While my main eating focus going back to last summer has obviously been cheesesteaks, a handful of the restaurants I’ve visited for those have also excelled at pizza. At least one place’s pizza even outshined its steak in my opinion. And two of the past three restaurants I had visited for steaks – Da Vinci’s and Lillo’s – also served great pizza.
Not only was that experience a relatively long time ago, but I was catching up with friends and former colleagues I hadn’t seen in a fairly long time, so my mind wasn’t as focused on the food as it normally is. I couldn’t call up a clear picture in my mind of what their steak tasted like, which was making it hard for me to know how to rate them. I also had minor regrets about ordering an upside down – sauce on top – pizza last time and wanted to try their regular pie.
So I met up again today with the same two friends – Kamala and Helene – to refresh my memory on the sandwich and try another pizza.
Cafe Carmela has a welcoming atmosphere, a moderate amount of seating, and pleasant table service. In addition to pizza, cheesesteaks and other sandwiches, they also offer salads, appetizers – including the best fried Mozzarella I’ve ever eaten – and an assortment of house-made pasta dishes. It’s obvious when you eat their food that they use high quality ingredients and don’t cut corners while preparing all of these items.
I didn‘t photograph the pasta section of the menu, but you can check that out by clicking on the link to their web site in the opening paragraph.
The first item to arrive was Kam’s Chicken Parmigiano sandwich, which looked very good.
Helene and I both ordered Don Cheech’s Steak – their endearing term for a cheesesteak – with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions.
All of the separate ingredients in this sandwich – roll, meat, cheese and onions – were excellent. I wouldn’t quite put the roll among the best I’ve had, but it was comfortably above average. Its texture was at the junction of sturdy and soft. The meat was chopped to a medium size, and they really did a great job with the onions, which were diced a little bigger than average and abundant in flavor.
I did have one cheese-related issue with the cheesesteak. While the Cooper Sharp was very well distributed throughout the steak, I thought there was so much of it that I wasn’t able to enjoy the texture of the meat. Ultimately, I guess I care more about the meat than the cheese and don’t want the latter drowning out the former. It wasn’t so much a flavor issue through; it was more about texture.
But as I’ve said here before, judging cheesesteaks is a very subjective endeavor. For many people, the more cheese the better. I like to feel the cheese in every bite, but in moderation. However, if you’re a cheese-lover who can’t get enough of the stuff, run over to Cafe Carmela. Do it even if you aren’t. There is always the pizza, not to mention the rest of the menu.
And speaking of the pizza, that came out after we had started eating our sandwiches.
I was a little surprised when it was brought out. I ordered the American Boy pizza – an upside-down pie – the last time I ate there. This time I asked for a basic plain pizza and expected the sauce to be under the cheese. But it wasn’t. It looked very similar to the pie I had there in November. I didn’t ask when I had the chance, but I guess it’s possible that the upside-down pie is their plain pizza. And there actually isn’t a listing for a plain pizza on the menu.
In any case, the sauce seemed to be distributed a little better on this pie than on the first one I tried. In fact, it reminded me somewhat of the Trenton-style tomato pies I wrote about last week when discussing my lunch at Lillo’s Tomato Pies. The crust at Cafe Carmela is probably actually a little better than what I’ve had at the various Jersey Tomato Pie purveyors I’ve sampled. The sauce is perhaps not as sweet and is ladled on a bit more heavily.
Overall, it’s got to be one of the better pizzas in Philadelphia.
I managed to get through a little over half my cheesesteak and a slice of pizza when I hit my appetite limit. But we sat and chatted a while, giving me a bit of time to regain a sliver of it and also remember that they had a special gelato flavor we were informed of when the server went over the day’s menu additions earlier. It was chocolate-Nutella-crunch. I suddenly had a hankering for a scoop of it and ordered one. I didn’t get much help from Kam and Helene, so eating it was mostly on me. I wasn’t complaining.
It had an extremely rich chocolate flavor, and while I’m not sure what gave it a crunch, it was a welcome textural touch.
There are still one or two other steak shops I want to revisit in addition to the places I’ve yet to try a first time. I plan on doing all of that by the end of August and putting out my rankings in September. I’m thinking of adding a couple side lists – best rolls and those place, including the ones mentioned above, that excel at both cheesesteaks and pizza.