Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Ever been to Dinardo's? I didn't think so. Unless you're a baby-boomer you're more than likely blissfully unaware of it's 30+ year presence on Race street in old city. They were around before Vetri and Garces had even walked into a culinary school kitchen.  They were around before Staar bought his first property. And if you walk through the doors you will realize that not much has changed since they first opened.

I have recollections from my childhood of my father walking through the front door with a tray of crabs on a Friday night, dumping them on the newspaper lined kitchen table  and my parents going to town with bowls of melted butter at the ready. I remember being slightly dismayed watching the crabs being dismembered and then delighted when I would get a piece of the buttery meat. It was such a spectacle. When I saw a Groupon pop up advertising $75 worth of seafood for $35, I figured it was worth a gamble.

Now I have to say, the food wasn't terrible. But it wasn't exactly great either. It was more like a trip to Red Lobster than the fresh tastes of Sansom StreetOyster or Luke's Lobster or even Route 6. Just about everything comes broiled, stuffed or fried. That's pretty much the extent of their culinary repertoire.  Straight out of 1974, each plate is served with an enormous piece of lettuce as a "garnish". 

The crab appetizer was a highlight. Massive hunks of crab meat piled high with a lemon wedge and a decent cocktail sauce. They definitely don't skimp on portions here. This would be an entrĂ©e size serving at any place not in the suburbs. Garlicky crabs were also tasty, even if there were a bit on the small side. The pool of garlic butter they are floating in though is a recipe for disaster with anything resembling a decent shirt. They should serve this with a side of club soda and a Tide-to-Go stick. 

Stuffed mushrooms were filling. That's about all I can say. The bready/crabby stuffing was like a bad crab cake and the mushrooms had a strange rubbery consistency that is anything but appetizing. A squirt of lemon juice is not going to save them. The fried platter is just that - every reasonably healthy piece of seafood on the menu, breaded and fried into oblivion. I wish I could tell you there was a taste difference between the scallops, shrimp flounder & crab cake, but I'd be lying. The menu claims the french fries are "Award Winning". They were pretty much just normal fries. The side of broccoli was pretty tasty though, and it was nice to see something green other than the lettuce garnish. 

Sadly, Dinardo's days as a seafood destination have long such passed. The restaurant renaissance of the last 15 years has gone largely unnoticed here. The floors are carpeted. Adorning the walls are nautical themed decorations - think fishing tackle, nets, and fake seagulls. The best beer they have on tap is Yuengling.  The smell of frying oil permeates everything. The servers are nice enough, but none of them are under 50. I'm pretty sure they were here when my dad was buying crabs in '87.

This is not fine dining - and maybe I should not have expected that. It's more reminiscent of the overpriced seafood houses down the shore that you grew up eating at. If you fry it, they will come. I do have to give them some props for keeping the lights on and a steady crowd of customers coming through the door.  Like La Buca off Washington Square, this place is a dinosaur that has managed to stick to it's guns and still turn a profit.  Three decades on, that is something impressive on its own. Wonder if Route 6 will still be serving blue fish dip in 2043?

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

312 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pizzeria Beddia

Yummy, yummy, yummy I've got love in my tummy, and a fire in the hole.  On our latest quest across the city for the best pizza, Pizzeria Beddia has taken the lead. According to the rankings it scored nearly perfect marks in all categories (in case you've forgotten: crust, toppings, cheese, sauce, overall).  It is the smallest of joints. Tucked away just east of Johnny Brenda's on Girard, you'd pass by it a dozen times until someone pointed it out.

The interior is minimalist and squeaky clean. Not what you would normally expect from your neighborhood pizza place. There is only one oven and just two employees. There is no phone. There is barely a website. They are only open Wednesday to Saturday.  They serve only whole pies. There are two tables, but no chairs. Beddia makes Tacconelli's look accommodating.

The pies are made one at a time. By hand. With incredible, locally sourced ingredients and with an attention to detail that makes the wait worthwhile. With just one guy cooking and one small oven,  Beddia is not built for speed. Be prepared to kill 30 mins or up to 1-1/2 hours waiting for your pizza, based on the backlog. Walk next door to JB's and grab a pint or two. But dare not ruin your appetite.  

The night we stopped in, the wait was no more than 30 minutes and we were able to get our own table. We really hit the jackpot. There are horror stories on Yelp about people waiting hours. These same people said it was the best pizza they've ever had, but wouldn't bother coming back. Tourists.

They only had three pies on the menu - plain, cream & roasted corn, and arrabbiata. They are all reasonably priced around the $20 mark, considering what you get. The classic plain gives you the option of adding a variety of toppings. Per pizza challenge rules, we went old school with just the tomato, mozzarella, old gold & olive oil to get a sense of their standard. We also tried the angry arrabbiata with a layer of tobasco peppers under the cheese, and pickled peppers on top.  They are not kidding about the angry.

This is the best crust I've had. This is better than pies we had in Italy. It is at once crispy and toothy. It abounds with subtle flavor and perfect burnt blisters. It is sturdy enough to hold up to the toppings but still presents that great chew. The simple toppings are elusively deceptive. The key is the quality here - incredibly fresh mozzarella, deeply rich tomato sauce, the old gold aged cheese for a nutty contrast to the luscious, nearly sweet mozzarella, and that drizzle of zippy extra virgin olive oil giving you a nice kick in the back of the throat.

The closest thing I could compare this to is John's Pizzeria in NY. Nothing else like this in Philly - at least that I've found yet. Tacconelli's crust is similar, but so much more garlicky. This is an exercise in flavor restraint, letting them combine into a whole that is vastly greater than the sum of its parts. After the first bite, there was a noticeable hush over the group - we knew we had something special in front of us.

The angry arrabbiata  with its peppers under and over the cheese is not for children or those adverse to a bit of heat. It is angry my friend - like an old man trying to return soup at a deli.  It's a nice slow burn though - nothing smacking your taste buds around. You can still pick up all the delicate flavors of that crust, cheese & tomato. Your nose will be running a bit after two slices though.  Be prepared with kleenex.

With little to no fan fair, Pizzeria Beddia is putting out the best pizza in the city. Talking with the chef, it doesn't seem like he is in this for notoriety or even profit. He just honestly loves pizza that much. He is an artist back there, working his creative magic with sauce and dough. We haven't finished our challenge by a long shot yet, but I don't see much of a chance of this pizza being beat out. So make the effort, put your name in for a pie, wait your turn, stand and eat. You may not think of pizza the same way again.

Food Baby Rating:  Triplets! 

Pizzeria Beddia
115 East Girard (at Frankford Ave.)
Philadelphia, PA 19125