cherry tomato, fresh cream, roasted corn, basil
I had first heard about Pizzeria Beddia when I was sitting at the bar at Pizzeria Stella, waiting for two friends to join me for dinner after I had made the four-hour trip to Philadelphia for an educational conference. At the time, I considered Stella to be the best pizza in Philadelphia, so I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the bartender about just that, pizza. Despite that fact that they are in competition with one another (although that can be disputed based on entirely different locations and styles), the worker was quick to crown Beddia as the city’s top pizzeria.
Fast-forward a few months and a Bon Appétit article is written, which declares Beddia the best pizza in America.
Fast-forward another few months and I am on my way to the Philadelphia area (this time, only a one-hour trip) to pick up a bed at IKEA. One of my former co-workers (and his pickup truck) had joined me on the journey. My friend was quick to agree to the plan that we would first head straight into the city for pizza at Beddia, which opens at 5:30 pm, and then make our way over to IKEA, which closes at 9.
We drove up to Beddia around 4:15, and it soon became apparent that this would be a journey for pizza and nothing more.
Upon arriving at Beddia, roughly 25 hungry and dedicated individuals were already waiting in a line that wrapped around the side of the pizzeria, which is located on a corner in Fishtown, Philadelphia (think, an up-and-coming hipster neighborhood that is trying to mimic one of the cooler spots in Brooklyn). After we assumed our positions at the back we commenced to make small talk with those in front of us, and then with those who soon lined up from behind. Although nobody with whom we conversed had actually eaten at Beddia, they were all locals who had read the Bon Appètit review and were able to regurgitate that the pizzeria (1) is only open Wednesdays through Saturdays, (2) makes only 40 pies per day, (3) allows for a maximum of two pies per party, and (4) there is a strong chance that you will not be getting one of these pies if you are not one of the first 25 to 30 people in line. Of course, all of this information is on their website, but hearing it in person made me somewhat nervous given our spot in line.
Another fact, which I did not know, is that Beddia takes all 40 orders almost as soon as they open their doors. As each order is placed a time is provided as to when it will be ready.
At about 5:20 the line started to move, and it was apparent that Beddia opened a bit early (maybe this is the norm). At roughly 5:45 we entered into the narrow, no frills pizzeria, with a front of the house that contains not much more than two IKEA style tables at which roughly six customers per station can comfortably stand (not sit) and eat their pizza. Meanwhile, the wide-open kitchen contains just enough space for the basics: prepare the pizza, do the dishes, store the empty pizza boxes, etc. Noticeably, Beddia’s oven is gas, not wood or charcoal. To the best of my knowledge, the only other notable pizzeria with a gas oven is Brooklyn’s Di Fara. This similarity is not surprising, as the Bon Appétit article mentions how Joe Beddia – the owner and sole pizzaiolo of the establishment – has learned from watching Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, the legendary pizza maker who produces every single pie created in his pizza sanctuary. Also, while waiting in line I followed Beddia on Twitter, and his profile photograph is with none other than DeMarco himself.
Ordering Food and Killing Time
Around this time we continued to overanalyze the menu, which hangs on the wall adjacent to the register, and we ultimately decided that for our two pies we would order (1) the cherry tomato, fresh cream, roasted corn, and basil, and (2) the arrabbiata (or angry pie, with spicy sauce and jalapeños). The only other pizza on the menu is a plain with optional toppings (mushrooms, salami, sausage, etc.). In other words, although the menu only contains three pizzas, we had to painstakingly decide to eliminate one from our order as only two are allowed. It should also be noted that the cherry tomato pie is seasonal, and therefore subject to change. All pizzas come in one size only.
Walker (left) and Beddia (right)
At around 6:00 pm John Walker finally took our order, which set us back about $50 in all. Out of the 40 pizzas to be made on that day we were told that we had been awarded numbers 30 and 31.
Other than Joe Beddia, Walker is the pizzeria’s only worker, and he seems to take care of everything other than the making of the pizzas (and I know his name because it is mentioned in the Bon Appétit review). Walker was over-the-top nice in every way possible, as he constantly used “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and he did not hesitate to answer any customer questions. (I even overheard him detail the dough making process for someone who was curious.) It was like he truly valued the business of each and every customer, and as if he was putting on a free clinic for those who needed to be taught manners. My mind flashed back to a few years ago when I had waited about 2.5 hours for brisket and ribs at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, and one of the workers took the time to ask about where I was from, what I was doing in town, etc. Often times, when visiting a place that is well known – such as Pat’s Steaks in Philadelphia or Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn – it is sometimes thought of as “cool” to be treated indifferently. However, Franklin and Beddia have been the exceptions, almost as if they are grateful for the fact that customers are willing to wait in such a long line to eat their food.
