After adopting the Feast of St. Pizza idea from these guys in New York last year and applying it to my hometown, we knew we had to make it an annual event. It was just too much fun. In case you’re not familiar with the pizza feast, the basic idea is that you get a group of people together and eat at 10 of the best pizza shops you can find, all in one day. Some cool dudes did it first in NYC, and last year I gathered a group of friends to experience it in my hometown of Lebanon, PA. While I would love to have the feast return to Lebanon again at some point, we wanted to use this template to explore other nearby cities. Philadelphia came to my mind immediately as our next choice. My parents are from Philly, my brother and other family members live there currently and I went to college there for four years, so Philly is what I call my “other hometown.” A good portion of our faithful pizza feasters live in that area as well, so doing Philly as our second city was essentially a no-brainer.
The problem with choosing Philadelphia is that it’s much harder to narrow down the pizza shops into a list of ten. Choosing a pizza shop is always hard to do, of course you can rely your local pizza delivery to help! It was hard enough for us to pick ten in little old Lebanon, PA (we have a surprising amount of pizza shops), so picking ten for Philly was a serious task. I polled my Philly friends on Facebook for their various favorite spots, then cross-referenced that with reviews from Yelp and Trip Advisor, etc. Then I re-polled my friends to narrow down the last few before eventually going with my gut and landing on ten spots. IT WAS HARD.
On the day of the feast, Robert and I loaded up our Prius with three other friends and headed off to the city around 7:30am. We had to wait for our first spot to open at 10:30, but once it was go-time we did not mess around. After ten pizza spots, roughly 20 friends, 13 hours and 29 pizzas later, we accomplished our mission. The five in my car headed back to Lebanon, PA, arriving home around 1:30am. What a day! We walked as much of it as we could, but some places required an Uber trip due to distance and timing. My adventurous brother rode his bike from spot to spot, so his loop by the end of the day totaled 23 miles. (He ran last year, so I think his decision to bike this year was a much smarter choice.) It rained on us a little bit, but for the most part the weather was perfect for what we were doing. It was a freaking fantastic day.
Here’s a recap of all ten spots:
Our Order: extra large plain, cut into 16 slices
Thoughts: This one was in the Italian Market and it felt good to start there with our pizza feast. I will say this: the first bite of pizza on a day like this always tastes amazing. However, I kept thinking of this one throughout the day and how much I loved it. With its crispy but still doughy and chewy crust plus the sweet tomato sauce, it reminded me a LOT of Pete’s Pizza in Lebanon, which was one of my favorites from last year. Great, classic pizza from a hole-in-the-wall place in the heart of the Italian Market. Always a good choice.
Our Order: one plain and one pepperoni
Thoughts: My brother arrived ahead of the group since he was biking, and got shamed by a passerby for waiting outside of a bar for it to open at 11am. (Little does that guy know what he was missing out on.) We were waiting for pizza, but yes – we did have a few beers at this stop. Pizza is one thing that I LOVE to enjoy with a beer. Stogie Joe’s makes “old world style” pizza, which means the cheese is below the sauce. While I loved the flavor of this pizza (the sauce had a vibrancy with lots of oregano and stuff), I discovered I’m not a huge fan of old world style. It’s just a different experience. But, my brother loves this place and so do a lot of people in Philly. If you like old world style then this is probably some of the best.
