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. Pizza-obsessed, indeed.
Soft, chewy gluten-free loaves, rolls, focaccia, baguettes and bagels that don't taste anything like a brick—yes, it's a GF-eater's dream come true. 1024 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, taffets.com/.
When it comes to making an Italian meal feel extra-special, Chris D’Ambro and Marina de Oliveira’s 16-seat dining room is the only restaurant in Philly giving Vetri Ristorante a run for its money. 705 South 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, ambraphilly.com.
Seven of this modern hotel spa's popular treatments (from facials and manis to scrubs and massages) come in handy 25-minute versions, meaning you can work a little grooming into your day, instead of derailing it. 1 Logan Square, Philadelphia, PA 19103, theloganhotel.com/.
Come First Friday, the tastefully rugged boutique transforms into a legitimate scene, complete with seasonal cocktails, boozy confections, and an art installation or pop-up shop courtesy of Philly's most creative souls. 116 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, artintheage.com/.
Readers' Choice: New menu, new chef and a refreshing new remodel... but the same sort of smart offerings that fans have come to count on. Plus a very solid bar burger (and at $13, one would hope so). 1946 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146, thepubandkitchen.com/.
Two words: free samples ? of everything. Sometimes the best food comes out of a kitchen in between a gas station and a dry cleaner in a strip mall in Montgomery County. This is one of those times. 1709 Markley Street, Norristown, PA 19401, zacharysbbq.com/.
You can be underwire-free! Local maker Maddie Flanigan’s comfy, sexy, stretchy-yet-supportive Barrett bralettes fit up to a 48.5-inch bust and come with matching panties. madalynne.com.
It's unexpected (weathered Louis Vuitton luggage, vintage Hermés ties — on Girard?), unassuming (owner Erik Honesty knows everything about the history of menswear, but he's never snobby or pushy), and, when it comes to selection and style, unparalleled. 703 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123, culturedcouturegallery.com/.
Jose Pistola's is about as down-to-earth as it gets, with good drink specials ($15 happy-hour marg pitchers), craft brews, a kitchen that's open until 1 a.m., live music, and a come-as-you-are attitude. 263 South 15th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, josepistolas.com/.
If Anthropologie and Martha Stewart got together and had babies, and those babies were flowers, they would look like the arrangements coming out of the charming Queen Village studio of this new talent. 510 Bainbridge Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, sullivanowen.com/.
There's only one rule at these roving events put on by this new grassroots entertainment group: If you are on the rug, you are going to participate. And that's not a threat, that's the point, because wellness comes in many forms, including letting your inner soul out. Keep reading here. glblvllg.com.
Pastels, plants, and a butterfly mural that was meant for selfies. If you were born in the ’90s, you’ve probably been here. If you haven’t, get your grandkids to set you up on Snapchat and come see what the fuss is about. 1500 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, blumephilly.com.
Longtime Main Line skin-care guru Elizabeth Cardarelli finally comes to the city with a glam full-service medspa that serves up micro-needling, laser hair removal, Botox, Cardarelli’s signature peels, and all other manner of skin-perfecting treatments. 2212 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, averygraham.com.
This handsome addition to East Passyunk is everything it needs to be and nothing it doesn't: a smartly designed space, a simple first-come, first-served system, and four chairs where owner Rob Baumiester and his team will deliver the finest fade you've ever received. 1810 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148, meistersbarbershop.com.