One of us is a snob that has a very strict definition of what pizza is: It must have gluten, tomato sauce, and cheese. One of us is a plebe that doesn’t understand why people make fun of Papa John’s. One of us thinks pizza, at its core, is really ornate bread and the term flatbread is really just fancy pizza. We went to five different Philadelphia pizza joints to try various foodstuffs that may or may not actually be pizza, despite being defined that way on the menu.


Zavino

Zavino is a perfect blend of casual and classy; nice enough for actual professional adults to go to for a business lunch, but still accessible to the humble college student that hasn't figured out what they want to do with his or her life. While pizza isn't their only (or even primary) menu item, their dedication to producing a magnificent pizza shines through in both the ingredients they choose (high gluten flour, Saporito tomatoes) and their preparation (850 degree cooking temperature, simple tomato sauce recipe). With reasonable prices for a sit–down restaurant and only a couple blocks away from Penn, there's no reason not to check it out.

Is it a real pizza?: 

Margherita (mozzarella, crushed tomato, basil–$15): 

JMN: Unequivocally. 

The Stache (whole wheat crust, pistachio pesto, mozzarella, parmesan, lemon vinaigrette, baby arugula–$18):

JMN: Unconfirmed. But it’s good as frick, so I’m not going to question it.

BS: There’s no tomato sauce, so no.

The Joey (berkshire pork sausage, mozzarella, crushed tomato, spinach, garlic, chili flakes, provolone–$17):

JMN: Yes. And lil spicy in the best way you could hope for.

BS: Yes, ma’am. 

Atmosphere:

Spacious on the inside, with pleasantly airy outdoor space. At lunchtime on a weekday, the restaurant has a mishmash of professional adults as well as college students. Overall, a very pleasant space. 

When you should eat this: 

If you have class in DRL: it’s only two blocks away and you’re going to need some incredible pizza to nourish your soul after the horrors of that building.

Go hungry and try multiple. Treat yo' self.

Ranking:

The Stache: 4/5 Margherita: 5/5 The Joey: 4/5


Indeblue

Amid a menu of savory Indian cuisine, Indeblue’s take on the classic Italian staple is the pizza gem you didn’t expect to find. Their naan pizza, a seasonal dish that is currently tabbed as a Chicken Tikka Masala pizza ($9), packs the same spice–intensive flavor one would expect from a typical Indian dish, but on a soft, naan crust. Topped with curried chicken, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, mozzarella and red chili flakes, this pizza truly had us wishing their serving sizes were a lot bigger.

Is it a real pizza?:

GH: Yup.

BS: This was a delicious, tomato–sauceless bread treat. It was not a pizza.

How was it?: 

Although there is debate surrounding the legitimacy of its status as pizza, Indeblue’s Chicken Tikka Masala creation pleasantly surprised us. The red chili flakes delivered a spicy Indian twist and complemented the other flavors without overpowering them. Similarly, we enjoyed the soft and airy texture of the naan bread, a base that defied the conventional need for pizzas to have crispier crusts. 

Atmosphere: 

The restaurant’s dim lighting and dark colors give it a sophisticated and dignified feel. Tables over, a group of middle–aged professionals were enjoying what appears to be a business lunch add to this observation.

When you should eat this: 

It’s a solid first date spot if you’re looking to go downtown. Indeblue’s small plates are reasonably priced and great for sharing.

Final thoughts: 

Sit(ar) your ass down at this Gayborhood establishment and try this pizza.

Ranking:

Chicken Tikka Masala pizza: 5/5


Bufad

A newer addition to the Spring Garden area is Bufad, a delightful intimate BYO pizza restaurant. We wouldn’t quite call this a “pizza joint”—it’s a bit too fancy for that—but the pizza is more than good enough to match your favorite New York neighborhood spot. More importantly, chef Lauren Weitman really knows her stuff. After explaining exactly what part of the pig capicola comes from and how that muscle affects the taste of the meat (New Jerseyans and fans of The Sopranos know it as “gabagool”), she drops the Capicola pie in front of us.

