Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia PA

You've probably read a lot of hype about Pizzeria Beddia, the small and insanely popular pizza joint in the gentrifying section of Philly called Fishtown. From a hardscrabble blue collar neighborhood only a decade ago, Fishtown has become Philly's answer to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. 

It still has some rough edges, but it's a foodie's delight, with a branch of Philly's best cheesesteaks (Joe's Steak and Soda Shop), mid-to-upper tier restaurants like Fette Sau and Wm. Mulherin's Sons, and of course standout pizza joints like Beddia and Pizza Brain.
Joe Beddia - who makes every pie - was already a bit of a local cult legend when his shop was featured in Bon Apetit Magazine in June of 2015. The article dubbed Beddia pizza as "the best in the world" and the lines got longer.

The pizzeria has two employees - Joe making pies and a pleasant fellow working the register. There are two tables, no chairs, no phones, no reservations, no slices. The shop is open from 5:30 until 10:30 on Wednesdays through Saturday. You get there, stand in line, place your order, and get notified of when your pie will be ready.

All of this might be OK for locals, but it's tough to come in from the burbs. I employed my Very Best Pizza Tactic for those sought-after pies: go on a Thursday during Lent. Because so many people want pizza on Friday, fewer are competing for that hard-to-get pie on Thursday.
Joe Beddia puts my pie into the deck oven
With all of that, I stood in line just 15 minutes or so; I ordered my pizza at 5:40. I paid $27 with tax; John Walker, the friendly counter man, told me my pie would be ready at 7:45, which left me with 2 hours to kill in Fishtown. 

I returned at 7:35, and my pie (more or less the regular pie, with sausage) was going into the oven (a conventional gas pizza deck) for its 10 minute bake at 600 degrees. 
Pizza on my car trunk
I took the pizza out to the trunk of my car for a few photos and a taste of this pizza hot from the oven. I then drove home, about 45 minutes, and reheated some more slices. 

The crust was close to perfect. It was very thin except at the cornicione, where it expanded with an airy yet dense hole structure and a very toothy chew. Despite its thin nature, it was ideally rigid to support the toppings with zero tip sag. And, like every great crust, it had its own toasty flavor. You could put ketchup and Velveeta on this crust, and I'd eat it.

I noticed a high shelf with large cans of New Jersey tomatoes. And yes - Jersey tomatoes really are superior. His sauce is simple - just tomatoes, garlic, and salt. Even though it was applied in normal proportions, it is largely a role player to marry that brilliant crust to the cheese payload.

If there is a common error among American pizzamakers, it is the overload of toppings, especially the cheese. More recently, artisanal pizzaioli have showed restraint and often find that right balance of cheese, sauce, crust. Here, the pie was generously loaded with both aged and fresh mozzarella. I like that mix, because fresh-only is too wet and too bland.
Terrific crumb at the cornicione
For ordinary crusts, this pie would have been in the danger zone just from the mozzarella, but Beddia followed the style of Brooklyn's legendary Dom DeMarco, who finishes every pie at DiFara Pizza with shaved Grana Padano and an obscene swirl of olive oil. Beddia swapped out the Padano for locally-made "Old Gold" cheese, which has the character of an aged Gouda. The result is a autumnal palate of red sauce dotted with white, yellow, and orange cheese patches.
The "undercarriage"
The very first thought I had when I tasted this pizza is "This is what pizza was like when I was a kid in the 1960s." In other words, a brilliant thin crisp crust topped with a lot of cheese, but the slice stays rigid. And this cheese mix is one of the tastiest combinations I've ever had. The closest thing would be the pizza at Patsy's in East Harlem. Brilliant stuff.
A slice after home oven re-heat
I could not find any flaw in this pizza; it was as good - or better - when I reheated it at home. Once again, I found that world-class pizzas often come out of gas deck ovens.

Is this the best pizza in the world? You could make that argument. I'm not sure it's better than the equally brilliant Pizza Brain, right in the same neighborhood. And I'm still swooning over the essentially perfect pizza at Picco in Boston, and my long-time favorite DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies.

