Philadelphia: Carangi Baking Company Does South Philly's Signature Styles Right
Carangi Baking Company
2655 S. Iseminger St (at Oregon; map)
Pizza style: Bakery
Oven type: Gas deck bread oven
The skinny: Thick Philly-style tomato pie and specialty pizzas from the bakery responsible for the bread at John's Roast Pork
Price: Slices $1 - $1.50 Dozen $12-15
Carangi is a small South Philly bakery and cafe that's mostly known for baking the seeded Italian rolls behind the award-winning sandwiches at John's Roast Pork. What I didn't know until recently is that Carangi Baking Company is also a retail store and cafe where one can order a cappuccino, grab a loaf of bread, and take home slices of square pizza and tomato pie—baked by the sheet in the same ovens used to make the bread.
Carangi's pizza is available by the slice or box of 12, in a large array of topping combinations, all sold at room temperature (as is the custom for Philadelphia bakery pizza). It's debatable whether the pizza is meant to be served cold or heated up at home, although 9 times out of 10 cheese-less tomato pie is eaten at room temp, while with the other variations it's sort of dealer's choice.
The dough at Carangi is really different than a lot of bakery pizza I've had in Philly. For one thing the crust is much, much crisper and darker than the snow-white dough of Corropolese and Conshocken Bakery, and really thick. Sort of the missing link, or halfway point between tomato pie, grandma pizza, and Sicilian. In fact the only thing that really differentiates it from Sicilian are the bakery-style toppings (or lack thereof), and the fact that it's baked in a Polin cyclothermic bread oven and served cold.
We tried all of the slices available that day both at room temperature and heated. Hot out of the oven the tomato pie's flavor totally changes—more in the direction of pizza—but the naked sauce layer really starts to dry out. I definitely preferred this one cold.
To me the fresh, simple taste of the sauce is what it's all about. Carangi's sauce is really good, not overly sweet and lightly seasoned with garlic and herbs—pretty crucial because you're really just eating sauce and crust. Unlike almost every other Philly tomato pie I've eaten, there was no dusting of Romano or pecorino on top of the sauce.
Next up was a plain cheese slice. Cold, it just tasted like... cold pizza. Hot out of the oven it was awesome. Since they cook these pretty far at the bakery, by the time you heat it up at home you're definitely going to have some dark crust edges and golden brown, almost burnt bits of cheese.
The white pie with tomato had me stumped. At first glance I thought it was pizzaz, the Philadelphia square-pie delicacy that involves American cheese, tomatoes, and banana peppers. Carangi's quasi-pizzaz tasted like it had a blend of American, mozzarella, and possibly provolone, and was topped with fresh tomato, herbs, and tiny slivers of onion but no peppers.
A more graceful alternative to the wild world of pizzaz—I actually preferred this one cold (pictured above). More like some sort of strange cross between bruschetta and grilled cheese than pizza.
Carangi's pepperoni slices are pretty cool looking, each one decorated with an extra-wide single (or one and a half, depending on slicing accuracy) pepperoni slice. I'd go hot on this one, cold pepperoni grease being sort of a bummer.
Last but not least is the long-hot slice. Hot or cold it was great, probably because I'm just in love with long-hots—the long, skinny, moderately hot peppers that show up roasted and served on top of roast pork sandwiches and hoagies all over Philadelphia. Carangi roasts and de-seeds them before laying a segment over top of a square cheese slice. Genius.
Hot or cold, whatever you want to call them, Carangi's square slices are a delicious piece of the Philadelphia bakery pizza puzzle. If you're put off by the bleached wonder bread crust and sugary sauce of some of the other tomato pie spots we've featured, this might be the one to try.
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.