To an outsider, Metropolitan Bakery’s recent revamp of its Rittenhouse cafe — which added a giant stone oven to begin serving made-to-order pizza — might look like a questionable move.
Philly’s pizza scene has never been more robust than it is now. The Rittenhouse neighborhood alone boasts at least a dozen more pizzerias than when the bakery first opened at the corner of 19th and Manning 25 years ago, and many of them embrace high-end ingredients like Metro always has.
But to co-owners Wendy Smith Born and James Barrett, jumping into the pie game now makes perfect sense.
“Doing pizza was on our original business plan,” Barrett said, explaining that the pair had been looking to launch a separate pizzeria for some time, but were unable to find a suitable space. Then they hit upon the idea of renovating their cafe, which opened five years ago next door to their original spot.
The revolving deck pizza oven, imported from Bergamo, Italy, was “our 25th anniversary present to ourselves,” said Smith Born, laughing.
Another reason the move makes sense: Barrett’s pizza is unique. It doesn’t follow a didactic style, but instead combines elements of Neapolitan, Roman and New York pies.
The dough — the result of six months of testing — is made from a mix of classic Italian bread flour, Pennsylvania rye and a heritage wheat called Redeemer. (At least that’s what it’s made of now; Barrett said the ingredients will change throughout the year as different grains come into season.) During its 10-minute bake, it crisps up with a slight char, but never becomes too crackery or too chewy.
For the sauce, Barrett also took elements of the best of what was out there to create his own style. More of a confit than anything else, the rich, jewel-red topping is made by roasting tomatoes with a bit of garlic and fresh herbs for five hours. The result is not sweet, but not salty.
Toppings are given the same amount of care. Pepperoni? Using just one kind was too boring and one-note, Barrett felt, so he’s currently using three. Mushrooms? A half dozen varieties are scattered around the crust, along with garlic crema, sprigs of thyme and four kinds of cheese.
Six options are listed on the new pizza menu, priced $15 to $17 for a 12-inch pie that’s easily too much for one person to eat in a sitting.
The verdict, from this writer and the dozens of customers who’ve begun calling ahead for orders: delicious.
Pizza is currently served from 11 a.m. to close, Tuesday through Sunday. It’s available in person or online via Caviar. In April, Metropolitan may add dinner hours to accommodate more pizza-loving crowds.
“People always want pizza,” said Barrett. “It’s in the top three comfort foods, right? There’s always room for more.”