I suspect that the mystique of Pizzeria Beddia stems from its hard-to-get status. When you see folks standing in line for an hour or more (Pizzeria Bianco, you started this), you figure it must be special. And it is special indeed. If Joe Beddia wanted to triple his income, he'd open an adjacent wine bar (ahem, Bianco) where folks could spend time and money while waiting for the holy grail of pizza.

Like Bianco, this is wonderful pie and you should seek it out if you have the drive. But also like Bianco, you can get nearby pie just as good (Pizza Brain in Fishtown, Pane Bianco in Phoenix) without all the mystery and waiting.

Pizzeria Beddia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Pizza Perfect, Trucksville PA

After a Saturday afternoon trek through the tidy town of Old Forge PA to sample three different pizzas there, I made a stop at Pizza Perfect (in Trucksville, near Wilkes-Barre) on my way home.
A cut of red Sicilian at Pizza Perfect, Trucksville PA
Like the Old Forge pizzas and much of the pies here in Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA), the Pizza Perfect pies are pan-baked square rectangles that the locals call a "tray" and each slice is known as a "cut." 

I targeted Pizza Perfect because a colleague raised in Hazelton recommended it, and it is one of the well-known spots for "fried" trays of pizza. As I understand it, "fried" simply means that there is a surplus of oil under the crust to give it a decadent crispy crunch. 
Happy people inside Pizza Perfect, early Saturday evening in March
The building has a bit of a bowling alley look from the outside. On the inside, it is big, somehow cozy, and bustling with happy groups of pizza eaters. It looked like a great place to come with friends or family and enjoy a sit-down meal, but my time budget and nearly-full stomach permitted just a single slice.

At a service counter near the back, I ordered a simple red "Sicilian style" slice for $1.30. It came out in just minutes, a medium sized cut in its own small box. I took it outside to my car, snapped a few pics, and tore in.

The first sensation was a prominent onion aroma and flavor in the sauce; that's a good thing if you love onions as I do. The red sauce was very tasty overall, even though it was applied sparingly. The cheese seemed to have the mild texture and flavor of American cheese or a cheese blend.
The lovely fried bottom, crispy and chewy
The standout feature, though, was certainly the crust. This was not a pre-made shell for a crust, as some tray pizza places employ. This was not as thick as a regular Sicilian, and it had golden brown bottom crunch from the "pan fried" approach. Thanks to the house-made dough and the liberal use of peanut oil, the crust alone was a flavor burst. It was perfectly chewy above the crunchy base, too.

The elements blended together for a decadently oily and salty cut of pizza. Even though I had eaten 6 cuts already that afternoon (two each at Revello's Cafe, Arcaro & Genell, and Elio G's - click on name for full review), it was easy to inhale this delectable cut of NEPA pizza. One slice is hardly a fair basis for analysis, but this cut was enough evidence to make me want to come back. Destination pizza without a doubt.
From www.NEPApizzareview.com
Based on some stories I collected that day, a grouchy elderly pizzamaker in NEPA would often throw away the pies made by three of her underlings, squawking that they must make the "pizza perfect." She repeated her criticism so much, they all quit, and somehow that term became the inspiration for this Pizza Perfect. There are three famous "fried Sicilian" pizza places in the region; Victory Pig is the best known; locals say that both Pizza Perfect and Pizza L'Oven are spin-offs from Victory Pig.

Many thanks to our friends at NEPA Pizza Review; please visit www.nepapizzareview.com for a wealth of reviews of pizza in Old Forge and all over the NEPA region. Also, check out the coming documentary on Old Forge and NEPA styles of pizza at: vimeo.com/207007036 .



Pizza Perfect Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Arcaro & Genell, Old Forge PA

After years of reading about Old Forge style pizza, I made the 2.5 hour drive on a Saturday to discover "tray" pizza in Old Forge, just outside of Scranton PA.

