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At a Glance

Marra's Cucina Italiana

1734 E. Passyunk Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19148

Orders: 215-463-9249

Website: http://marrasone.com

Hours:

Tuesday: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm Wednesday: 11:30 am – 10:00 am Thursday: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm Friday: 11:30 am – 11:00 pm Saturday: 12:15 pm – 11:00 pm Sunday: 2:00 pm – 9:30 pm

Takes Reservations: Yes
Parking: Street
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes (Visa, MasterCard and Discover)
Serves: Lunch, Dinner
Attire: Casual
Alcohol: Full Bar
Good for Groups: Yes
Good for Kids: Yes
Delivery: Yes
Take-out: Yes
Wheelchair Accessibility: None
Outdoor Seating: No

 


 

Pizza_Hall_of_Fame_logo

Lombardi's in New York City was the first inductee into the Pizza Hall of Fame, founded by Steve Green, publisher of PMQ, the magazine with the largest circulation (50,000) of any trade magazine devoted to the pizza industry. PMQ publishes U.S., Canadian, Chinese and Australian/New Zealand editions, in addition to producing the Orlando and New York Pizza Shows each September and March respectively. The company’s website, PMQ.com is the official website of the pizza industry.

 


 

 


 

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Pizza — The Culinary Quest Continues....

Restaurants: Pizza

Marra's Cucina Italiana Restaurant (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

By Caitlin Doherty — January 23, 2011

Salvatore and Chiarina Marra were immigrants from Naples, Italy. As the family legend goes, Salvatore moved to America in 1920 with “a single coin in his pocket and a dream to provide a better life for his family.”

Marra's Italian restaurant, oldest in philadelphia, as seen from the corner of Passyunk Avenue and pierce street. (Photo © richard grigonis.)

In 1927, Salvatore and Chiarina Marra opened an Italian-American restaurant on Passyunk Avenue in the heart of South Philadelphia they called Marra’s. It was Philadelphia’s first pizzeria, and it’s still there, all these years later, run by third and fourth generation members of the Marra and D’Adamo families. More important, however, is that Marra’s still produces pizza that is among the best in Philadelphia, pizza that is very enticing to any out-of-state pizza-ologist like myself. Indeed, Marra’s pizza and its other Italian cuisine have attracted many celebrities over the years, including Frank Sinatra, John Travolta, and Conan O’Brien, as well as those denizens of New Jersey who regularly cross the bridge over the Delaware River just to satisfy their pizza cravings at this South Philly landmark.

Interesting america's pizza-ologist, caitlin doherty, outside marra's on passyunk avenue, armed with her trusty copy of the restaurant's menu.
(Photo © richard grigonis.)

One recent Sunday afternoon I visited Marra’s along with some friends and relatives. Marra’s, at the corner of Passyunk Avenue and Pierce Street, has a really catchy black tile exterior. You step up into restaurant, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll score a vinyl booth in the first dining room downstairs, as we did. You can hang up your coat right on the booth. Above our booth on the wall was a photo of the founders, Salvatore and Chiarina Marra, and to the right of that were wooden cutout letters spelling “Marra’s.” The place has the ambiance of a traditional South Philly trattoria: casual, homey, plain-spoken, and large delicious portions that are definitely not nouveau Italian.

above our booth at marra's is a photograph of the restaurant's founders, Salvatore and Chiarina Marra. (Photo © richard grigonis.)

Although we each ordered a separate dish, of course we all actually came here to analyze the thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, which is what Marra’s is known for.

We ordered a large (18-inch) pizza with cheese and pepperoni. While waiting for it to arrive we devoured our individual selections. The bread was perfect, right out of the oven. We started off with the salads—they were absolutely superb, with glistening, fresh ingredients. The peppers were out of this world.

marra's bread tastes like it just came out of the oven (it probably did) and everything else was very good too. (Photo © richard grigonis.)

Marra’s take on a Shrimp fra Diavalo was excellent. The shrimp were big and tender and they were covered in a spicy sauce having a very pleasant bite to it. The coffee was great too.

The Chicken Parmigiana was quite large (in the Frisbee-sized range), lightly breaded, fried to perfection and topped with tomato sauce and a generous helping of mozzarella.

marra's first dining room as you enter the restaurant has just the right atmosphere. it's the perfect place to relax and enjoy an excellent italian-american meal, especially their portfolio of pizzas.
(Photo © richard grigonis.)

An Italian girl accompanying us from Staten Island who, along with her sisters, used to make 10 pounds of gnocci at a time and who had never liked gnocci at any restaurant anywhere (laugh out loud) thought Marra’s version of them were too soft and “were probably made fresh then frozen.” Our hostess patiently explained that they were homemade, not frozen, and that they made them that way. Admittedly, there are variations on the gnocchi recipe, and our picky Staten Island girl prefers her potato dumpling-like gnocci a bit firmer. The rest of us thought they were just fine.

The Physics of Pizza

Finally the main attraction appeared at the table—the pizza. The trick to making great thin-crust Neapolitan pizza is the oven. High temperatures are necessary to quickly darken (and not quite char) the thin pizza dough, making it crispy and yet allowing the rest of the crust to be a bit chewy. Brick coal-fired ovens yield the best results, since they can achieve higher temperatures than ordinary gas-fired ovens, which tend to produce crust that’s ranges from too doughy to too much like cardboard (though some of the latest gas ovens can now hit the desired high temperatures).

another photo, this one apparently of a later generation of one of the families that owns and operates marra's. (Photo © richard grigonis.)

Marra’s has been using the same firebrick-lined oven since its founding. There are various tales about it. One is that it was shipped brick-by-brick from Italy. Another is that the oven was originally built in 1925, and that in 1927 it was rebuilt when the Marra family moved to the restaurant’s present location. The oven was originally coal-fired, then it was converted to gas some years ago.

Solid iron and stainless steel ovens tend to burn pizza dough, which is why modern higher-end eateries heat pizzas on steel or mesh trays, though this is not a perfect solution, as it can make the crust taste “woody.” That’s why Marra’s firebrick oven has a clay tile floor—actually a series of interlocking tiles resting on a bed of sand—yielding a crust having light, fluffy, yet crispy texture.

Bubble, Bubble

During the cooking process, bubbles can form on the periphery of the pizza crust. These tend to burn and turn black, so at Marra’s the master pizza maker uses a butter knife to pop these pesky bubbles as they appear.

marra's restaurant as seen from across passyunk avenue. the black tile exterior is cool. (Photo © richard grigonis.)

Thumbs Up

The pizza was very good indeed. This is a Philadelphia interpretation of Neapolitan pizza. My New York area acculturation makes me inclined to favor the pizza at Lombardi’s in New York, but I also enjoyed Marra's pizza very much. My personal preference puts Lombardi's in the lead, but not by a whole lot.

By visiting on a Sunday, we weren’t subjected to any wait time. Our hostess was gracious and friendly, and we didn’t encounter any of the big parties of families celebrating christenings or office worker birthday parties.

For the pizza lover, Marra’s in Philadelphia is a home away from home. end-of-article dingbat

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Caitlin_Doherty

Caitlin Doherty is Interesting America's pizza-ologist and fun eatery afficionado. She also likes fun places to visit when she can find the time. A New Jersey native, she is a pharmacy technician for a hospital.

 

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