photo credit: Kerry McIntyre
Circles + Squares
Whether you’re in Philly, Los Angeles, or a random fishing town off the coast of Alaska, picking up pizza at most slice shops works the same way. You walk up to the counter, place an order, hand over some cash, wait, get your pizza, leave the store, then eat. It’s simple, easy, and you know exactly what to expect.
That’s how Circles + Squares works, too - but what they hand over the counter just happens to be the best pizza in Philadelphia.
Circles + Squares is a small, nondescript pizza place on a residential Kensington block that looks like your average slice shop, with a long counter, a water cooler, and a few tables on the sidewalk outside. However, there are a few key differences that make their pies much more than just sauce, cheese, and dough in a cardboard box. It’s the ingredients they use, like a block of pecorino romano that’s freshly grated onto every pizza that comes out of the oven. And it’s the tins of hand-kneaded dough that are prepped for days before being put in the oven, ready to be made-to-order as each guest comes through the door. It’s also about the guy himself, who started selling his pizzas via Instagram back in 2016 and now finally has his own space. Still, though, he’s behind the counter personally baking every pizza and shouting names in a comical sing-song voice as they come up. Sometimes he’ll even take one look at something that comes out of the oven and decide it’s not good enough to sell and offer to make you another.
Ordering here is simple - the biggest decision you have to make is whether you want a thin-crust circle or a thicker, Detroit-style square (they only sell whole pies, no slices). You can get either option with red sauce and toppings or have them just covered in cheese and drizzled in garlicky olive oil. Everything is excellent, but what this place does best is their squares. They’re soft and fluffy on the inside, almost like a Sicilian slice, but the outside crust is crispy and charred with burnt cheese. It makes for the perfect texture contrast, with the thin layer of charred crust keeping the chewy, soft insides tucked in safely. And even if you can’t finish the whole pie in one sitting, that’s ok - it’s the only pizza that somehow stays just as crispy and fluffy when you reheat it days later.
You should know that, even if you come right after they open, it usually takes 30 to 45 minutes for your order to be ready. If you show up past 7pm, it can take up to an hour to get your pizza - or they might just be sold out. But even when you wait over a half-hour for your pies to come out of the oven, it’s worth it. These pizzas are works of art, and like a Picasso, Monet, or an elaborate notebook doodle drawn during a boring meeting, they take time.
There are a lot of really great pizza places in Philly, but there’s something about Circles + Squares that makes it better than all the rest. Maybe it’s the simplicity of one guy at the top of his game, like Iverson in 2001 or LeBron on the Heat, baking 80 or so excellent pies a night that makes you want to show this place to everyone you know, and maybe even a few people you don’t know. It’s not dressed up or overcomplicated. It’s just your average, run-of-the-mill takeout pizza place with a few barstools, a water cooler, and the best pies in the city.
This is what you’re here for. It’s thick and fluffy with crispy, burnt cheese around the edges, and the best move is either to go for a red-sauced cheese pizza or the white pie with two kinds of cheese and olive oil drizzled on top.
They also make solid thin-crust circles, and it’s not a bad move to get one just for the sake of diversity. They’re greasy and cheesy, and the sauce is sweet but not overwhelmingly so.