food

The 'best pizzeria in America' to close? Say it ain't so, Joe Beddia

Michael Klein

Updated: Friday, April 7, 2017, 11:30 AM

Joe Beddia of Pizzeria Beddia grates cheese over a pizza.

Joe Beddia left Lancaster 15 years ago to help make beer at Yards in Philadelphia.

Joe Beddia works in his shop Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia holds up a copy of his book inside Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia lifts a batch of dough before cutting it in his shop Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia makes the dough in his shop Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia poses in his shop Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia scrapes out the mixer as he makes dough in his shop Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia, PA on April 6, 2017. Beddia has a book coming out titled "Pizza Camp: Recipes From Pizzeria Beddia." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia of Pizzeria Beddia grates cheese over a pizza. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia of Pizzeria Beddia prepares to put a pizza in the oven. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Photo Gallery: The 'best pizzeria in America' to close? Say it ain't so, Joe Beddia

Just as beermaking is a craft, so is pizzamaking. After sampling delicious pizza in his travels, and cold-calling pizzerias to arrange work-study programs, Beddia started making it in his home kitchen, dissecting the science and art of doughmaking, and adopting an uncompromising approach to cheeses and toppings.

Four years ago, having put his beer days behind him, he opened Pizzeria Beddia, a tiny shop in Fishtown that operates strictly on his terms. Beddia works alone at his brick-lined Montague deck oven. His pizzeria is open only four nights a week to sell 40 pies a night, tops. It's walk-in only. Cash only. There's no phone. His nights off are announced on social media.

Two years ago, a writer for Bon Appetit declared Beddia's New York-style 16-inch rounds the best in America. And what happened? Not much. He's still open four nights a week, 40 pies tops, as the line forms at least an hour ahead of the 5:30 p.m. opening.

Except that it helped Beddia get a book deal. Pizza Camp (Abrams) is to be published April 18 and, unlike many similar efforts, it's aimed squarely at the home cook.

And when Beddia turned 40 on March 19, it got him to thinking. Perhaps he'll close the shop.

While he prepped his dough Tuesday for its 36-hour fermentation, we chatted.

First off, how is your last name pronounced? I hear it every which way.

I say it "beh-DEE-ya." Back in Sicily, it's "BED-ee-ah." It doesn't matter.

Tell me about what set you on the path to pizza.

I always really wanted to do something where I kind of did everything. I saw that at Northeast Taproom in Reading, this guy Pete owned the bar. He was the only employee, really. Seeing that, I was like, "Oh, I want to do something like that." ... Then my favorite pizzas in the country were where one guy made the pizza, Di Fara [in Brooklyn], Una Pizza [in San Francisco], and there was a place in Chicago -- it's out of business -- called Great Lake. Then I went to Japan [to brew at Hitachino], and it was exactly that. So many different little shops, restaurants, a few pizzerias where there was just one guy ... and it was unbelievable... the dedication, the attention to detail -- so I think after I was in Japan, I said, "This is what I'm going to do."

How did you pursue it when you got back?

I did a two-month stage [internship] at Osteria on the pizza station. ... Then I had the opportunity to go to Madison, Wis., where my brother lives, and he's friends with a guy who has a pizzeria, Pizza Brutta. I basically worked for the summer, so I learned that, and then I came back and it was right when Zavino started, so I started working there. Then I worked at Little Fish, just trying to save money and find a space. It was really difficult to find this kind of space, because I knew I wanted to do everything, pretty much.

Other people must come to you proposing a whole chain of Pizzeria Beddias. What do you tell them?

Well, I'm open to it. I don't know. We just had our fourth-year anniversary at the end of March. I'm going to do it for another year.

And then what?

Then something else happens. I don't know. It's not 100 percent [certain that the shop will close]. But I'm here 60 hours a week for my four days a week. I come in at 8:30 a.m. and work till 11:30 at night. And then on Tuesday I'm here, doing orders, paying bills, and making dough. It's not like I have a regular life. I still really love doing it. After [the fifth year], I'll be 41. How many [chefs] are still working the line all the time? Some guys, but not a lot."

If you closed the shop, would you make pizza somewhere else?

Probably, but I'm not 100 percent sure. I don't have that many skills. I know a little bit about wine.

Beer!

I'm not really interested in beer anymore. It would probably involve pizza. Maybe some sandwiches or something, but I don't even know. I mean, opening a restaurant sounds terrible.

Isn't there a way to train somebody so you don't have to be here all the time?

I feel like if I was going to do something else, I'd have to hire a whole staff, and there's a chance to make more money, potentially, and there's also a chance to lose a lot of money. If I was going to do something, I would open a restaurant that's bigger. I wanted to have a bocce court indoors. It's got to keep being fun.

I would like to kind of move on, I think -- just the idea of being able to travel and do other things.

Whose pizza do you enjoy?

I don't really eat a lot of pizza anymore. I'm trying to lose weight. In Philly, I really enjoy Square Pie. I think the dough is really good, and Gene [Giuffi] uses good ingredients and stuff. Then I've always loved Capofitto. I liked [Stephanie Reitano's] dough there, too. I mean, Pizzeria Vetri -- you're not going to ever get a bad pizza there. Nomad makes great pizza. Wm. Mulherin's Sons' pizza's great.

Let's talk about the book. How did it come about?

I wasn't formerly trained in culinary school or anything, I just kind of figured it out myself and really figured a lot of stuff by tasting other pizzas. But my background was in a home oven. I feel like I'm offering something that's great for the home cook. ... I'm always kind of looking for something else to do, creatively speaking, and so I was writing this, the article in Bon Appetit came out ... and then we had a bunch of book deals.

How did you find time to write?

A lot of people writing cookbooks are chefs not working on the line. Then they also have people writing the books. I didn't have any of that, so I was losing my mind the whole time.

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Michael Klein

Read full story: The 'best pizzeria in America' to close? Say it ain't so, Joe Beddia

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