Philadelphia has developed a thriving pizza culture over the past couple of decades, fueled by the large Italian-American community in the south of the city. This culture is all the stronger for being a mix of the traditional and the wildly experimental. The latter camp includes gourmet eateries such as Barbuzzo, which tops its pizzas with truffles and pig’s cheek, as well as oddities such as Pizza Brain, which is half-restaurant and half-pizza museum. But alongside these eccentric newcomers are established institutions such as Stogie Joe’s, dishing out delectable pan pizza, and Tacconelli’s, baking its pizza in a brick oven that dates from the 1920s.
Barbuzzo is a trendy and laid-back Mediterranean restaurant with a varied menu of Spanish and Italian dishes, often shared between groups, tapas style. People visit specially for its famous puffy-crusted Neapolitan pizza, cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven which is visible from the restaurant floor. This is high-brow and inventive stuff, the pizza’s perfect crust topped by such items as brussels sprout leaf, pig’s cheek, truffled egg, and the restaurant’s intriguing "secret white sauce."
Tacconelli’s is often described as a Philly version of Trenton’s legendary DeLorenzo’s: it serves tomato pie rather than pizza, with the emphasis on the generously applied sweet tomato sauce, flavored by a light sprinkling of cheese. The crust is über-thin and super-crispy, made with a fresh dough that customers must order in advance of their arrival and baked in an old brick oven dating from the 1920s. The place is all about this sublime pizza, and customers are welcome to bring their own beer, wine, desserts and salads to complement it.
There’s no bringing your own desserts at Osteria, an upmarket Italian restaurant with a range of artisan kitchen utensils and a rustic wooden interior intended to evoke a Tuscan farmhouse. The head chef is Jeff Michaud, who began his career in a pizzeria and has included a small number of immaculately conceived pizzas on his menu. Perhaps most striking is the Polpo, with its trailing octopus tentacles, smoky mozzarella and coarse red chili offset by the pockets of sweet tomato.
Pizza Brain, having opened in September 2012, takes Philly’s burgeoning pizza culture to the next level. It is not only a pizzeria, but a full scale pizza museum, containing the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world – as certified by the Guinness Book of Records. Eat your slice beneath a vast panoply of pizza-related paintings, murals, album covers, advertisements, videos, toys, celebrity photos and more. But what of the pizzas themselves? Made with crushed tomatoes, thin crusts and expertly blended topping combinations, they almost justify the Brain’s heady ambition to become the Mecca of American pizza.
A world away from the fanciful flavor combinations and high-concept designs that have invaded the city recently, Stogie Joe’s is a straight-up South Philly pizzeria. It serves utterly fabulous pan pizzas: square, chunky, and with the cheese buried beneath a tangy tomato sauce. There’s an efficient delivery service, and the pizzas – choose between large and small – are incredibly good value. You can also eat in; the atmosphere as well as the food has retained a down-to-earth vibe, remaining a locals hangout, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. For simple, affordable, and delicious pan pizza, Stogie Joe’s is the place to go; despite all the swanky new competition, it remains the best pizza joint in town.