The Maestro’s Take – Pizza Brain, Philadelphia

I was out of town for the last couple of months and while I ate (at least) one pizza a week, it wasn’t until the end of my trip that I was inspired to write about it. Mostly that’s because the Doc and his girl came out to the East Coast to see me do my thing, so we had a chance to be united in our greatest common interest again. Pizza. At first we were going to try Pizzeria Beddia, billed to us as one of the greatest Pizza joints in Philly. Philly itself is a fascinating city that deserves repeated visits. I can’t even begin to describe how it was simultaneously comforting and weird. Comforting in that it reminded me of just about every aspect of growing up in an almost exclusively Italian-American community. Weird in that it reminded me of just about every aspect of growing up in an almost exclusively Italian-American community.

But Pizzeria Beddia was closed. The same friend who recommended it also recommended Pizza Brain, which had “America’s oldest pizza museum.” The doc is a huge fan of bizarre local things, and “pizza museum” is a concept tailor made for him. It was a pretty crappy day, weather wise, and for a Saturday afternoon it wasn’t nearly as packed as I thought it would be. This could just be my impression of Philly, but one of the things that I love about it is that everything is seemingly local. I didn’t see a Dominoes or a Papa John’s or a Pizza Hut at all. I did see LOTS of local pizza joints though, and they all looked amazing.

Pizza Brain is a two room operation with very limited seating, but like I said it wasn’t that packed. There is an ice cream shop attached to it which is where we sat. I ordered a “Forbes Waggensense,” and I think the Doc got the “Jane.” The pizza itself was very thin. I kind of like it though in the beginning when it’s so hot that everything is kind of falling off of it, and you have to scoop the cheese and pepperoni back onto it before burning the roof of your mouth.  I remember specifically skipping breakfast because I wanted to hog out on pizza, and it did not disappoint in that department. There was simply too much for me to eat all in one sitting, so we boxed it up and brought it with us go-karting (another entry for another time), but I remember being able to enjoy the pizza, while also fiercely missing Chicago pizza. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best pizza for me is not deep dish or thin crust, but rather something in between. The cheese should ideally encapsulate all the goodness and be a structural part of the pie, not just a topping. So it was good, but I missed Chicago. They did have some delicious ice cream in a truly small size (like thimble size) cup, and that alone was worth the trip.

What to say of the pizza museum? Well, it was more like pictures on the wall of pizza being made at the turn of the century. There were some placards with old timey information on pizza making, and I’m told that there was a basement that had even more attractions. But like all things that aren’t pizza that are designed to get you to a pizza place, the real reason to go is the pizza.

If the Doc enjoys seeing me do my thing, I enjoyed seeing him do his thing. His thing is that he really likes people and enjoys how they interact; and he enjoys watching them and talking to them. He has struck up conversations with people in the most unlikely places. And they’re always joyful conversations. He could be at an airport car rental desk at 2 in the morning and he’s always cheerful and excited to talk to new people. Most of the time I think people think that he’s putting them on. Like who in heck could ever want to talk to a stranger like this?

But it makes me fondly remember my grandmother who also had the gift of making friends with strangers. On a trip back to Italy one year she got lost in Pisa (itself an impressive feat), and she met a couple who lived there, Alfa and Dante. Years later after my grandmother passed away I met them and stayed in their house in Pisa. They told me stories about my grandmother that I never knew. She was always nonna to me, and that role in my life as a first born male child consisted pretty much of spoiling me as only an Italian grandmother could. It wasn’t until much later that I thought of what it must have been for her to be a young woman (see below). Alfa and Dante told me that she loved to go to the beach. Dante said, with no small twinkle in his eye, that lei amava ballare.

Dance? As a kid it was hard to imagine my nonna dancing, but when I look back at what she looked like as a beautiful young woman it really wasn’t that hard to believe:

 

nonna

Even though I don’t remember her like this, I do remember that she was the kind of person who could strike up a conversation anywhere, with anyone.

So yes, this is a roundabout way of saying that the doc reminds me of my grandma. Unpack THAT one, doc!

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