Every October, Berks County Eats celebrates #NationalPizzaMonth by enjoying as many of our region’s best pizza places as possible.
I look forward to it every year, but I also dread it. Not because I expect to find bad pizza. On the contrary. I dread it because there will be at least one restaurant that impresses me so much that I wish we had enjoyed a full meal.
That’s what we found on our recent visit to Sophia’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in St. Lawerence.
Sophia’s gets great reviews online for everything, but we tempered expectations before arriving. I mean, the location is a former gas station. It’s not like there was a legacy of culinary excellence before Sophia’s arrived.
The exterior gives away the building’s history. The large glass windows are unmistakably gas station.
Inside, it’s a completely different story. The left half of the building has been transformed into a take-out counter and kitchen. The right half is a surprisingly spacious seating area dotted with more tables than I would have thought could fit inside the building. (And it’s much cleaner than any gas station I have ever seen).
The owners obviously put a lot of time and effort into transforming the space. Sitting down at a booth along the wall, it didn’t feel like a converted space. It felt like a nice Italian restaurant.
It was a busy Friday night, and while the booths were mostly full, there was still plenty of seating at the tables in the center of the room. A few other couples had arrived just before us so there was a brief wait before our waitress stopped at the table. On the plus side, we had plenty of time to decide what we wanted so we could place our food and drink orders at the same time.
Guests can choose from a menu of 17 pizzas (plus Stromboli, subs, paninis, Italian dinners and more), and it was a tough choice for me as I debated in my head, finally deciding on a personal-sized grandma pizza.
Grandma pizza is one of my favorites though it’s not available at every pizza place in the county. Sophia’s version features garlic, mozzarella cheese, black pepper, dried hot pepper and a light tomato sauce. When done right, it’s everything that’s great about pizza but in better proportions.
And this was done right.
The sauce was delicious, and every bite with it was sweet and delightful. Those bites without the sauce were like eating the best garlic bread. And every now and then, the red pepper snuck up and surprised me.
I was really impressed and very happy with my decision.
For her 10-inch pie, Julie went with the spanako, a white pizza with distinct Greek influences. It included your basic white pizza ingredients: mozzarella cheese, garlic, spinach and tomato. But what took this to another level was the last two toppings: feta cheese and Kalamata olive.
I’m used to white pizza with ricotta, but the feta was a great choice. The softer cheese gives the pie a different texture than the mozzarella.
We were both a little skeptical about the olives. Neither of us are a fan of the more familiar black olives that are used on pizza. But the Kalamata olives were on a different level. They burst with a mild vinegar flavor that brought the whole dish together. I still wouldn’t order black olives on a pizza, but we both agree that we would get this again.
Of course I can never go out for pizza and not order a side. Wanting something that worked as both an appetizer and a snack, I ordered the Old Bay fries.
They are exactly what they sound like – fresh cut (I had the option of fresh cut or “regular”) fries loaded with Old Bay. The fries arrived about 15 minutes before the pizzas so I had to restrain myself from eating the entire basket. It wasn’t easy because the fries were super addictive. They may have had little too much Old Bay, but I’d rather that than not enough.
Julie also needed a little something to hold her over until our pizzas, but she was more health conscious than I was and ordered a side salad. It was nothing exciting – just lettuce, cucumber and tomato with a packet of Ken’s ranch dressing – but it hit the spot.
On top of everything else, our waitress also dropped off a basket of garlic bread. I would love to talk about them, but I can’t. While they looked great, and we wanted to eat them, we decided to abstain knowing the pizza was yet to come. So we brought them home with us, but we have not, as of this writing, had a chance to eat them yet.
Along with the garlic bread, we also brought home three slices of pizza and a little less than half of the fries. So for our $26, we each got more than a couple meals.
Those meals were impressive, too. Sophia’s delivered in a way that we did not expect.
It’s not going to be hard to go back again, but it’s going to be hard to not get the same thing again next time.
Sophia’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
3150 St. Lawrence Ave
Reading, PA 19606