Is it a real pizza?:

BS: The Capicola pizza for sure was (Slow–cooked tomato sauce, braised dandelion greens, Molnari Capicola and smoked mozzarella, see pic way up top–$14). We also tried the Mushroom (Mixed wild, roasted mushrooms, asparagus and Fontina Val d'Aosta, finished with a wood-fired egg & truffle oil–$15), about which I have my reservations. It didn’t have tomato sauce, but the wood–fired egg was an incredible addition.

GH: I personally don’t think of pizza as very veggie–heavy, but by my own inclusive definition, it was a pizza.

How was it?: 

The Capicola was a little heavy, but the Mushroom was nice and fresh. Both pies had an excellent base and a fluffy crust. Bufad uses a wood–fire oven which gives the pizza a little charring on the crust and bottom, which we enjoyed a lot. 

Atmosphere: 

It was a little quiet when we went in after the lunch rush, but it’s a nice vibe: sunny, open, comfortable. This is a good place to BYO. 

When you should eat this: 

When you’re BYO–ing before a concert at Union Transfer, or feel like going to a new neighborhood that you probably haven’t walked around in before.

Final thoughts: 

We liked this place a lot, and will probably be taking up our own advice on the pre–concert meal. 

Ranking: 

These were excellent foodstuffs, we will reward them with 4.3/5 stars.


Pizza Brain

I will propose that there are two kinds of pizzas in this world: Gourmet pizza, and Other. My favorite pizza, Arturo’s in SoHo, is a Gourmet pizza. Allegro is Other. This is not to say that Gourmet is necessarily better than Other; it’s more about the level of artistry that goes into making that pie. Pizza Brain is the best Other pizza I’ve ever had.

Is it a real pizza?:

BS: Abso–fucking–lutely.
GH: Pizza in its highest form. 

Was it good?: 

Yes. We tried the Forbes Waggensense (mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, fresh basil, smoked pepperoni–$20), which is pretty consistently on “Best Pizzas in America” lists. It had a nice dense crust that was the perfect amount of crisp, and grease that was so good one of us (Genny) used the crust to mop up the liquid that had fallen on her plate. We also tried some slices of the Kira Tierston (mozzarella, smoked bacon, hint of brown sugar, red onion, oven–roasted Brussels sprouts) that were literally twice the size of Genny’s head, and just as good as they look. 

When you should eat this: 

This place is a little bit of a trip, so I recommend making a whole day out of it: get sloshed at some northeast Philly bars before walking down to Pizza Brain and drunk binging through some za. 

Final thoughts: 

Food coma.


Snap Custom Pizza

Snap Custom Pizza’s assembly-line-like system places the power of pizza creation in the hands of the customer, who chooses among a variety of toppings, meats (veal meatballs, anyone?), and even sauces. In addition to offering Philadelphians the opportunity to create virtually any pizza they desire, they do provide savory signature pies like “The Good Egg” (San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, aged provolone, sausage, spinach, eggs, red pepper chilli oil, $7.49) as well as a dessert option featuring cinnamon-saturated dough, bananas, whipped cream and the sweet, sinful goodness that is Nutella.

Is it a real pizza?:

GH: It’s a yes for me.

JMN: Hell Yes Brother.

BS: If you choose to make it a real pizza, you’re damn right it’s a real pizza. The dessert pizza wasn’t a pizza though.

Atmosphere:

Snap’s “anything goes” approach to pizza lends itself to more relaxed, casual vibes. It’s also a safe space where nobody will ever judge you for the absurd combination of toppings you choose.

When you should eat this:

Snap is perfect for a lunch date with a friend or a quick and affordable break from your Rittenhouse shopping excursion.

Final thoughts: 

Because pizza is basically synonymous with sex, we’ll say this: Experimentation is great every once in awhile when you’re figuring out what you like, but sometimes going the more traditional route can be just as good, if not better.

Ranking:

Select personal pizza (half ricotta cheese, half goat cheese, peppers, tomatoes, chicken, baby spinach): 2.5/5

Select personal pizza (The Slotkin Family Special: sweet Italian sausage, mushrooms, grilled onion, truffle oil, basil): The toppings were obviously delicious but the ingredients just weren’t quite there. 3.5/5

The Good Egg: 4/5

Dessert Nutella pizza: 4/5


Comments

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.