400 Leverington Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19128-3312 (map); 215-483-6126
Pizza style: Thin-crust Swirl
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: Super sweet sauce swirled on top of the cheese at this tiny neighborhood take-out spot
Price: $8.52 for a small, $9.50 for large.
Swirl Pizza is a style found along the Schuylkill river towns just northwest of Philadelphia. This pizza is built upon a crust much thinner than your average Philly slice, and the sauce is applied on top of the cheese in a decorative spiral pattern. I found it at Alex's Pizzeria in Roxborough.
Alex's is as bare bones as it gets. They don't sell slices and they don't deliver. It's in a residential neighborhood, but there's nowhere to sit. But that's a good sign: I'm quickly learning that the best pizza in Philly comes from places with no tables or chairs. Dirt cheap prices and pies made to order keep the locals coming in.
I watched the pizzamaker toss the dough by hand and stretch it out on a floured counter. He piled it with cheese and then topped the pie with sauce from a plastic watering can to create the unique swirl pattern on the surface of the pizza.
Since there aren't any chairs and we didn't want to wait twenty minutes to get home, we plopped the box on the roof of the car and dug in right there on the street. Smart move. The thin crust—rare in Philadelphia outside of gourmet pizza restaurants—was golden brown on the bottom, not crackery or chewy but just crisp and sturdy enough to hold the oozing cheese and sauce.
An interesting thing about the spiral pattern of sauce is that your first bite might be all cheese, the next cheese and sauce, and no two mouthfuls are ever the same. Alex's sauce is insanely sweet—it's probably wise that they use it sparingly. My only criticism was that the whole thing could have used a dash of salt.
Topping choices, like everything else at this place, are minimal. You can also get half-baked pies to finish cooking at home.