Cafe Carmela first came to my attention on the Cheesesteak Guru Facebook page. That group has over 50,000 members and is almost certainly the best source for well-informed opinions on which Philly area establishments offer the best steaks. It’s a common occurrence to see members list their top five cheesesteaks, and one of the places that gets frequent mentions is Cafe Carmela. So I did a little reading up on them and looked at some online photos. Not only did the cheesesteaks look great, but so did their pizza. I’ve been very eager to try them for probably at least a couple months and finally got around to it today with two of my friends and former colleagues.
Carmela is in a shopping center in a working-class section of Northeast Philadelphia. They have a fairly nice interior and were packed today within an hour of opening at noon. It appears the word on them has spread.
I knew exactly what I wanted to try: a cheesesteak, which is named a “Don Cheech’s Steak” on the menu; an American Boy pizza, which is a plain pie with the sauce ladled over the cheese; and, to start, fried Mozzarella. I can take or leave the frozen mozzarella sticks served by most pizza places, but I love it when quality, fresh Mozzarella is fried, as is the case at Cafe Carmela.
One of my friends ordered an Antipasto appetizer. It looked great, but I was saving my appetite for what I knew would be a lot of food. The other tried a Chicken Parmigiano sandwich and appeared happy with her selection. Again, I passed on an opportunity to try it.
The fried Mozzarella was as good as I hoped it would be. The texture was fantastic; just the right degree of gooey. I don’t want it to be so soft that there isn’t a bit of chew. The sauce that came on the side was also very good.
The pizza arrived next. It was a beauty, although not quite as well-done as I expected it to be based on the photos I had seen. I haven’t had many better pizzas in Philly in terms of flavor, but I am tempted to try a regular pie, with the sauce beneath the cheese, next time. This one was a little messy toward the center, which led to me having to start slices with a knife and fork before they got to the point where I could pick them up without anything sliding off the crust. Having the cheese on top may also make it easier to get the darker color that is indicative of a good, well-done pizza.
After I had eaten a slice of pizza, the cheesesteak arrived. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about it. The sesame seed roll had a lot more flavor than I’m used to from a steak roll. The ample amount of meat was cut to ideal-sized pieces, as well as being tender and tasty. And it was also coated in a nice film of melted Cooper Sharp cheese. The onions added to the equation as well. Everything was perfectly proportioned. This sandwich belongs on any list of the best cheesesteaks in Philly and the surrounding area.
Throw in the pizza and fried Mozzarella, and I would have to say Cafe Carmela is one of my new favorite restaurants in the Philly region. They also offer a selection of homemade pastas which I hope to try at some point.
There are a couple other places that get a lot of mentions among the people from that Facebook cheesesteak group and which also appear to serve top-flight pizza. I hope to get to those soon and compare their food to today’s wonderful meal at Cafe Carmela.