by Len Lear
As the Inquirer’s restaurant columnist Michael Klein recently wrote, “Springfield Township, Montgomery County, is not exactly a hotbed of restaurant activity.”
That is precisely why a group of developers and restaurant professionals with a history of success in Philly decided to open Enza in October of last year as part of a mixed-use development at 909 E. Willow Grove Ave. in Wyndmoor. If you have driven down Willow Grove Avenue in Wyndmoor in the past couple of years, you must have noticed the major construction project, called 909 Willow, that is now completed and includes Enza, 10 two-bedroom condo units that are sold out, a coffee shop called Locals run by Wyndmoor’s Scott and Alana Davis, and Captain Andy’s Market, run by Andrew Peszka. The only business on the block that is not part of 909 Willow is Tony’s Pizza City, which has been at 901-A Willow Grove Ave. for 58 years. (So now there are two pizza options right next to one another.)
“We wanted to go into the tough suburban market,” said Jay Overcash, 41, an entrepreneur who grew up on Hartwell Lane in Chestnut Hill, now lives in Wyndmoor and has a business degree from Drexel University, where he was also a scholarship basketball player. “Enza is a proof of concept. We have to figure out the fine line between family-friendly and really good food. We must appeal to different demographics. At first we only had a limited menu with pizzas, pastas and salads, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.
“We now have a new executive chef with years of experience, so we now have fresh seafood like bronzino, mushroom toast, multi-grain bread, spaghetti squash, etc. And starting Feb. 29 we will open for Saturday and Sunday brunch with bottomless mimosas, a bloody Mary bar, chicken and waffles, lemon ricotta pancakes and so on. We have not introduced the real Enza yet. The goal is to have families come in, and while the kids can have pizza, the parents can have a fresh seafood dinner with wine, a cocktail or local craft beer. Or a date night for couples.”
The owners are hugging the curves as they move forward, but why were all these options not available when they opened last October? “We have been in the restaurant business for 12 to 14 years (Zavino and Tredici in Philly, which Overcash has divested himself from), and we know it is better to start slow and add more and more things as time goes by. We can seat 85 inside, which includes the full bar, and people love to eat outdoors in the mild weather, so when the weather breaks, we will have seating for 16 to 18 in front and 36 on the side with beautiful landscaping.”
Enza, which is more of a Mediterranean restaurant than strictly an Italian restaurant, was named for the Enza River, a tributary of the Po River which runs through much of northern Italy. “People like two-syllable names,” said Overcash. The man who came up with the name was Steve Gonzalez, a prime mover of the restaurant who once cheffed for Vetri and was the opening chef at Zavino, 13th and Sansom Streets, 12 years ago.
Enza’s current executive chef, Carlos Aparicio, 40, is as focused as a guided missile and as patient as a boiling tea kettle. A former executive chef at Zavino and Tredici, he started at Enza on Jan. 16. A native of Mexico and self-taught chef, Aparicio (“a pastry chef at heart”) has worked in Philly restaurants for 25 years and has hit the bulls-eye with these targets before, having developed the baking program at Parc, the highest-grossing restaurant in Philadelphia. “My specialties,” he said, “are breads, pastas and pizzas, and I like sweets. We make everything from scratch, including gelato. I just could not pass up this opportunity.”
Although Overcash insisted over and over again that the Enza of the future will be far more exciting and magnetic than the Enza of the past, it has already had some big innings, according to social media. For example, on yelp.com, the country’s most popular restaurant review website, the 31 customer reviews average four stars out of five. The latest review, written by Wayne G. of Chestnut Hill on Feb. 3, stated: “We have dined here are least six times and find the restaurant excellent. The pizzas are just right, and the other entrees are creative and excellent. Superb service by the staff, and our server also made our drinks to perfection. A local place that I highly recommend.”
Regarding the items we have tasted so far, there was not a joker in the deck. In the kale salad, every element — kale, butternut squash, toasted almonds and farro — sings in harmony ($12). An antipasto was an absolute epiphany ($12), mining flavors that were natural and pure. And with the most ambrosial roasted sweep peppers that we have ever tasted. A classic Rosso pizza was a perfect suite of enticing flavors — tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil ($13) with a thin, crunchy crust.
For more information: 215-575-2915 or pizzeriaenza.com You can contact Len Lear at firstname.lastname@example.org