Our Order: 5 pizzas: Cheeburger Cheeburger (ground beef, mozzarella, cheddar, ketchup, brown mustard, pickles), Fig Jam (mozzarella, gorgonzola, applewood smoked bacon, fresh herbs), Brie (mozzarella, sliced pears, toasted walnuts, creamy brie, fresh herbs), Buffalo Chicken (marinated buffalo chicken, creme fraiche, mozzarella, gorgonzola, jalapeno and celery relish, scallions), Flammenkuche (creme fraiche, caramelized onion, applewood smoked bacon, gruyere, fresh herbs)
Thoughts: This place was really fun and we were in that sweet spot at the beginning of the day where you’ve just gotten warmed up but you’re not overly full yet (because you’ve been pacing yourself well). We had a little bit of time to spare here, so most people enjoyed some of their beers (since it’s a brewery), and we ordered a handful of their small pizzas since they’re only 12-inchers. This allowed us to try a nice variety of their pizzas. If you’re out to dinner, one person could easily eat one of these pizzas by themselves. However, we knew we had to pace ourselves for the rest of the day, so we ordered 5 different pizzas for our group of about 15 and asked them to cut each one in twelve pieces. The pizzas were excellent, but our verdict was that they work better as larger slices – Our small, thin slices had too much plain dough in comparison to the toppings. I’ll have to go back again and house one of these pizzas all by myself. The brie one was my favorite by far. The “cheeburger cheeburger” one is a crowd favorite, and it’s shockingly good. Like a Burger King Whopper but in pizza form. It sounds weird, but … it’s so good.
Our Order: 5 pizzas: The Diavolo (Italian salami, mozzarella, crushed tomato, chili flakes, oregano, parmesan), Polpettini (ricotta-stuffed veal meatballs, mozzarella, crushed tomato, basil, shaved provolone), The Stache (whole wheat crust, pistachio pesto, mozzarella, parmesan, lemon vinaigrette, baby arugula), Kennett (oven roasted crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, mozzarella, bechamel, roasted onions, rosemary), The Joey (Berkshire pork sausage, mozzarella, crushed tomato, spinach, garlic, chili flakes, provolone)
Thoughts: Zavino is a wine and pizza bar (isn’t that name really cute?), so their pizzas are fairly high-end and the price reflects that. They’re definitely on the pricey side for how big they were, but oh my gosh were these pizzas GOOD. They couldn’t support a group of our size at the restaurant, but thankfully there were some public tables from Drexel University outside right next to Zavino’s outdoor patio. We just took over some of those tables and it worked out perfectly. The pistachio pesto pizza was a huge hit as well as the Polpettini with the ricotta-stuffed meatballs. The crust here was not my favorite (a little too soft from what I remember? Maybe …), but that’s being picky. I’d love to go back to this place for a date night with Robert or with a few friends. It has a really nice atmosphere inside. Highly recommend!!
Our Order: 5 pizzas: Margherita (basil, mozzarella, tomato sauce), Crudo (prosciutto crudo, bufala mozzarella, parmigiano), Quattro Formaggi (gorgonzola, mozzarella, smoked provolone, fontina), Melanzana (crushed San Marzano tomatoes, eggplant, stracciatella cheese, oregano), Salsiccia (fennel sausage, roasted fennel, tomato sauce, mozzarella) and I drank their Italian Sloe Gin Fizz (sloe gin, bluecoat, limoncello, club soda). Also, dessert: their affogato with homemade soft serve ice cream.
Thoughts: I loved the feel of this place: clean, bright, airy, lots of natural sunlight, white subway tile with red accents, excellent pizza and bottled cocktails. Yes please! The eggplant pizza and the sausage pizza were two standouts for me, but it was all wonderful. That includes the cocktails and the affogato. The staff was also very friendly and excited about our pizza crawl, so that gets them extra points in my book. Treating myself to a workday lunch at this place seems like it would be heavenly. (But I don’t work in Philly, so that’s not happening.)
Our Order: 2 pizzas: Kira Tierson (mozzarella, smoked bacon, red onion, blackened brussels sprouts) and Felix Huppart (mozzarella, gruyere, garlic, caramelized onion, fresh thyme)
Thoughts: Part pizza shop, part pizza shrine/museum, this place was very fun. Pizza-themed movie posters and album covers lined the walls and there were little pizza tchotchkes everywhere. I’m not sure which pizza I liked better here; they both had their merits. For a day full of pizza-eating I think this particular pizza was a little too greasy for me, but it seems like it’d be perfect for one of those days when all you want is pizza. (Wait … isn’t that every day?)
