The last time I was in Los Angeles was almost thirty-three years ago, which was well before my formative eating years. Back then, there was no appreciation for barbecue, Neapolitan-style pizza, pasta made from scratch, smoked meats, and so forth.
So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to my recent trip to Los Angeles. Knowing all about the famed food scene in town, I carefully did research of what hot food spots I should target. My primary resource was Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s comprehensive and fantastic list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles. I also caught the recent AskMen.com piece naming the country’s ten best sandwiches, including two from Los Angeles. Given the desire to “carb load” on the night before a marathon, I planned to hit up a top notch Italian restaurant. The final guideline? After much thought, I did not want to go to Spago or another expensive prix fixe spot, figuring that there were plenty of other outstanding, more affordable spots.
And what did I find? Two observations: 1) There is plenty of amazing food in Los Angeles, from casual to high end places, and 2) some Philadelphia restaurants are just as good as those LA restaurants though there are just many more options in the City of Angels.
It had been fourteen months since the epic Philadelphia Pizza Crawl of December 2012. Over seven months elapsed since the Philadelphia Taco Crawl of July 2013. People were getting hungry, and it was time for the food crawl planners to plan the next outing: Philadelphia Pizza Crawl 2: The Search for New Pizza. There is so much good pizza in this city the only logical thing to do is have a second crawl to try the best of the best.
Opening night of a new restaurant can be extremely busy and not truly indicative of a typical night. Throw in the additional factor of Marc Vetri opening up his new pizza restaurant, and you would think there was the potential for all-out chaos. Fortunately, while the crowds came in droves to the public opening of Pizzeria Vetri at 1939 Callowhill, the night ran as smoothly as possible for both customers and staff.
Pizzeria Vetri is by no means a large establishment. It seats about 35 and has no bar at which to hang out while waiting for your table. What it does have, however, is a check-in system, in which the hostess accurately gives you an expected wait-time and then automatically texts you when your seats (not necessarily table) are ready. So, getting news of a one-hour wait at 7 p.m. wasn’t the worst news, as I just went one block over to Kite & Key for a drink during the wait.
When we set up a Philadelphia pizza crawl to take place last month, there was one spot that was an absolute necessity to hit up: Pizza Brain. How could any respectable pizza crawl bypass the world’s first pizza museum?
Pizza Brain is more than just a museum. While the collection of pizza-related memorabilia – replete with everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles items to the album cover for the Fat Boys’ “Jailhouse Rap” single – is impressive, the pizzeria portion is notable in its own right. The friendly staff, which usually includes memorabilia owner Brian Dwyer, serves up unique pizza topping combinations in either slices or full pies (ranging from $11 to $22).
Native New Yorker Jennifer had enough. Another serving of mediocre pizza from West Philly was driving her crazy, and she broadcast, via Facebook, her pronouncement: Philly pizza was crap (except she used a more colorful adjective).
I, for one, will not tolerate anyone disparaging Philadelphia’s pizza scene. Immediately, I touted the city’s great pizza tradition and diverse pizzerias. Other folks piped in that they wanted to try a lot of these places in town, particularly in a group outing. One thing led to another, and the Philadelphia Pizza Crawl of December 2012 was organized.
- Basics – Hit up six Philadelphia pizza spots on a Saturday in December.
- Objective – Convince a native New Yorker that Philly does have good pizza.
- Specific stops – FrancoLuigi’s Pizzeria, Santucci’s Original Square Pizza, Nomad Pizzeria, Rustica Pizza, Pizza Brain, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria. They may or may not be the six best pizza places in town, but they’ve all been recognized for their excellence and also offer a variety of pizza styles and settings. Pizzeria Stella, Zavino, Slice, Dock Street and Osteria also were strongly considered but were either considered duplicative or too far out of the way to work with the other spots.
- Logistics – Every food crawl must account for logistics, such as transportation, payment, food ordering. The plan was to travel from place to place by walking, public transportation and perhaps cabs. There was discussion of a bus, which would protect us in case of adverse weather, but it would have been too costly. With 20-30 people expected to attend, we also decided to collect $20 up front for costs of pizza, water and drinks. Calls were placed well in advance to each location to ensure they could accommodate us and were prepared for our arrival. At each stop, we’d order enough for about a slice or more per person, cutting full slices into smaller portions with our own pizza cutters to allow participants to try different pies. Also, to allow for comparison, we were to keep the pizza selections to plain, pepperoni and perhaps one specialty pie. We’d also budget about an hour for each spot to allow us to be at Tacconelli’s for our reservation at 5 p.m.
- Scoring – We thought about a scoring sheet to determine the best pizza, but eating pizza is really a subjective experience. There’s not one right way to make a crust or use a sauce. People could decide on their own about what slices and spots they liked best. Continue reading
A little more than a year ago, the second Night Market was held in a parking lot in University City. No different than the other editions of Night Market, there were long lines at several trucks and carts. Few lines were longer than the one at Nomad Pizza, which was making its Philly debut through its pizza truck.
There was certainly great anticipation for Nomad, which originated and built its reputation in Hopewell, New Jersey. The truck, a restored 1949 REO Speedwagon with a built-in wood-fired brick oven, kept firing up Neapolitan-style pizzas for the masses, who eagerly gobbled them up. Earlier this year, Nomad opened up its brick and mortar location at 6th and Bainbridge, though its pizza truck still makes appearances at events around town. In either the restaurant or the store, prepare to be blown away by superb pizza.
Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia is an evolving area. Greater numbers of university students and professors as well as hipsters have gravitated to the area. Summer farmers markets at Clark Park have become big draws.
Over at 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue, in a converted fire station, is Dock Street Brewing Company. Dock Street has a long and storied history in the Philadelphia beer scene. Founded in 1985, it was the city’s first microbrewery. It continues to brew some pretty exceptional craft beers, such as its pilsner and Rye IPA.
At the brew pub, beer, of course, is the specialty. The food menu, and specifically, the pizza, is also worth checking out. There’s a pretty good menu selection of pizzas and calzones as well as appetizers, burgers, wraps, salads. Dock Street offers twelve different pizzas, each of them hand thrown, using stone ground flour and heated in a “hardwood-fired” oven. Continue reading