It was only about seven or eight years ago that I discovered the existence of a style of pizza unique to the Philadelphia region. It is rectangular or square with the layer of cheese, which is laid down as slices rather than shredded, covered completely by the sauce.
In parts of the region, most pizzerias that serve a traditional round pie also offer upside-down – or sauce-on-top – pizza. But two names in particular are associated with the straight-edged pies. One, Santucci’s, has a number of locations in Philadelphia and primarily its northern suburbs that are owned by several branches of the family. The other, Pica’s, has two locations in the western suburbs. But it is their Upper Darby spot that is so renowned among people who grew up anywhere near that part of Delaware County. In fact, Tina Fey, who fits that description, shared a Pica’s pizza with Jimmy Fallon during a guest appearance on The Tonight Show.
Frank Pica Sr., whose photo is prominently displayed inside the restaurant’s entrance, opened his pizzeria in West Philadelphia in 1941 and moved it to its current location in 1956. It’s grown into a large full-service restaurant with multiple dining-rooms and a takeout store over the years.
My wife and I have been to Pica’s a few times, but not since before Covid came along. As we had plans yesterday to go out to a dessert shop in Broomall, which isn’t that far from Upper Darby, we decided to also hit Pica’s for dinner.
I was prepared to just eat pizza, but when my wife said she was starting with an arugula salad, I decided to get an appetizer as well and went with Clams Casino, an old favorite of mine. They were extremely tasty. My wife’s salad, which was one of the nightly specials, included crouton-like sticks made of polenta.
The small pizza we ordered, with black olives on my wife’s half, turned out to be pretty big. We needed to save room for dessert and left about half of the rectangular pie to take home.
There seemed to be a bit more sauce on there than I recall from earlier visits. A lot of it wound up on my fingers while eating my first slice. I resorted to using a fork and knife for the next one. But the sauce had an excellent, just slightly sweet flavor and worked well texturally with the layer of cheese beneath it and the thin crust, which was only slightly crispy around the edges.
While I like the pizza at Pica’s, I have to admit to preferring Santucci’s, which has a thicker and sturdier crust, as well as a sweeter sauce, which is generally not ladled on quite as thick as what I had last night.
Below are photos of a Santucci’s pie from a 2016 visit to one of their outlets, which goes by the name of Philomena Santucci’s Square Pizza, in Warminster, PA. As I mentioned, several branches of the Santucci family have opened pizzeria’s, with at least one of them going into franchise. But so far I haven’t noticed any significant difference in the quality or taste of the pies I’ve had from various locations.
There is another pizzeria called Romano’s, in Essington, Pennsylvania, that also serves rectangular, sauce-on-top pizza. They are, however, better known for being the creator of the stromboli and seem to push those as their trademark, rather than their pizza.
Here is a photo of a pizza I ordered from Romano’s during 2018. I would say I liked it as much as, if not more than, Pica’s pizza, but not as much as Santucci’s. Having said that, they’re all good.
As I previously indicated, our initial reason for heading out late Sunday afternoon was to check out a dessert shop in Broomall that we had driven by a couple times. It’s called the Sweet Spot, and they offer both ice cream and gelato, as well as a variety of candies, cookies and other treats.
The first thing that caught my eye upon entering the Sweet Spot was their display of rare and odd-ball bottled sodas.
There were some flavors I’d never try, like Insect Vomit, but I did pick up a bottle of Dr. Brown’s root beer on our way out. It’s a brand of soda commonly found at Jewish delis, but always in cans. I had no idea they sold single-serving bottles before last night.
After browsing to check out my options, I settled on trying a couple flavors of their gelato; strawberries and cream and Nutella. I was slightly underwhelmed in the way I often am when I order gelato. I couldn’t tell any difference between it and regular ice cream. That wasn’t the case the few times I’ve been to high quality gelaterias.
My wife opted for a scoop of banana pudding ice cream.
I was still happy to walk out of there with that bottle of Dr. Brown’s root beer. I’ll probably save it until I have vanilla ice cream on hand and make a root beer float.
It was a delightful early evening out with my wife. Yet while we both enjoyed our meal at Pica’s, I’m now determined to get to a Santucci’s in the not-too-distant future. It’s been too long since I’ve had one of their pizzas.