Our Order: 2 pizzas: a plain with the sauce on top (old world style), and a spinach tomato pizza
Thoughts: I have to give a shoutout to my brother for this stop. I had called ahead a day or two before for this place because it’s recommended that you “reserve your dough.” So I did, and I told them what we were up to and gave a general time for when I thought we would be there. Somehow we had a communication breakdown and it turns out we had gotten locked in for a 7:30 reservation. (I had never been to this place, so I had no idea what the drill is or what it looks like to eat there.) Well at this point in our evening we were on a very tight schedule (see below for more details at stop #8), so my brother rode ahead of everyone on his bike (the rest of us were walking) and attempted to order our pizzas for us. It turns out we were half an hour early for our 7:30 reservation (I’m surprised we were even that close to my schedule), so they didn’t want to put our order in until we were all there and whatnot (and rightly so – they were PACKED). The problem was we couldn’t wait because we had to be at our NEXT stop at 7:30 due to special circumstances. Thankfully my brother convinced them to put our pizzas in and he cleared a small space in the restaurant for them to put our pizzas on a tiny table so we could just eat and run. That’s exactly what we did. (They couldn’t let us eat it on the sidewalk out of respect for their neighbors.)
They brought out our pizzas and the rest of us (a group of about twelve) rolled in a minute later. We feverishly started handing out paper plates with slices on them and we were passing around beers my brother had bought since it’s a BYOB, and meanwhile we were ordering Ubers to take us to stop #8 since we needed to be there in about 13 minutes. I think I was in Tacconelli’s for a maximum of 5-7 minutes. It was such a whirlwind that as my brother was the last one leaving the restaurant, a couple near the door asked him, “What WAS that?!” He explained our situation and then they responded that they wanted to participate next year. (I love people like that! The more the merrier.) As for the pizza, I hardly remember what it looked like (I didn’t even have a chance to take photos and the lighting was terrible where we were anyway), but I do remember that in the frenzy of everything going on I kept saying “oh wow this is really good!” You have to reserve your dough at this place for a reason; it’s no joke. I surprisingly enjoyed the old world style plain pizza more than the spinach and tomato one, but a lot of people felt the opposite. Either way, the pizza was excellent. And Tacconelli’s, if you’re reading this – please don’t hold this against my brother; he was just taking one for the team.
Our Order: The #1 (tomato, whole milk mozzarella, old gold aged cheese, extra virgin olive oil) and the #2 (I forgot to write it down exactly but I believe it was something like: swiss chard, fresh cream, garlic, chile, old gold aged cheese …. ?)
Thoughts: Especially after being named “the best pizza in America” by Bon Appetit Magazine, you need to line up outside this place a good hour before it opens in order to get a pizza. They don’t do slices (only whole pies), it’s cash only, they don’t have a phone and they only make 40 pizzas per night. Once they’re out, they’re out. There’s one guy making the pizzas (Beddia himself), and then he has one guy taking orders and working the cash register. That’s it! There are two standing tables, but otherwise it’s just a counter with a pizza-making station behind it.
Obviously a place that has been dubbed the best pizza in the USA needed to be on the list for our Feast of St. Pizza. They open at 5:30pm, so our goal was to be in line by 4pm. There’s no way we were missing out on this opportunity. We were a little late, but got in line close to 4:30. We weren’t the first ones there, but we knew we were early enough to get some of their forty pizzas. It was about to rain, so a few of us offered to hold the place in line to order our pizzas while the rest hopped next door to Johnny Brenda’s for some drinks. As you can imagine, if everyone is essentially ordering at the same time (since we all lined up before they opened), there’s no way all of our pies are going to come out in a timely fashion. So they have a system down where they take your order and your name, and there’s a very specific timetable for when each pizza will come out of the oven. When I placed our order around 5:30pm (they opened a few minutes early, thank goodness, since it was starting to rain), we were told to expect our pizzas at 7:35 and 7:40. So we rushed to squeeze in stops number 6 and 7 (hence the frenzy at Tacconelli’s) before coming back for our pizzas fresh from the oven.
We did eat these ones on the sidewalk, and it was glorious. If you’re not on a pizza crawl with 15 other people, I’d suggest waiting in line for this place, putting in your order, and then either chilling out at a nearby bar like Johnny Brenda’s until your pizza is ready or coming back with a bottle of wine (or some beers) to eat at one of their standing tables since it’s BYOB. You just have to let them know that you plan to eat in and they can schedule you in accordingly. So anyway, THESE PIZZAS: They were absolutely amazing. I don’t want to spoil anything (see below for “the verdict”), but no one in our group took issue with their title of “best pizza in America.” This place is technically open until 10:30pm, but by the time we were done eating our pizzas on the sidewalk around 8pm, there was a “sold out” sign on the door.
Our Order: 4 pizzas (plus I had a mojito): margherita di bufala (Italian tomato, housemade mozzarella, basil and parmesan), arugula (Italian tomato, mozzarella di bufala, fresh baby arugula, parmesan and black pepper), spicy soppressata (Italian tomato, housemade mozzarella, basil, soppressata, oregano, garlic, red pepper, parmesan and honey), truffle pecorino (mozzarella di bufala, toma, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, farm egg, sea salt and black pepper topped with Boschetto al Tartufo Bianchetto and black truffle oil)
Thoughts: Somehow I managed to not hit a wall until this stop. Pizzas 6, 7 and 8 really took it out of me – they were kind of rapid-fire and difficult to ensure they fit into our schedule properly. So at Nomad, stop #9, I was SO ready to just sit at a real table, have someone wait on us and enjoy a cocktail before shoving more pizza down my throat. It also felt great to know that we were officially on schedule with only one more spot to go. We were upstairs at their 7th street location, and it felt like a cozy, magical Italian dining room in there. To add to the lovely atmosphere they were also playing a silent Charlie Chaplin film on the back wall. My mojito was fantastic and exactly what I needed at that moment. I think this was the perfect example of a pizza place that would blow you away on a normal day, but after you’ve eaten pizza all day you feel like nothing else can phase you (especially after eating “the best pizza in America”). One of my favorite parts was the plate of chocolates they brought out with the check as a little dessert send-off. I’d say my favorite pizza here was probably the arugula. The truffle pecorino one was pretty amazing as well, but too heavy for me at that moment. I’ll have to try this place again when I’m not slipping into a pizza coma. Also, I was furious with myself when I realized we could have ordered the dessert pizza here and totally missed out on that opportunity. Nutella pizza!!! How did I miss this?!?
STOPS #9.5 AND #10
Our Order: 2 slices of plain from “Lorenzo’s” and the pistachio pizza at Stella (with red onion, rosemary and fontina) + the sgroppino cocktail (lemon sorbet, vodka and prosecco)
Thoughts: When we went to Lorenzo’s in the Italian Market for stop #1, my brother, who’s been a resident of Philly for over ten years now, was appalled. He texted about meeting up that morning and when he found out where we were, he said “you’re at the wrong Lorenzo’s.” And I said, “No, you are.” (#siblings) Based on all of my research, I was at the correct one. However, my brother thinks a lot of that research is skewed because when people talk about “Lorenzo’s,” they’re actually referring to Lorenzo and Son’s on South Street. Who knows; maybe he’s right. He was really adamant that we shouldn’t end the day without at least trying the South Street Lorenzo’s, so as he biked to stop #10 he popped by there to pick up two of their legendarily-large slices so we could try it before going into Stella. He followed through on his promise and met us at Stella with a box of two abnormally large pizza slices in tow. He gave each of them the traditional treatment of a sprinkle of hot sauce, garlic powder, oregano, chili flakes and parmesan. Our group had been cut in half from stop #9 (many people fell off the wagon), so we were down to a mere seven and we each took a bite or two of the pizza. I stand by my choice for stop #1, because this South Street pizza was my least favorite of the entire day. But I’m not surprised, despite my brother’s devotion: it reminded me of A&M pizza in Lebanon, which is my least favorite and my brother’s favorite. Clearly we have different tastes. (It also might have tasted better to me had it not just traveled partway across town on a bike.)
