RATING |

I’m certain that if there’s such a thing as pizza paradise, the parking lot would smell like this. It hit me the moment I left my car on Front Street — a heady aroma of roasting crust, caramelizing tomato sauce, and bubbling cheese. It swirled overhead through the Fishtown night, then whooshed straight to my brain before I could even type the next logical question into Google: Where the heck is North Lee Street?

I couldn’t see the new Pizzeria Beddia. But the ambrosia from its exhaust fan hidden somewhere nearby was so powerful I simply followed my nose. Down to West Thompson, then a half block east to North Lee, which turns out to be more alleyway than street. The industrial facade at 1313 of half-painted steel sheets fringed with razor wire was no less welcoming, except for the unmarked peace sign dangling overhead. But I’d found what I was hoping for, because Philly’s bright new pizza paradise actually does reside just beyond the open chain-link gate.

Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown is behind half-painted steel-sheets and a chain-link gate.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown is behind half-painted steel-sheets and a chain-link gate.

Heat-blistered wheels of pizza arrive spanned with cream-dappled fans of peppery seasonal greens. Rectangular chunks of Philly-style tomato pie stand tall atop oil-crisped bottoms, with puffy focaccia centers and thick crimson smears of tomato sauce on top glossed with olive oil. The “angry” red arrabiata pie is so amped with layers of lip-stinging spice — Thai chilies steeped into the sauce; pickled serranos scattered like green poker chips across every inch, their spiraling heat rising on the herbal lift of basil — that it sets a new threshold on the pleasure-pain continuum.

The “Angry” red arrabiata pie sets a new threshold in the pleasure-pain continuum.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The “Angry” red arrabiata pie sets a new threshold in the pleasure-pain continuum.

Yes, the fanatical longtime followers of pizza prophet Joe Beddia are familiar with such wonders. Now the rest of Philadelphia, those previously too sensible to devote entire days to a pizza quest, finally can get a slice of his pies, too. Provided, of course, that they order a whole one. True to the original, there’s no ordering by the slice here.

But Pizzeria Beddia 2.0, with its airy white warehouse of a space pierced with skylight brightness and modern white oak trim, its bustling communal tables and booths, and an outdoor patio where diners can sip natural wines and bitter Negronis while waiting for their shot at pizza glory, is so many lovely things the tiny original takeout corner was not. It accepts credit cards! There’s a bathroom! It is an actual restaurant! In this current golden moment of Philly pizza power, with at least two other new pizza stars baking to jam-packed takeout crowds (Angelo’s in South Philly; Circles + Squares in Kensington), such amenities are no small thing.

There are even seats, for goodness sake, 140 of them at full tilt, with half reserved for walk-ins. There are coveted reservations available on the Resy app, too, but competing at midnight two months in advance for a spot at even the best pizzeria strikes me as ridiculous when I’m happy to wait — within reason. Go early on a midweek eve, when the wait’s about an hour.

Chef Joe Beddia in the kitchen at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Chef Joe Beddia in the kitchen at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown.

The quest for pizza at Olde Original Beddia had become so absurd — arrive by 3 p.m.; wait until 5:30 to order (praying to make the 10-minute window before its 40 pies sold out), return hours later for pick-up (probably after eating another dinner) — that many early devotees no longer bothered. After being crowned America’s best pizza by Bon Appétit, Beddia’s pizzas morphed into mythical status — a trophy bite to be bragged about loudly on the Market-Frankford El, a Philly food totem to be remembered wistfully, knowing that experiencing it once was probably enough.

But once was never enough for those who really understood the profound goodness of these reinventions of the American classic, those crispy-edged pies that Beddia elevated with seasonal flourishes, a finishing grate of Old Gold cheese, and a no-compromise commitment to handcraft that instilled each bite with a profoundly deep resonance. What Beddia has done with this long-awaited second act (after closing his original in 2018) is bring his pizza vision back to earth for the rest of us, with orange wines on draft and Cantabrian anchovy benefits. And it succeeds in large part thanks to a partnership with the Defined Hospitality team that created Suraya, which had the wherewithal to help him build the modern pizza palace of his dreams and the systems and well-trained service to make it actually work.

Some will romanticize the exclusive old days when Beddia alone would get his fingers on every pie. And, inevitably, there are 100 things that could go wrong translating such a control-freak artisan obsession to such a massive scale, with a staff of 18 now in the kitchen and 300-plus diners a night. It took a month, at least, for Beddia to properly dial those new ovens in. But not once, he said, have they sold out of dough.

The anchovy pizza is the finest LaBan has ever tasted.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The anchovy pizza is the finest LaBan has ever tasted.

The pies have an irresistibly magnetic force now, provided you don’t overburden them with too many toppings. (Beddia, a purist, preaches one.) Every pizza here has a distinct personality, from the white pie specials whose blend of Pennsylvania cream and multiple cheeses mingle with seasonal inspirations — a hale of ramps and spring alliums one night; snappy asparagus with radishes and sheer lemon another — to the many variations in the realm of red. Among the best? The finest anchovy pizza I’ve ever tasted, each cheese-dusted slice holding its micro-crunch from crust to heart while silvery Sicilian beauties thread the marinara pie like fishy spokes, their salty stripes making the tomato sauce even sweeter, boosted with the dusky swagger of extra garlic and oregano.

