City Tap House
3925 Walnut Street
University City. Nationally known for it’s award winning hospitals and ridiculously expensive schools. It’s also locally known for it’s hub of obnoxiously loud college bars; where on any given Friday night, you’re likely to run into a pack of faux hawk’d dudes rocking popped collars on their pink polo shirts and the occasional underage chick throwing up in the side alley of a frat house. One thing that University City lacks is a decent slice of za. Believe me, I work in this part of the city and I’ve sampled them all. It’s all places that care more about taking your cash and giving you a loveless product, where absolutely no thought or care went into making. The City Tap House is the exception. I’ve been to the CTH numerous times since they opened 3 years ago, but all of my visits usually involved me drinking an 11% beer from a chalice on the balcony, in front of one of their many outdoor firepits. Up until recently, that’s all I really knew them for. They have one of the most extensive selection of beers on tap in the city. 60+ to be exact. A quick menu search on their website showed that they also sport some pretty legit pizza choices. One that really caught my eye was the “Pulpo Flatbread”, which boasts smoked octopus and chorizo sausage. Yes, I said octopus. Let’s be honest. The thought of a cephalopod slowly making it’s way through my digestive track would normally make me dry heave, but combined with the zesty kick of some Mexican chorizo sausage, it might just prove otherwise. Chorizo is a mexican/spanish sausage made with paprika and chili powder. It’s rare to come by in Philly. When I went to Mexico earlier this year, I was introduced to this sexy meat at the omelet station in my hotel and fell completely head over heels for it. Needless to say, when I seen it as a topping on this pie, I knew I just had to have it. Andy Farrell, the General Manager, was extremely hospitable to the doughboys and welcomed us with arms wide open. He even went as far as to sit down with us and walk us through exactly how each pie is made.
The “Pulpo” starts out with a 14″x5″ hand stretched flatbread. It’s smothered in smoked red onions, plump kalamata olives, octopus that’s twice boiled and then smoked over an open flame, sliced chorizo sausage, manchengo cheese and finished off with a house made romesco sauce. There’s so many interesting things going on with this pie. The texture and chew of the octopus alone is enough to creep the creepiest of creepsters out, but the zing that the spicy chorizo sausage packs offsets that feeling and makes for a killer topping combination. The sweet and nutty flavor of the manchengo cheese is a much welcomed change from the typical mozzarella that we’ve been acclimated to. But what really needs to be highlighted is the romesco sauce. It’s hand made with almonds, day old bread, whipping cream, a splash of red wine vinegar, fresh garlic and roasted red peppers (which gives it it’s luscious orange glow.) Look, I’m a lover of all things food. Anything new to my tastes, I will gladly get just to say that I’ve tried it. Prior to this visit, the closest thing to a tentacled sea creature that I’ve had in my mouth was a little fried calamari with red sauce. I loved everything about it. The “Pulpo” was just about the most unusual thing that we’ve reviewed to date. It takes a lot of balls to top a pizza with octopus, but these dudes killed it. If you hit the CTH, give this a pie a fighting chance. One thing that the boys of dough praise is originality and creativity, and the CTH hit the nail on the head with this concoction.
The second pie that we dabbled in was the “Abruzzi Pepperoni.” Monstrous cuts of spicy, paper thin pepperoni are generously lined from crust to crust on top of fresh slivers of mozzarella and sweet, robust tomato sauce. Before it’s slid into the 650 degree oven, it’s finished off with sliced Fresno chili peppers. A perfect union of toppings and without a doubt, my favorite pie of the day. The “Pulpo flatbread” has somewhat of an acquired taste to it, and if you’re not a fan of staring at the suction cupped tentacles before you eat it, you may jump the gun and your brain will tell your mouth that you’re not going to like it before you even try it. The “Abruzzi Pepperoni” pie is something that pizza eaters young and old can fully appreciate and enjoy. The slight char on the bottom was the epitome of what you want all of your crusts to look like. I personally watched the pizza chef, Dan Mohr, hand make our pizzas and meticulously arrange the toppings as if he were assembling a 1000 piece puzzle. This is how every pizza should be constructed; with pride and confidence. After we polished off all 12 slices like the champions that we are, we sat outside by their open flame firepits and tossed back a few brews. We spoke of past loves and future life endeavors. Just kidding, we mostly talked about the Simpsons and wrestling. The City Tap House is a well hidden gem, and without a doubt one of the coolest spots to grab a beer and a pie in Philly. Head on down to University City and try them out for size. Definitely doughboys approved.
I’d say the only reason I don’t spend too much time in University City is because I hate driving there. Even the other day, when you would expect little or no traffic long before rush hour, it was a bothersome commute on 676. But once you’re down there, it’s easy to forget about. Decent bars, restaurants and stores in a part of Philadelphia that seems like a city in itself. If I had more time to spare, I probably would’ve spent the remainder of the night playing video games at University Pinball. But I was in University City with a purpose: octopus pizza.
Being known more for their extensive beer selection than pizza, City Tap House has still managed to remain on our radar for some time. And with some of the most outrageous combination pizzas, it’s no wonder why. I seriously wanted to try every pizza there, from the Jambalaya to the Margherita. I was craving some classic pepperoni pizza, but needed to try out that octopus as well. Obviously not being your customary pizza, the Pulpo Flatbread begins with exactly what the title suggests: flatbread. Using such a thin base for a pizza definitely has some pros, namely being the decreased cooking time and crispy texture. The idea of eating octopus was a bit unnerving at first, but it essentially heightened the other complex flavors of the pie it shared. The salty, smoked octopus was battling the spicy Chorizo sausage, with the affection of my taste buds at stake. Not to be outdone, the Romesco sauce entered the battle with something to prove (and did so). This pie was interesting to say the least. I love to try new foods and expanding my horizons, and this pizza helped me do just that. But every once in a while, I need a little normalcy in my life. So a nice pepperoni pie was definitely in order.
I don’t think a lot of people realize the difference that adding peppers to pizza can make. Even a boring, shitty pie can be reintroduced to the public with jalapeno or banana peppers and be completely different. Although they didn’t need it, the pepperoni pie at Tap House was only made more magnificent by adding the Fresno chilli peppers. Spicy pepperoni, sweet sauce, and the kick of the crunchy peppers was exactly what this Dough Boy needed in his life. Maybe I’m speaking out of pure hunger, but that pie was one of the best pepperoni pizzas I’ve had in a very long time. Do it.
With Bobby’s Burgers being a stone’s throw away, it may not be an easy decision where to eat if you’re in the area. But do yourself a favor and try these delectable pies next time you’re in University City. Friendly staff, cool atmosphere, and delicious ‘za? It’s a no-brainer. Feel free to wash it down with a chocolate stout by the fire afterwards.