As for Stella, I don’t remember much about this pizza. As we were all chatting in our pizza-induced stupor, I actually forgot that I was supposed to EAT the pizza after it arrived. I just stared at it for a while before realizing that I was supposed to taste it. That was my mental state by the end of the day. I didn’t love the pizza we had, but it was more of a taste preference issue than the fact of whether or not it was “bad” pizza. I did thoroughly enjoy my cocktail, however. (Noticing a theme here by the end of the night?) I think I was just ready for new flavors. I’ll have to add this to my list of “places to try when you haven’t already eaten pizza all day long.”
A CLEAR WINNER
In my honest opinion, Pizzeria Beddia takes home the pizza cake this time. There was literally nothing bad you could say about it, and that goes for both kinds we had. The crust was crispy in the right places and chewy in the right places with an interesting flavor. The ingredients were fresh and high quality, and they were perfectly balanced. Even though it was stop #8 on our pizza tour, I felt like I could eat that pizza ALL DAY LONG. My brother made the point that the swiss chard pizza was covered in a green vegetable and he still loved it. It was perfection and I believe it’s truly earned its name as the “best pizza in America.” It’s absolutely worth the wait.
After our winner I’m not sure I had a clear second choice. For the more artisan-style pizzas, I really enjoyed Dock Street, Zavino and Vetri. As for a more traditional pie, I really did love that first Lorenzo’s stop in the Italian Market. But the truth is that you can’t go wrong with any of these pizza joints. Philadelphia has a lot to offer – not that I’m surprised.
Just like last year, we all had a total blast doing this together and everyone was super into it. Some of us even wore t-shirts! (They’re available in my Society6 shop.) My friend Laura of Roam and Golightly was also podcasting throughout the day, so you’ll have to check out her fun mini-sode she posted with recordings of us throughout the pizza feast. (Here’s a link for iTunes.) She has a blog post of her own about the event as well. We definitely caused a scene in a few places (it’s bound to happen), and once again we left with an even greater appreciation for pizza. Furthermore, I had never eaten at ANY of these pizza places before, so for many of us we were able to explore ten completely new-to-us places. The day was a huge success.
Last year I shared some tips for hosting your own pizza feast, so you can find them right here. There is a heck of a lot of planning that goes into something like this. There’s the research of figuring out which places to visit, plus I had to figure out timing and reservations. The whole group wouldn’t be with us all day long (there were only about 8 of us in the core group), so I had to figure out what our numbers would be at certain points of the day and plan accordingly for reservations and such. It’s not for the faint of heart. Several hours of planning went into this day and I have a crazy amount of color-coded notes in my Evernote account to prove it. But it was so worth it!!!
As always, I would highly urge you to do something like this in your town or a nearby city you’d like to explore. You don’t need to be in a big city like Philly, and it can actually be easier to pull off in a smaller town anyway. Last year’s in my hometown was a perfect example. If you are in a bigger city, you could always do a micro version and focus on a specific neighborhood. We were saying that we could have done this Philly pizza crawl in JUST South Philly near the Italian Market, or just in University City, etc. Whatever your thing is – pizza, donuts, bagels, burgers, ice cream – explore it to the fullest in your little corner of the world and you won’t be sorry.
Next year I’m thinking we’ll take our Feast of St. Pizza to Lancaster, PA. If you know of any must-visit pizza places in that city, hit me up! It’s never too early for me to start planning.
Illustration at top created with pen and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.