I broke my own no-overload rule by piling on three favorites: the house sausage (made from Country Time pork), mushrooms, and onions. Don’t touch that pizza yet! The trick is to wait five minutes for the hot toppings to settle and the sturdy crust to absorb the extra moisture, even if it’s no longer quite 100 percent crisp. That also allows the trio of flavors to meld in rare harmony that hits another level of goodness when washed down with a deep red earthy sip of Domaine de St. Pierre’s Le Dos d’Chat Trousseau, a biodynamic red from Côtes du Jura that’s just one of the two dozen excellent natural wines on Beddia’s list.

Nadine Baker (left) and Krista Taylor (right) look at their photos of their pizza while Susie Staub takes her photo at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Nadine Baker (left) and Krista Taylor (right) look at their photos of their pizza while Susie Staub takes her photo at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown.

The focus here on natural wines, all fermented with wild yeasts and marked up fairly to encourage exploration, is another major perk to this larger project. Beddia, who momentarily thought about making wine instead of building this pizzeria, is a man of many creative interests. (“I don’t want to sound too bougie or anything.”) But it’s rewarding to see him express that eye for detail on this much broader canvas, from the contemporary-but-inviting design full of hand-milled woodwork (“a Danish-Japanese farmhouse vibe”) to whimsical decorations like the smiling cloud lamp floating over the bar (“it makes people smile”) to the especially well-curated (“I hate that word”) aesthetic he brought to the rest of the menu.

Pizza is obviously the star draw. But I could make a meal of that luscious tomato pie and the giant Judion beans Beddia found in Spain (imagine tender gnocchi made of sweet bean flesh, swimming in olive oil, laced with lemon zest). Or the generous wedge of Red Cat from Birchrun Hills Farm (one the best local cheeses, period). Or the sublimely creamy soft-serve ice creams spiked with Rowhouse amaro, or infused so vividly with ReAnimator espresso that I’ve almost forgiven Beddia for not serving coffee.

A salad of Tuscan kale, shaved vegetables, creme fraiche and mint at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A salad of Tuscan kale, shaved vegetables, creme fraiche and mint at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

Beddia also happens to make some of the best salads I’ve found at a local pizzeria. Each brings a clever stylized tweak — an umami splash of fish sauce for the vinaigrette with the lettuce-apple-almond salad; roasted bitter greens and focaccia bread crumbs for a subversively warm Caesar mounded over sauce riding the bottom; a similarly hidden wave of creme fraiche shaded with garlic-onion ash tucked beneath the kale, toasted pumpkin seeds, and shaved radishes. They remind you of things you’ve known, then show you how they can be better.

The same can be said for the pizzas, which triumph in updating familiar ideas with better ingredients and the modern sensibility of an iconoclast whose artisan ego has been rewarded beyond his naive pizza shop dreams. And that wide-eyed weird ambition hasn’t dimmed one bit under the lights of this wider public stage.

Beddia confessed to me a new obsession: hoagies. He’s even built a snug hidden chamber behind sliding doors at the back of this roomy pizzeria where a select group of six lucky food obsessives will get the chance to reserve weeks in advance to spend $75 per person for a “hoagie omakase.” No, he hasn’t made a single hoagie here to date. But you can bet a full eye-roll that the fans will be barreling toward little North Lee Street. Even if you can’t smell sandwiches from the parking lot, Beddia Hoagie-ria may well be the next frontier.

A slice of tomato pie from Pizzeria Beddia.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A slice of tomato pie from Pizzeria Beddia.

Pizzeria Beddia

RATING |

Excellent

1313 N. Lee St., no phone; pizzeriabeddia.com

Joe Beddia once ran a tiny corner takeout where he made the “best pizza in America” that hardly anyone could taste. He’s managed to translate that quirky artisan vision into a modern pizza palace for the masses. You’ll still have to wait an hour or more for one of the 100-plus seats (if you don’t reserve two months ahead). But the airy industrial space with patio seating and communal tables is worth the fuss, because aside from the well-curated nibbles and the bar’s compelling showcase for natural wines, Beddia’s kitchen delivers crisp-edged American pies with both original seasonal touches and refinements to familiar flavors that resonate.

MENU HIGHLIGHTS Judion beans; Cantabrian anchovies; Red Cat cheese; tomato pie; kale salad with garlic ash crème fraîche; roasted vegetable Casesar. Pizzas: #2 (seasonal greens and cream); pizza arrabiata “angry”; #4 anchovy tomato; seasonal white pie specials (ramps; asparagus, radish and lemons). Espresso soft-serve ice cream; sweet cream soft-serve with Rowhouse amaro.

DRINKS There is a small list of amari-splashed cocktails and crafty local brews from Mainstay, Tired Hands, Love City and Fermentery Form. But natural wine is the star here, with skin-contact whites on draft (Maloof) and other earthy examples from Italy (La Stoppa), France (Gaspard) and California (La Clarine) that show just how far the evolving genre of minimal intervention wines has come.

WEEKEND NOISE It’s a large and busy pizzeria, and the room can get noisy enough that it’s a challenge to hear a server speak. The front room, and outside patio, are best bets for easy conversation.

IF YOU GO Dinner nightly 5-11 p.m. (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Pizzas, $22-$25.

All major cards.

Reservations accepted two months in advance on Resy app. Walk-ins encouraged.

Wheelchair accessible.

Street and lot parking only.