As I’m sure regular readers have noticed, in addition to working my way through the last handful of steak shops on my list that I’ve yet to visit, I have also been revisiting some of the places I wrote about last year. Aside from the need to refresh my memory on how a few of the contending cheesesteaks taste, I’ve also become more savvy when it comes to ordering Philly’s favorite sandwich – both from increased experience and spending a lot of time reading what other steak-lovers have to say online.
One of the first places I raved about last fall, when I was still early in this cheesesteak project, was the Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana. This one falls into that category of having been there before I really knew how to order a steak. I didn’t ask whether they offered seeded rolls during the earlier visit. I also didn’t inquire beyond American cheese to see if they had Cooper Sharp. While I wrote recently that I was rethinking whether I still prefer Cooper Sharp to American cheese for steaks, in the interest of consistency, I’m still ordering the former wherever it’s available.
But retrying their steak was only one of two reasons for my eagerness to get back to Collegeville, which is a western suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County, PA. During that first visit, my friend, Andy, and I got into a conversation with the owner, who insisted we try samples of his pizza. One of those small slices made such a strong impression on me, that I felt the need to have it again.
So another friend, John, who has appeared in a few earlier posts, and I met up late this morning and drove west on Ridge Pike to the Collegeville Italian Bakery.
It’s a very large place. The above photo doesn’t come close to taking in the entire building. There are three rooms. As was the case for my last visit, we chose to sit in what is probably the original bakery and sandwich shop, before they expanded at some point. It’s got a more old-school feel than the other two rooms. The various types of rolls they offer, as well as other food items, are on shelves and in refrigerated cases in seemingly every direction you turn. Again, there is much more than I photographed.
The center of the three rooms is a nicer dining room. I’m not sure whether they offer table service there. It definitely wasn’t an option where we sat. But after placing our order at the counter, our food was brought out to us by a very nice young man.
The room at the far side of the Bakery is sort of like a mini food Wonderland. It contains two pizza ovens; one of them a wood burning brick-oven, an ice cream set up that is next to a Nutella bar, and various other goodies.
Over the years, the Bakery has posted photos of mostly local celebrities all over the walls of center room and on at least one wall in the far room. Most of the people in the photos are shown working the brick oven. It’s a funny little addition to what is already a very pleasant and welcoming place.
The pizza arrived first. This beauty is called a Norristown Red Top Pie, named after the county seat of Montgomery County, which we drove through on our way to the Bakery. In addition to its obvious eye-appeal, the cheese and sauce are not what you get on a standard cheese pizza. They use white Cheddar cheese and what must be the sweetest tomato sauce I’ve ever tried. Just the few bites of it that I had last October were enough for me to fall hard for this pizza. It helps that I have a massive sweet-tooth that is a perfect match for the sauce. But the wonderful thin crust and the Cheddar are also spot on. This was a great pie. No toppings required.
John and I were both on our second slice when the cheesesteak arrived. This time around, it came with Cooper Sharp cheese, as well the usual fried onions, on the Bakery’s seeded roll, which has to be requested. Their standard steak comes on a seedless roll. And while it is a good one, if memory serves me, the one I had today was a little better. It was a tad doughy for a seeded roll, but it was so fresh and had such an enjoyable chew, that I had no complaints at all.
The meat was chopped fairly fine, and although you can’t see it very well in the photos, there was a lot of Cooper Sharp well blended with the meat. Any more cheese, and I’d have probably said there was too much. But as it was, they didn’t cross that line. The overall flavor of this sandwich was fantastic. It’s one of those steaks where the sum is greater than its parts. It all worked together beautifully.
I’m very happy to have gotten a reminder of how much I love that Norristown pizza. The cheesesteak will also be in my thoughts when it comes time to pick my final list of the region’s best steaks.
I’m not sure at this point where I’ll head next among the places I’ve yet to visit on this cheesesteak venture. I’m tentatively planning a barbecue outing next week, but I’m sure I’ll fit in another steak at some point in the next week or 10 days, possibly as soon as this weekend.
8 thoughts on “The Collegeville Italian Bakery: Part 2”
Hmm. Cheddar cheese and pizza sauce. I’m not sure about that. I feel like someone who’s never tried a raw oyster before. I’m all in on the sandwich, though. And the pizza if it’s as good as a raw oyster.
Here in Wisconsin a lot of places use cheddar blends for some of their pizzas, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one topped with only cheddar. I’m so conditioned to pizzas topped with some form of mozzarella and/or provolone that I think strictly cheddar might be a serious mental hurdle for me to clear!
It was a mild Cheddar. I’m generally a cheese traditionalist who just wants Mozzarella on my pizza, but this worked very well for me.
I’d honestly take it over a raw oyster! I did try those I think twice. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but I decided I’ve done my duty and don’t need to order those again.
I like the idea of a sweet-tasting pizza. Just something a bit unusual. It’s another one I’ll have to try if I ever get up that way.
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