I recently read Elisa and Mike Giammarino opened Gennaro’s Tomato Pie and could not wait to try it.
They owned Lombardi’s near Rittenhouse Square for a number of years. I loved the thin-crust pizza. When news that the buildings on the block were being torn down to make way for luxury apartments, I was none too happy. Until SliCE and Zavino Wine Bar Pizzeria opened a few years ago, Lombardi’s was the only Center City place I could find top-quality pies.
Center City’s loss is South Philly’s gain. The couple has created a charming restaurant highlighting their spectacular tomato pies and white pizza.
Gennaro’s is kitted out with bright red, Formica-topped tables, colorful posters and front-page newspapers from the 1940s. The sounds of Benny Goodman tooting his clarinet could be heard over the sound system. The Big Band music put me in such a merry mood I thought the Andrew Sisters were going to pop out and sing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
The menu is small, yet carefully planned. There are salads, appetizers, pizzas, calzones and homemade — with the emphasis on homemade — desserts. We brought a bottle of Italian red wine and looked forward to a fun evening.
The antipasto ($11) consisted of dried cured meat, mortadella, provolone, a selection of olives and roasted peppers. Two rounds of homemade flatbread came with our first course. This was not a crisp flat bread, it was more akin to the pizza dough used in the restaurant. It was lightly grilled and still warm when it arrived at our table.
If you like thin-crust pizza, you will love Gennaro’s pies. The description on the menu reads: “The New York-style Neapolitan crust with fresh whole milk mozzarella, crushed tomato and a touch of olive oil.”
The white pie also featured fresh mozzarella, but included the tastiest, freshest ricotta cheese I have ever sampled in South Philly. A blend of seasonings; a touch of spinach; a hint of fresh, crushed garlic; and olive oil tops off the pie.
We decided on a large, 16-inch pie, half tomato, half white ($18). How can just a handful of ingredients turn out so fine? Mike and Elisa tested the dough until it was perfect. It is very thin and crisp. I do not know whose sauce recipe was used, but I know the testing was done until the right consistency and flavors mingled on top of the pie. The sauce was not at all sweet.
The white pie was glorious. If you have never tried the mingling of fresh whole milk mozzarella and fresh ricotta, Gennaro’s is the place for you. You will not be disappointed.
We also sampled the personal calzone ($12), carefully prepared with the aforementioned cheese and a choice of toppings. Edward and I like the marriage of spinach and cheese. The pie was piping hot and nice and plump. The sauce was served on the side. I found myself savoring it straight from the ramekin.
During dinner, Elisa and Mike were taste-testing a new pie that they want to serve during the warmer months. It was topped with fresh salad fixings.
I have never tried salad on pizza, but for those vegetarians out there, it may just work.
I read a few reviews online from regular folks who wrote the couple brought desserts to them on the house.
Do not miss them. They brought us a slice of Grandma Grace’s chocolate cream sponge cake with fresh chocolate cream; Grandma Rose’s pineapple upside down cake with fresh whipped cream; and chocolate wafer ice box cake with whipped cream.
Forget the fancy desserts served in upscale restaurants. These family-recipe sweets will bring a smile to your face.
I rarely introduce myself to a chef or owners after the bill has been paid. The last time was more than two years ago.
Elisa is from South Philly. Mike is from New York but came here about 20 years ago. They went back to New York after Lombardi’s closed but wanted to return because they still owned their home.
On April 26, Mike Giammarino, the owner of Gennaro’s Tomato Pie, 1429 Jackson St., opened Grace & Pat’s, 1533 S. 11th St., the former home of Da Vinci Ristorante.