Main Street in Old Forge is lined with Italian restaurants and pizza joints, and there are several more on the side streets. Census stats say that more than 40% of Old Forge residents have Italian roots, so perhaps that ties in to the ratio of pizzerias to the population.

Most Old Forge pizzerias offer two basic styles of pizza. The red pie is a conventional rectangular pizza with red sauce, topped with mild white cheese that could be American, mozzarella, or a blend. The white pizza is typically made with a layer of dough on top, dusted with herbs, so it really is like a funky grilled cheese sandwich.

I started my day with the two rivals who are within a block of each and are the best-known: Arcaro & Genell, and Revello's. You might think of them like you think of the New Haven pizza rivals, Sally's and Frank Pepe's.
The bar inside Arcaro & Genell
Most of the Old Forge "pizzerias" are more like a full restaurant or tavern. Revello's had a diner-like feel, but Arcaro & Genell was dark, big but cozy, and felt like a trip back in time. I'm sure it's been updated (and expanded) since opening in 1962, but I found it to be very Italian, very friendly, and curiously packed with happy patrons (some at the bar, others in groups at tables) around 3:15pm. This is not a "drop in for a quick cut" (slice) kind of place, but that was my agenda.
A cut of red
I was seated in a booth, and I ordered a cut of plain red pie, and a cut of the white spinach pie. Service was excellent, and I was treated warmly even though I was clearly an outsider here.
Under the hood of my red cut
The slices arrive in about 15 minutes.Many Old Forge pizzerias use pre-made shells for the crust (baked locally) on the single layer red pie. I was pretty certain that the crust at Revello's was a bakery shell. Over at Elio G's, all the crusts begin with fresh dough. Here, the white pie was made with fresh dough (as I suspect all are), but I'm still not certain if the red pie used a bakery shell.
The white cut, with spinach
On the red pie, the sauce was deeply flavorful, a little sweet, and displaying a lot of the onion that is common to Old Forge pizza. The top was blanketed in what looked like sheets of pale white cheese; I could not discern if the highly processed cheese was molten shreds or if it had been applied in slices. The ghostly white of the cheese blends used in Old Forge always makes the pie look undercooked, but it's a signature feature. Anyway, this mild cheese added mostly a creamy and salty element, which are both good things by me.
Cross section of the white cut
The crust was medium thick, but light and airy. It sported a nice, oily, golden crisp on the bottom. All told, this was a well-balanced slice that delivered great flavor and texture. In my notes, I concluded that it "tastes much better than it looks."  A nice cut for $1.30.

The cuts from white pies, with the double crust and hefty cheese filling, are about double the weight; my slice with spinach was $2.50. My big corner cut was about the size of a generous grilled cheese sandwich, but so much more dense. The top and bottom both sported an almost pretzel-like crunch, and it was dusted with a nice mix of Italian herbs, most prominently rosemary.
Underside of the white cut
Some reviewers have suggested that the cheese blend includes some mozzarella, and it might. In my notes, I indicated that this hefty molten ooze of cheese tasted like American cheese. Regardless, I loved this belly bomb. Yes, it is some odd hybrid of a calzone and a grilled cheese sandwich, and I'd enjoy it even more with some piquant red sauce for dipping.

Overall, Arcaro & Genell is a winner that, alone, justified my trip to Old Forge. When I return, I'm coming with friends and family for a full sit-down meal. I can't argue with those who prefer the across-street rival Revello's Cafe, but for me Arcaro took the prize hands down. It may be that Arcaro & Genell is better for adult groups, while Revello's is more kid-friendly. It certainly was a great introduction to Old Forge style pizza. Two thumbs up.

Many thanks to our friends at NEPA Pizza Review; please visit www.nepapizzareview.com for a wealth of reviews of pizza in Old Forge and all over the NEPA region. Also, check out the coming documentary on Old Forge and NEPA styles of pizza at: 
vimeo.com/207007036

Arcaro & Genell's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato