Asked what I thought about Stella's the other day, I went on at some length about the swank South End fine-dining Italian destination. "No, no, MC: I'm talking about Stella's, the pizza joint in Watertown, not Stella." Aha! I'd never been to this storefront that is widely admired on chowhound.com for its big slices of thin-crust pizza. Luckily, it's my job to review worthy cheap-eats places, even 48-year-old ones. The current proprietor, there since 1984, is one of those genuinely warm family-business owners you love to give your patronage to. It doesn't hurt that his pizza is really, really good.
Stella's works in the Neapolitan-inspired, Italian-American idiom, creating a thin-crust pie ($6.45/12"; $9.45/16"; $10.95/18") in a gas-fired oven, topping it with a smooth, faintly sweet marinara and not too much low-moisture mozzarella. Toppings ($1–$2 each) are fresh (no canned mushrooms here), high-quality, and mostly old-school: expect more options like pepperoni and anchovies than pesto and sundried tomatoes. The slice ($2.25–$3) is a good 10 inches across at the crust edge, if not quite big enough for a homesick New Yorker to fold in half. Stella's puts the perfect light char on its crust, which runs from thin to very thin: the 18" pie is the 16" rolled out thinner. I think this thinness favors eating it immediately out of the oven; a to-go pie will necessarily lose some crispness. I recommend the "thick dough" upgrade ($1–$1.75), too; the modest additional thickness allows for the development of some bubble structure, yielding a richer, chewier texture without upsetting the sauce/cheese flavor balance.
The menu also includes a few deli-style sandwiches ($4.50–$6.50) on good Italian rolls or Syrian bread, like Italian cold cuts, chicken salad, breaded/fried cutlets, and excellent housemade beef/pork/veal meatballs, generously loaded; the small has eight meatballs the size of ping-pong balls. A deep fryer produces an assortment of comparatively run-of-the-mill appetizers like chicken tenders ($4.25–$6.95), jalapeño poppers ($4–$6.50), and curly fries ($2.75–$4). Drink options include the usual American sodas, energy drinks, and juices ($1.45–$2.25). The room is prototypical mid-century neighborhood pizza parlor: a few booths, TV, Celts/Sox/B's/Pats memorabilia. You could say it's a throwback in a lot of ways: attractively priced, super-friendly, not a chain, doing the original American pizza style, and shunning precious gourmet touches. It certainly ain't the South End — and in this case, that's a very good thing.
Stella's Pizza, located at 605 Mt. Auburn Street, in Watertown, is open Monday–Thursday, 11 am–10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11 am–11 pm; and Sunday, 1–10 pm. Call 617.924.5692.