Pizzeria Felici
The team behind Cantina Feliz and La Calaca Feliz has created this laid-back space in Horsham, where guests tuck into brilliant Neapolitan-style pizzas and other Italian-inspired fare
by Brian Freedman

I grew up in Maple Glen, where it was more or less received wisdom that a good Neapolitan-style pizza was unattainable locally. Let me re-contextualize that: Most of us—my friends, at least—didn’t really know what Neapolitan-style pizza was. The most exotic pie we had access to at that time was a Sicilian, which, now that I think of it, is pretty much the opposite of its cousin from Naples. Not that we didn’t love those deep-crusted beauties; for my sister and I, a rectangle of Sicilian from our still-beloved Maple Glen Pizza was a treat to look forward to each weekend. (Incidentally, I will argue that Maple Glen Pizza still has the best tuna hoagies on the planet.)

As I grew older, and as our region’s—and our country’s—frame of pizza reference grew, it became apparent that the gap in our local pie knowledge was the much-lauded Neapolitan-style pie. Until recently, however, I hadn’t really tucked into one in these suburbs that grabbed my attention.   

How times have changed.

The team behind the wildly successful Feliz restaurants (Cantina, La Calaca, Taqueria), in the short time their Horsham-based Pizzeria Felici has been open, has quickly taken the pole position among local purveyors of Neapolitan-style pizza. Although they don’t follow Neapolitan pizza law to a T, they don’t have to. These pies are delicious on their own terms.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Over the years, the Feliz / Felici team has managed to find that elusive middle ground between culinary authenticity (they serve some of the region’s best chapulines—grasshoppers, and I don’t mean the cocktails—at Manayunk’s Taqueria Feliz) and unselfconscious, laid-back fun in the spaces themselves.

As for Felici, this place mines the classic American pizzeria aesthetic without devolving into kitsch. The seafoam-green tabletops, red-plastic water cups and friendly, engaging service all make it a uniquely casual spot to spend an hour or so chomping away at the approachable, well-executed menu.

The ‘nduja and red onion pizza was an excellent platform for an exploration of the grossly under-appreciated spreadable ‘nduja sausage; a touch of mozzarella softened the sausage’s spicy, salami-like flavor. Clam and garlic pizza, which can be a brutally difficult pie to pull off, soared on the aromatic coattails of a roasted garlic sauce; each of the two dozen littlenecks was lifted with a generous hit of lemon juice and zest. Different as they were, both of these pizzas succeeded not only by virtue of their toppings but also due to their evenly leopard-spotted crusts—the edges chewy and blistered in all the right places.

The rest of the menu reads like a “greatest hits” mix tape of the Italian-American tradition. The Caesar salad was creamy and bright, and the focaccia croutons had absorbed just the right amount of dressing to soften up their outer layer yet remain snappy throughout. Fried calamari, so often little more than a cephalopod cousin of the household rubber band, was so tender as to be almost creamy, and good enough on their own that they didn’t even need the tasty Calabrian-chili aioli or whole-peeled tomato sauce that accompanied them. The herb-flecked flatbread worked well on its own and was even better when dragged through the accompanying cup of tangy, cinnamon-kissed pepperoni sauce.

The chicken parmesan, so often the downfall of meals I’ve otherwise enjoyed throughout the years—I’ve lost track of the number of pancake-flat chicken breasts encased in a flaccid batter and mugged by not-hot-enough frying oil—was carefully, conscientiously re-imagined here. The meat was sliced at an angle to allow the texture of the bird to shine through, and the portion was large enough to make for an excellent lunch the next day. Even the meatballs, which can be an unexpectedly tricky dish to whip up in any sort of volume, were somehow both light and dense.

My only letdown, and I can assure you it was a slight one, was the tiramisu. The dish could have used more espresso to cut through the creamier layers. My suspicion is that if it had been prepared in a more classic manner—served on a plate rather than in a glass—the house-made ladyfingers (baked in sheets, smartly) would have been forced to play a more assertive role. The homemade gelato, on the other hand, was stellar. The texture dense and the flavors—chocolate, vanilla and a wonderfully comforting brown butter—were expressive yet not overbearing.

On our way out, we walked past a massive display of brightly colored pizza paddles, each festooned with an image of a famous or otherwise notable Italian or Italian-American: Joe DiMaggio, Tony Danza, Robert Di Nero, Lady Gaga and Leonardo da Vinci, among others. It’s a cute, witty touch in a restaurant that I wish had been there during my formative years.

Better late than never, though: Pizzeria Felici is a fabulous addition to the local dining scene, and a restaurant I plan on visiting whenever I truck my wife and kids out to visit my parents, who still live in Maple Glen. It’s friendly, inviting and sneakily sophisticated. That’s a tough combination to pull off, and something worth celebrating when it is.

Pizzeria Felici
303 Horsham Road, Horsham

Photograph by Jody Robinson