Joe Beddia would’ve flunked out of Wharton for sure.
Consider the pizzaiolo’s business plan. He offers three pies, whole only, in a Fishtown storefront that’s legally prohibited from seating customers. There are no logos on his takeout boxes and no takeaway menus on the counter, and the restaurant has no phone.
And a year after he opened, Beddia is a veritable pizza superstar.
At first it was just the neighbors coming — which was all he really envisioned. But then people started schlepping in from Center City to line up outside his door. And then from Delaware and D.C. And soon, Bon Appétit “Foodist” Andrew Knowlton was horning in on the action.
So how does this happen to a place that is open four evenings a week, routinely reaches hour-plus waits less than three minutes after unlocking the door, and requires takeout orders to be placed in person?
The pizza is one answer, but not the only one. Beddia makes a mellow cheese pie, a seriously angry arrabbiata blasted with bird’s-eye chilies, and an ever-changing wild-card pie. (My favorite so far is a white pie channeling roasted creminis and rosemary into an intoxicatingly heady mushroom puree.)
They’re American in multiple senses. They’re cheesier than most of what you’ll find in Rome or Naples — or among highbrow stateside imitators. Beddia applies fresh and semi-dry mozzarella before the oven and often adds grated Old Gold afterward — a sharp gouda doppelgänger from Central PA’s Hidden Hills Dairy. The toppings are pretty old-school — think onions, bacon and mild fennel sausage. And in an apostasy from the gospel of San Marzano, Beddia uses Jersey Fresh canned tomatoes for his red sauce.
Sometimes I wish this was a tad sweeter, but the truth is that Beddia’s crusts are so far up my alley that he could cover them with brick dust and I’d still swoon. Thin alchemies of two-day cold fermentation and olive oil, they’re crispy enough to crackle from first bite to last — even if you haul them 20 minutes across town (and Beddia will give them an extra minute in the oven to ensure that). Given how terribly most pizza travels, that helps to explain this spot’s success.
So does the vibe. Something about standing at the two chest-height tables breeds chance conversations that seats would kill. Waiting here often seems like a happy hour among friendly strangers keen to share food and drink.
And finally, there’s the fact that these are Joe Beddia’s pies, period. He personally makes every one. An MBA would scoff at the non-scalability, but it’s an ethic whose gradual disappearance has made people yearn for it more than ever. And what’s more, it makes this strange little Fishtown pizzeria the most consistently great in town.
Two-and-a-Half Stars – Good to Excellent
Pizzeria Beddia [Foobooz]
Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.