2020 Comfort Food
There are times when we resent how obsessed this city can get with pizza. How in 2020 — an era in dining when we ought to be fawning over Sri Lankan curries and Nigerian jollof rice — pizza still consistently gets top billing.
And there are other times — like … now, when the world feels so unsteady — that we’re very happy seeking solace in the basics. Finding comfort in pizza. Letting Philly’s pizzaiolos, you know, take care of us in our time of need. Because if nothing else, pizza is as comforting as comfort foods get.
When we were still in the red phase, some shops, like Pizzeria Stella(420 South 2nd Street) in Society Hill, Barbuzzo (110 South 13th Street) in Midtown Village, and Wood Street Pizza (325 North 12th Street) in Callowhill (which, not for nothing, is one of the city’s best classic pizza shops), provided us with DIY pizza kits that kept us occupied and well-fed during the quarantine. Wood Street’s Dean Kitagawa even commissioned his wife, Sarah D’Ambrosio, to create artwork on some of the pizza boxes. “It was a small thing we did to establish a connection with our guests — a connection we lost when we pivoted to just doing takeout,” he says.
Philly found comfort in pizza even when the style of pizza was completely new to us. Much as it did in almost every other major food city in the U.S., Detroit-style pizza took over Philly. Of course, it got the aged-dough/high-quality-ingredients treatment we’ve become so used to seeing; witness Dan Gutter’s focaccia-like frico-crusted pies from Circles + Squares (2513 Tulip Street) in Kensington, or even his less Detroit-y pan pizzas — à la Pizza Hut — at Pizza Plus (1846 South 12th Street) in East Passyunk, or the fat, deeply caramelized squares at Sidecar Bar & Grille (2201 Christian Street) in Grad Hospital. The ranch-drizzled, banana-peppered monstrosity at Emmy Squared (632 South 5th Street) was a delicious addition to Queen Village.
Neapolitan pizza, a food trend that came as quickly as it left this city, found new life at Gigi Pizza (504 Bainbridge Street), across the street from Emmy Squared. They do a sort of hybrid NYC-meets-Napoli pie baked in a wood-burning oven, with a crust that’s somehow both airy and stiff — essentially, a big middle finger to the chewy, soupy pies favored by the Neapolitan pizza gods.
We saw our fair share of illegal pizza activity, too, which has become something of the norm in this city after @pizza_gutt paved the way back in 2017. Instagram “pizza shops” like @pizza_jawn and @freelancepizza_ began delivering pies (baked who knows where) to their thousands of eager followers.
And in maybe the longest slog of quarantine, Joe and Angela Cicala, the chef-owners of Cicala at the Divine Lorraine and former owners of Brigantessa in East Passyunk, launched an illicit pizza “speakeasy” out of their backyard in South Philly, with proceeds to help pay their laid-off staff. On its first day, the Cicalas sold 200 pizzas in 40 minutes. They sold out again on the second day. And on the third day, seven cops and two city health inspectors shut the operation down.