On paper, Pitruco Pizza would seem to pose a conundrum. So many pizzaiolos have a hard time whipping up a decent pie in a proper shop, and the trio of Jonah Fliegelman, Nathan Winkler-Rhoades and Eric Hilkowitz thought they could do it on the road? And with crust that eschews the pasta-popular “00” flour in favor of a blend based on pastry flour? And with a goal of keeping prices as low as possible?
And yet, here’s the thing: These are serious pies. Often transportingly delicious. Occasionally swoon-worthy. Indeed, from a trailer retro-fitted with a Valoriani oven and hooked up to the back of a Ford F-150—it looks almost like some sort of baroque weapon from an old James Bond film—some of the most remarkably successful thin-crust pizzas in the city are being served up, and have been for the past year.
The crust here is the key: Their recipe is ingenious, providing just the right balance of snap and chew. It takes on a hint of smoke from its stint in the oven, and this sets off the yeasty sweetness in ways both beguiling and addictive.
That sweetness is on beautiful display with the deceptively difficult-to-do-well margherita pizza. With so few components, every one of them has to work perfectly both on its own and in concert with the others, lest the entire pie devolve into a tomato-y, gloppy mess. With this one, though, the heightened acid of the simple raw tomato sauce finds a willing dance partner in the subtle rounds of buffalo mozzarella. Perhaps a bit more basil would raise the stakes here even higher, but that’s a quibble at best.
Spicy garlic pie takes the same base as the margherita but amps it up with a generous application of red chile flakes. Their spice is given greater depth with slices of garlic so thin that they reminded me of the scene in Goodfellas where Paul Sorvino’s character slivers up cloves in prison. It’s optional, but make sure to get the dusting of pecorino, which brings a sense of finality to each bite and softens the spice heat.
Sausage pizza was a fantastic example of what makes our food truck culture here—and, for that matter, around much of the country—so appealing: A focus on, and respect for, great ingredients. Knuckle-sized sausage meatballs were scattered strategically around the pie, their fennel perfume hovering above it all like a sort of specter. A scattering of wild mushrooms and sweet onions filled out the remarkable range of flavors, and the rich (yet not heavy) béchamel under it all provided a perfect canvas. This was as sophisticated as sausage pizza gets.
But the real showstopper for me was the radicchio pie, which may be the best pizza of any sort I’ve had so far this year. Purple-black strands of braised radicchio sat tangled atop the crust, with wild mushrooms anchoring the high-toned seam of reduced, sweetened balsamic that defined it. The combination of the crunch of the radicchio and the nuttiness of the Grana Padano, in the context of the rest of the construct, is likely to be a benchmark against which I measure all others for a long time to come.
The finocchiona special also worked beautifully, the meaty depth of the fennel sausage, the pickled roasted red peppers, the chopped olives and delicate application of sauce all coming together into a gloriously messy, unabashedly delicious treat. If the radicchio was a beautifully produced opera, then this one was a rock festival, rambling and far less taut but ultimately an excellent journey.
Nathan, Jonah, and Eric have created something special here: a food truck that, like so many of its motorized ilk, again proves the vibrancy and creativity of Philly’s street-dining scene, all while defying logic by cranking out utterly delicious pizzas from the back of a trailer.
Pitruco Pizza may seem like a bit of a conundrum, but with food this good, logic is happily ignored. It’s a shining example of doing one thing, and doing it really, really well. We’re lucky to have it rolling around our streets. I plan on becoming a regular.
Two locations: Drexel, 33rd and Arch sts.; Bella Vista, Palumbo Playground at 10th and Fitzwater sts.
Hours: Tues. and Thurs., 11:30am–2:30pm at Drexel; Thurs., 4:30–8pm in Bella Vista. Check @pitrucopizza on Twitter for updates.
Price Range: $6.50-$11.
Atmosphere: Food-truck cheerful.
Food: Utterly delicious.
Service: Friendly and fast.