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"I need to get more O's."
A one-man pizza station is one thing; a pizzeria run by a solitary man is another. And ever since Joe Beddia opened the latter in Philadelphia's Fishtown, he's had to address the unforeseen on his own. One recent hindrance: the underrepresented letter "O" in his cache of plastic push-in letters, resulting in a menu offering a "RQASTED QNIQN" topping or a refreshing "SODAPQP" while you wait.
It's a process, as the Lancaster, Pennsylvania native readily admits. But while alphabetical misgivings might throw Beddia for a temporary
lqqp loop (he's since re-upped on vowels), he's sure of himself when it comes to his pizza.
Beddia, 35, started his career in East Coast craft beer, before joining up with Philly's wine-beer-cheese specialist Tria. There, he became so infatuated with Hitachino Nest beers that he cold-called the Japanese brewery to set up a work-study in what would become Beddia's personal Land of the Rising Crust.
In Tokyo, already intrigued by the dynamics of the discipline, he came across "the best pizza I've ever had"—a marinara from the lauded Savoy. "Sauce, oregano, a clove of garlic, basil and olive oil," he recalls. "How does that even work?"
Savoy, plus other memorable travel experiences, planted a sauced-swirled seed. Trips to Da Michele in Naples, Pizzarium in Rome, and Bianco in Phoenix. Tons of runs through the New York City circuit. Apprenticeships at Osteria in Philly and Pizza Bruta in Madison, Wis. Two years wielding peels as pizzaiolo at Zavino, also in Philly.
Pizzeria Beddia has been on the board for years, and the lights finally came on just three weeks ago. Though the bulk of Beddia's experience has been traditional, his standing-room-only shop doesn't speak much Italian. Made with organic Central Milling flour, his dough has more water content than typical Neapolitan rounds, and it's worked with sugar and California olive oil in addition to sea salt. It is, Beddia explains, the right recipe for the "dead, dry heat" of his brick-lined Montague deck oven, which he feels produces results closer to the coal-fired handiwork of various NYC institutions.
Beddia is adamant that fermentation, more than just starting-point ingredients, is the key to a great crust. "There's no way to rush it," he says of the process whose intimations he first encountered with beer. "To coax the flavor out of something, you need to dedicate the time." He does just that, and visitors on Wednesdays are patrons of the patience—any dough left over from the previous week (he's closed Sunday to Tuesday) is baked off into ready-to-slice loaves of bread.
Beddia's basic 16-inch round pie cooks at 600-625º F in about 5 minutes. They're topped with two mozzarellas—hunks of fresh, then shreds of dry—from Lioni Latticini in Jersey, the same state that provides the tomatoes for his sauce. Finished pies are queso-fied a third time with shavings of Hidden Hills Dairy Old Gold, an aged gouda-style cheese.
For now, toppings include pickled serranos, housemade fennel sausage, Olli salami and roasted creminis. Pennsylvania growers, like Green Meadow Farm and Culton Organics, get him veg, plus fodder for specials, like a recent pie topped with bacon, dinosaur kale and double cream. "I'm not using this stuff just to tell people it's local," says Beddia. "It's really good."
When pressed for classification, the chef is more inclined to call his pizza "New York-style" than "Neapolitan," due to the dough formula and longer bake. But perhaps "American" would be more apt, since the only non-domestic element in the joint (including equipment) is Italian oregano. "I prefer this kind of pizza now," says Beddia.
He'd better, as he's the only person on staff making it. He prepares and portions the dough. Then, usually while rocking a white apron and an old-school Sixers mesh-back hat, he'll roll it out, top it off, bake it, pull it, slice it and serve it on up. Having a literal hand in everything is important to him. "The smartest thing for me to do is to know everything," says Beddia. He does manage to share some of the work with his sister Maria, who runs the counter. "It's like that Bob Dylan song, 'I'll know my song well before I start singin'. ... I just want to make good pizza. This is it right now."
But there are always a few other issues to contend with. "I'm just glad I'm as busy as I am without a telephone," says Beddia, who's still not sure if he even wants one.