After my memorable visit to South Philadelphia’s Angelo’s Pizzeria to try their cheesesteak and pizza earlier this week, I had long-standing plans to meet up with two friends and former colleagues Friday for lunch at another well-known South Philly establishment. Kamala and Helene have been with me for a few of the meals I’ve reported on here.
Our latest destination was Marra’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant. It’s a little over a mile south and a bit west of Angelo’s, on Passyunk Avenue, which is home to a number of notable restaurants, both old and new. In Marra’s case, it’s old – very old. They will celebrate a century in business in 2027.
While I haven’t been to Marra’s in probably at least 15 years, I ate there with some regularity when I was single and living in the city.
The interior, or at least the room in which we sat, looks like it probably hasn’t changed a lot during most of the past 95 years. And you know how I love a place that falls comfortably within the definition of ‘old-school.’
In addition to serving brick-oven pizza, they have a fairly large Italian menu that includes an array of pastas, seafood, chicken, and veal. They also serve calzones and a small selection of hot sandwiches at lunch time.
Being a Villanova basketball fan, I used to sometimes order the pasta dish known as “Rollie Massimino’s Favorite,” named for the late Nova coach, who led the team to a national title in 1985. It’s penne with broccoli in a choice of white-butter or red sauce. I had something else in mind today and will get to that shortly.
We decided to start by sharing an order of Clams Casino. I wrote about my fondness for this dish in a previous post that included a meal with my wife at Anthony’s Ristorante. Unfortunately, the version we had today at Marra’s wasn’t in the same league as the one at Anthony’s (there are photos in the earlier post for those of you who would like to compare). These had a lot more breading and less clam, not to mention flavor generally.
Kam tried out a calzone that appeared to have a very light and flaky crust for her main course, while Helene went with a classic South Philly sandwich; peppers and eggs on a seeded long roll that looked very good. .
I wasn’t in the mood for pasta or red sauce generally, possibly because I still had the flavor of Angelo’s pizza, with its tasty sauce, on my mind. Perhaps influenced by my fondness for the white clam pizza I’ve had and loved a number of times in Connecticut, I decided to change things up and ordered a personal-sized white pizza topped with shrimp and fresh garlic. It turned out to be a good move.
The pizza was excellent, but also nothing like the one I had the other day from Angelo’s. The crust was denser, more like what I’m used to, but nicely done with a bit of crunch; while the shrimp and fresh garlic – unimpeded by any red sauce – essentially turned it into a delicious, scampi-flavored pizza.
I have never considered Marra’s to be one of the best Italian restaurants in Philly, a city that has an abundance of very good ones. But they have made high quality pizza for generations, and there is a lot to be said for that. They also have a fun atmosphere at night, when it gets crowded.