Since Walker told us that our pizza would not be ready until 8:20, we had a few hours to kill. We ended up spending the majority of the time right around the corner at Fette Sau, the second location of a restaurant that originated in Brooklyn, and what I consider to easily be the best barbecue in New York City. I ended up eating a ½ pound of brisket with a side of baked beans. Both were excellent, but easily a notch below their Brooklyn counterparts. It should be mentioned that Frankford Hall is also a block away from Beddia, which makes for another enjoyable way to let the time fly while waiting for pizza.
Around 8:20 we made our way back over to Beddia, checked in with Walker, and were told that our pizzas were right on schedule. By this time it was somewhat dark outside, and my friend and I were the only two customers in the small-scale restaurant (a few would arrive later on while we were eating). With all of these factors combined – darkness, nobody else there, size of the pizzeria – it felt as if we were Beddia’s and Walker’s personal guests whom had been invited over for dinner.
As Walker set up our plates and napkins at the table closer to the window, I took the time to admire the pizza creation process. Up until then Beddia had not said a word, and with him came some of the same type of mystique that is usually reserved for pizzaiolos such as Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, Lucali’s Mark Iacono, and Pizzeria Bianco’s Chris Bianco. In typical fanboy fashion, I kept asking myself, “What is he like?”
I finally built up the courage to walk over to the counter to start taking photographs of Beddia in action. After taking the initiative and speaking to him first, I was surprised at the way in which he opened up (almost like that charismatic girl at the bar who refuses to be the first one to make a move). I cannot remember the last time I was so nervous when carrying on a conversation, and as I talked about pizza I kept telling myself to not say anything that would make him look down upon me as a wannabee pizza lover who did not really know his stuff. Nevertheless, the highlight of the interaction was when he seemed genuinely interested in what I thought was the best pizza in all of New York City (Lucali, by a long shot). Also, I just loved the way both he and Walker reacted with excitement when I mentioned the clam pie at Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut.
When I joined my friend back at our table (just a few steps away), we were first met with the cherry tomato, fresh cream, roasted corn, and basil, and I managed to devour a slice of it before the arrabbiata arrived. After one bite of the cherry tomato I knew that the Bon Appétit article was not exaggerating when they declared Pizzeria Beddia to be the best in America. The pizza has a farm-to-table fresh taste with all of the ingredients working together beautifully. While the flavor of the corn does stand out, nothing overpowers what is the most important part of any pizza, the crust. Meanwhile, the arrabbiata pie is dead on with its level of heat. While the spicy sauce and jalapeños do enough to zap your tongue and let you know what you are eating, you do not have to go running for water after each bite.
In regards to pizzas’ crust, I would go as far to say that achieving this type of greatness out of a gas oven is unprecedented. Yes, Pepe’s, Lucali, and Bianco might have a slight edge overall, but the former uses coal, while the latter two use wood. Also, it is impressive enough that Beddia is even in the same conversation as these renowned pizza institutions. Overall, the crust is as thin as it can possibly be while still maintaining enough strength to support its toppings. At the same time it has the typical char that we would want every crust to have, and a chewiness that enhances anything that comes with it.
Of note, before each pie is served Beddia sprinkles on extra cheese (Old Gold cheese, according to Bon Appétit), and pours on some extra-virgin olive oil, which he learned from Dom DeMarco. While DeMarco’s overabundance of oil has the tendency to overpower the rest of the pizza and make it “heavy,” Beddia’s smaller amount serves to enhance the rest of the flavors.
In the End
Upon leaving Pizzeria Beddia I could not definitely say that I had just devoured the best pizza in America, but it is definitely in the conversation. Once again, that is impressive enough. I have tried what are considered to be the best pizzerias in some of the country’s most notable cities. More or less, my reaction to eating the pizza is the same each time, “It’s good, but it’s not New York City (unless I am eating in NYC).” As I made my way to Pizzeria Beddia I was fully expecting myself to have the same reaction, and I even scoffed at the fact that I had to wait in line for pizza in Philadelphia, of all places. Of course, I was proven wrong.
Nevertheless, a part of me resents the trouble that we have to go through to obtain pizza at Beddia. While Joe Beddia undoubtedly takes pride in being responsible for each and every pizza that is created – much like his hero Dom DeMarco – only 40 pizzas are made per night and the establishment is only open Wednesdays through Saturdays. What we are seeing is a combination of (1) Beddia and Walker purposefully generating excitement through supply and demand, and (2) the two workers taking their time, relaxing, and treating pizza as their hobby/passion while still being able to enjoy their lives outside of the pizzeria. No matter the case, if you want this pizza, plan on dedicating an entire afternoon or evening to getting your hands on two pies.
Looking ahead, I do not see the buzz of the Bon Appétit article wearing off, and I envision Pizzeria Beddia being wildly successful simply because the food speaks for itself. Nothing more, nothing less. It is “one of those things” that you have to try at least once, and whether or not you go back will probably depend on (1) your proximity to Philadelphia, and/or (2) your passion for pizza.
I know that I will be returning. Again, and again, and again.
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