Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia Wants to Be More Than Just the ‘Best Pizza in America’

But the desired results might take awhile to deliver.
September 22, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC
Beddia Landscape
Inside Joe Beddia's Pizzeria Beddia. Courtesy of Jared Polin
Courtesy of Jared Polin

The day before Bon Appetit published the story that changed Joe Beddia’s life, the bespectacled Philly pizzaiolo happened to be in New York. Andrew Knowlton—at the time, the magazine’s restaurant editor—invited him over to the BA offices. “I walked out of the elevator, and he handed me the magazine,” Beddia says. It was the July 2015 issue; the cover star was a galette swollen with blueberries, and in the bottom right corner, etched into a purple splotch of berry syrup, were the words: “The Best Pizza in America, p.86.” Beddia knew a story was coming, but he didn’t know this story was coming. “It was very emotional,” he says. “I couldn’t even open it up. They fucking wrecked me.”

Four years later, Beddia was getting wrecked in a different way. His original, idiosyncratic pizzeria (no phone, no chairs, no more than 40 pies per night) in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood had just been reborn in March as a proper restaurant.

Pizzeria Beddia 2.0 has table service, seating for over 100, a liquor license, and a restaurant group—Defined Hospitality (also working with the trendy-dining likes of R&D and Suraya)—behind it. It takes reservations and credit cards and doesn’t close when Beddia goes to a wedding or on vacation.

When the moon hits your eye

For half a decade, Beddia made every pizza at his two-man operation. Now there are many hands in the dough.

“I went from zero to 100,” Beddia says of taking the pizzeria to the next level. The first few months after opening, he was working seven days a week, trying to control everything, juggling multiple jobs. “I got to a bad place and wasn’t really taking care of myself,” he says, and the early pies were not as dialed-in and face-meltingly delicious as I’d come to expect from him.

Joe Beddia
Joe Beddia from Pizzeria Beddia.
Courtesy of Jared Polin

While the sourcing and quality of the toppings was impeccable as always—I bow down to the combo of Cubanelle rings, chives, and looping garlic scapes cooked to a nearly jerky-like texture—the crusts of three different pizzas one night ventured beyond the usual crispy into overbaked. The mainstay “#1” pie (Jersey Fresh–brand crushed tomatoes, whole-milk mozzarella, and a flurry of grated Galen’s Good Old gouda) was a little too greasy, while a special featuring mild ricotta, ferocious Calabrian chile paste, and a forest of mustard greens was a little too dry.

Lucky for Beddia, the new pizzeria is about so much more than pizza.

Outside the box

Is it weird that most delicious thing here is a product that arrives at the restaurant fully cooked, in a can? Maybe, but I challenge you not to fall can’t-eat-can’t-sleep in love with the Judion beans. These supersize Spanish legumes eat like filled pasta, each delicate membrane encasing creamy velvet umami. They come to the table drenched in grassy Arbequina olive oil, dusted with sea salt, and lit up with what looks like an entire lemon’s worth of zest. Beddia first had them at a wine bar in Paris and came home resolved to put them on his opening menu. “Good luck finding them,” his purveyors said, but Beddia was persistent, tracking down the two importers bringing Judions into the United States. “We’ve bought them out of beans twice, each.”

The menu at Pizzeria Beddia is compact, but every little snack and addition absolutely bangs. There are plump anchovy fillets from the northern coast of Spain, the best money can buy, and a room-temp wedge of Red Cat, a racy washed-rind cheese from beloved local dairy Birchrun Hills. Rising like a pyramid from a pool of olive oil, the portion is large enough to make you think, I’ll never finish that, and then you do, with sponge-like cubes of focaccia. Topped with vivid marinara, the same focaccia dough becomes tomato pie, a staple of the region’s Italian-American bakeries. Its pillowy body erupts from a dark, sturdy, olive oil–fried crust, and the amount of tomato sauce on top is perfect—neither swampy nor stingily airbrushed. Beddia serves it as a single square, purposely cold, like Monday night leftovers from a one o’clock Eagles game.

Beddia behind the kitchen
Joe Beddia helps prepare a pie in the kitchen at Pizzeria Beddia.
Courtesy of Jared Polin

Order all three salads. Beddia builds two in the layered look popularized by Ignacio Mattos at Estela in Manhattan, burying zesty Caesar dressing under a tangle of warm roasted vegetables (asparagus and onions in spring) and whipped crème fraiche peppered with allium ash beneath Tuscan kale, yellow squash, fennel, and pumpkin seeds. Each is a game of hide-and-seek; you always win. The butter lettuce salad has a more traditional construction: Its mix of leaves, sheer watermelon radish slices, apples, almonds, and herbs is tossed with fish sauce vinaigrette. That vinaigrette, sweet and savory with a whiff of the docks, is an instant classic.

A cellar of 25 or so natural wines complements these crackerjack extras and overtures. Beddia is obsessed with wine—after closing the original pizzeria, he considered a career making it—and the list he’s curated represents the ascendant category’s spectrum of expressions, from mindlessly crushable to provocative and thought-provoking. Considered together, these elements put Pizzeria Beddia less in a league with Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, or Scarr’s in New York than with a cool Parisian cave à manger. Is it a coincidence 11th arrondissement darling Septime La Cave serves the same anchovies that Beddia does in Philly?

Pie in the sky

Hopefuls lined up down the block to get into the original Pizzeria Beddia. Now they gather in a cinderblock front yard a few blocks away, cooling themselves with vermouth-kombucha spritzes and the industrial fans that roar from each corner. Though tough to secure, reservations have democratized access to Beddia’s pies, and anyone can try their luck by walking in. “It’s amazing,” Beddia says. “We literally have people waiting outside in 90-plus-degree weather.”

There are tables in the yard, and I recommend sitting there on nights that are not 90-plus degrees. The ark-like restaurant interior is as white and blonde as Midsommar and consists of a U-shaped bar and a pair of conjoined dining rooms. There’s also the private Hoagie Room, which serves a $75 pizza-and-hoagie omakase (next time). In the hoagie-less areas, high ceilings and hard surfaces weaponize noise. You’ll have to scream your name at the host as if he or she were a drill sergeant you were reporting to for basic training.

Pizzeria Beddia
Pizzeria Beddia is Joe Beddia’s pizza institution.
Courtesy of Jared Polin

Sitting out in the yard a month later, draining fizzy Cà de Noci Lambrusco like it was Capri Sun, I found a less intense experience as well as Beddia’s pizzas having returned to form. Crisp enough to hold a point, spotted like a cheetah with char, but not overdone. The profound, long-lasting, bready flavor of the 32-hours-fermented dough went shot for shot with bossy toppings like the aforementioned anchovies and a fruity-hot garlic-habanero cream inlaid with sweet cherry tomatoes. Above all those flavors, bread.

When Beddia was struggling in the early months, advice from one of his partners reframed his outlook. “He told me, ‘Joe, if you never walk back into the pizzeria the rest of your life, you still fucking own it.’” Beddia realized that if he wanted to build “an institution, [like the pizzerias that] have existed for 50 years,” he’d have to pull back, delegate. “I learned kind of the hard way and I got through it, and I feel like right now it’s actually really good.”

Is it the best in America? That question might have mattered when Beddia was a flour-fingered monk making 40 pies a night. His evolution shows he has much, much more to offer.

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