppy.

          2. My impression of Stella after a recent visit is not nearly as negative as some of the above. It's important to convey that Stella's pizzas are strongly in the Neopolitan genre--they are not New York pizzas, not New Haven pizzas. They are small, cooked at blistering heat in 2 minutes, their toppings are applied sparingly, and best eaten immediately. This kind of pizza can be amazing when everything is done right, and some of the 5 pizzas we tried at Stella had the goods.

            We tried the marinara, the sausage, the clam, the pistachio, and the truffle, along with the onion and beet salads. The crust was amazingly crisp on the pistachio and marinara (likely because they were the least loaded down with toppings), but quite soggy on the other 3. I agree that the sogginess may owe to the pizzas steaming, and it might also be that their dough is too wet and isn't always cooked quite long enough (time in the oven should scale to amount of toppings, but maybe it doesn't?). But all our crusts had developed some charring, and I enjoyed their flavor and chewiness. Toppings were also hit-or-miss. Marinara was bright but subtle, clams tasted too fishy, pistachio was too subtle and oniony, but we loved the unctuous truffle topping and sweet sausage.

            Other impressions: as others have written, service felt rushed, and the room was completely packed (an hour wait) on a Friday night. They also erred in bringing out all 5 of our pizzas at once rather than staggering them. Our salads and desserts (ricotta and olive oil gelato) were very well executed. The wine list, and our bottle, were very disappointing--mark-ups at %300 for pretty plonky stuff.

            All in all, I will definitely be returning, and am quite happy to finally have a serviceable Neopolitan place in the area. Some more attention to the pizzas, relaxed service and better choices on the wine list would make Stella a real destination.

            3 Replies
            1. re: nwinkler

              been here twice now... and i like it. had the margherita and the fennel + olive. i'm a fan. the sauce is just right and the cheese was good. i don't need cracker-crispy crust, a little sog isn't going to send me into tears. i was a fan. only thing i don't like are the wine glasses, which are just regular glasses, which are conducive to inadvertently chugging your wine.

              i think dock st's margherita gets my favorite philly pizza vote, followed by earth bread + brewery's seed pizza, followed by trios trattoria (on girard)'s square tomato pie followed by stella's fennel and olive. celebre's and marra's are up there too, though i haven't been to celebre's in a long while. rustica and mix used to be high on my list, but i've been less than impressed with both lately. way less.

              as far as tacconelli's... i went once, years ago, and neither the pie nor the experience wowed me enough to bother with the dough reserval process again.

              1. re: rabidog

                Good re:Tacconelli`s, glad to have less competition for tables

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Chestnut Hill would be a great location for his next Stella. I hope he takes the plunge out of the "city".

            2. I have found Stella to be remarkably good but it is terribly expensive. Nonetheless every element of good pizza is to be found here, especially the ridiculously thin crust. The problem is that there just happens to be this place called Tacconelli's that is superior (especially the white and the red with proscuitto). I agree with the one poster in particular - the fennel sausage pizza is absurd.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Murrayman

                We went there on Sunday at 6:30 PM and had a fun meal. No wait for a table. Sat at the counter by the pizza oven so we could feel the warmth from the fire. We had the truffle pizza with egg on top. It was delicious. I'm from New York and worked in the family pizza place on Bleeker Street (not John's but better) so I am picky about pizza. The crust and flavors were just right. The pizza is small but we split and it and it filled us up. We did not have the marinara pizza but I hope it tastes better than it looks. Service was excellent as we have always noticed at Starr restaurants.

                My one gripe is the wine list. I believe the cheapest bottle was $35 and it went straight up from there. Given the atmosphere they should offer full and half carafes of a house wine.