During my meal at Stina Pizzeria, the fire alarm went off twice, and not a soul cared. No tenants stopped voraciously chatting with their dining partners, nor sinking their teeth into an ooey gooey order of pide—a Turkish baked bread that resembles a superior calzone. The waiters kept waiting, the dishes kept arriving, and the issue was solved within a matter of ten or 15 seconds. 

Photo: Ethan Wu

Once the sound of the alarm subsided, the regular hum of Stina could resume. The kitchen is entirely open and visible, separated from the restaurant by only a low sitting counter. The space is narrow and intimate and sound travels easily over the warm air, heated by the wood–fired oven in the kitchen—perhaps the culprit of the earlier alarms. The tables line the right side of the thin rectangular space, arranged so that strangers are nearly sitting next to one another, with the buzz of one conversation often lightly entering into another. Chef Bobby rings a bell after placing each new plate on the kitchen counter, where they wait to be scooped up by a waiter. 

Photo: Ethan Wu

Affectionately referred to by his staff as Bobby, Haralampus Saritsoglou (“More letters than the alphabet,” he laughs) is the chef and owner of Stina. He named the place after his wife, Christina, who is the co–founder of Philly Aids Thrift, and as such, is responsible for the myriad vintage frames and trinkets that line the walls of the cozy restaurant. While he is a Philadelphia native, Saritsoglou spent a good portion of his 20s visiting his family in Greece and traveling to Italy, Germany, France and Morocco, among other destinations. It was during this time that he developed his passions. “I’ve been very inspired by food,” he says, “I think food brings people together—that’s kind of the theme of this place, is bringing people together through food … As you can see by how close the tables are, we kind of are eating together here.”

Photo: Ethan Wu

Sartisoglou explains the menu as “a tour of the Mediterranean,” and this description is appropriate—the dishes range from Moroccan, to Turkish, to Italian, and beyond. “I feel like Mediterranean food has been underrepresented or misrepresented sometimes,” he explains, and so his menu attempts to highlight the range of the cuisine. As the former beloved chef of Opa, Saritsoglou is perhaps the most qualified man for this job. Upon hearing our order—borek (a Turkish pastry), cauliflower, octopus, mushroom pide (a Turkish baked bread), and eggplant pizza—his eyes widen and he cracks a warm, knowing smile: “You’re gonna be very full.”

Chef Bobby is not wrong.

The plates come out in record time, one after another before the prior is even halfway finished. First up is the borek, which is a heavenly combination of phyllo dough, kashkaval cheese, toasted sesame, and honey, topped with a baked plum. This dish has all of the complementary flavors and textures you could ask for. The crunch on the outside balances a soft, gooey cheese within. The filling's savory tang balances the sweetness of the honey and decadent plum. The subtle hints of sesame and za'atar round it right out. It is not, under any circumstances, to be missed. 

Photo: Ethan Wu

Next is the octopus. As someone who is a big fan of octopus, I order it regularly at restaurants and rarely expect to be surprised. So I do not mean this lightly when I say that Stina’s octopus is excellent and unique. The outside is somehow crunchy, but that's not what’s most impressive. What is, is the texture of the meat in the center, which—instead of having the normal chewy texture that octopus often has—is soft and rich and falls apart in your mouth. The meat’s smokey flavor is perfectly complemented by the two tapenades with which the dish is plated—black olive and red pepper, with a swirl of balsamic reduction to boot.

The fire–roasted cauliflower is standard and satisfying. It too carries that deep smokey flavor, which pairs perfectly with its drizzle of tahini and carefully crafted concoction of spices. A hint of mint makes it refreshing, as does its crunchy texture—it is not overcooked, which is key. The generous portion doesn’t hurt either.

Photo: Ethan Wu

The mushroom pide—one of the signature Turkish dishes on the menu—is downright sexy. The baked bread envelops an open center of oozing cheese and thickly cut mushrooms of various types. The truffle taste is strong and serious, and offset perfectly by the thick, crunchy crust. In fact, the crust–to–filling ratio is impeccable, each bite containing a slightly different but equally lovely combination of the two. It’s the same story with the eggplant pizza, which is made of that same delicious dough topped with paper thin slices of both eggplant and kale, dollops of fresh, soft ricotta—like cheese, and finished with a lemon–za’atar zest. These types of decadent dishes are often too heavy or thick, but at Stina they're tender and leave you feeling full without the weight.

Photo: Ethan Wu

Simply put, Stina is a gem, its exterior decorated with colorfully filled flower boxes and a sparkling front window that starkly distinguishes it from its surroundings. Beyond being a phenomenal eatery, Stina is an active and vital supporter of its local community. Every month, Saritsoglou partners with a different local charity, donating 1% of gross sales every day and 20% of gross sales on the last Tuesday of the month. Past partners have included the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC), and Puentes de Salud. This month, Saritsoglou is partnering with Stephen Girard Elementary School—located just one block away from Stina’s front door—to provide new uniforms for students.

As I left Stina, I couldn’t help feeling like the place casts a spell—one that no number of blaring fire alarms could break.

TL;DR: Stina Pizzeria is an unmissable destination for food from all regions of the Mediterranean.

Location: 1705 Snyder Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19145

Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 12 p.m. - 3 p.m., 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sunday - Monday: Closed

Price: $$