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The notion of a Philadelphia pizzeria has gone through a metamorphosis in recent years, evolving from family-owned operations to dining experiences with limited reservations, small menus, and few phones.
At the center of some of the city’s most buzzed about pizza kitchens is natural wine, an additive-free libation that pairs well with sustainable kitchen operations and thick, chewy crusts.
“Natural wine is kind of in vogue,” said Pizzeria Beddia owner Joe Beddia, whose second iteration of the beloved Fishtown pizza spot has carried an extensive wine list since it opened in 2019.
But “Philadelphia is a beer town,” Beddia told Billy Penn. So to sell natural wine, he said “you have to create a market for it.”
A few more upscale pizzerias have joined the cause: Eeva, a Kensington bakery and bottle shop from the people behind Reanimator, and Sally, a Fitler Square spot from Martha co-owners Mike and Lena Parsell.
When Fishtown Social owner Vanessa Wong opened her natural wine shop in 2016, neighborhood demand wasn’t yet there, she said. There was also a standing assumption that wine is best served alongside expensive dinners.
Enter pizza. Natural wine is “laid back,” said Wong, “something to be shared … Pizza has that same feel.”
If you’re not sold by pairings based on vibes, there’s a bit of science behind the high-meets-low combo, too. Both sourdough pizza dough and natural wines rely on wild yeasts, which make those bubbly crusts and fizzy pét-nats. And the contrasting flavors sell themselves.
“A bite of pizza gets cleared up nicely by the acidity of a wine,” said Parsell, the Sally co-owner. “The brightness and juicy acidity pairs really well with a salty, oily, cheesy bite.”
Looking for specific recs? He likes La Stoppa Trebbiolo, an Italian red, paired with Sally’s red pie embellished with added stracciatella and anchovies.
Good for the environment and the taste buds
The pairing trend also is a boon for restaurant owners looking to build environmentally-friendly menus and supply chains, said Fishtown Social’s Wong, which can help bring in customers as well as just be the right thing to do.
“People want to support smaller businesses and smaller farmers,” Wong said, “not the industrial machine.”
Beddia echoed the idea: “If you’re concerned about where your vegetables are coming from, I would put the same emphasis on wine.” He likened choosing natural wine, which is free of the pesticides associated with industrial farming, to sourcing organic flour. Both can be more expensive, but also easier to trace to a sustainable source.
About that cost. Natural wines sometimes appear more pricey on menus than traditional vintages, Beddia said, but they’re often a better deal.
A traditional $12 glass of wine at a restaurant is likely coming from a bottle that costs $10 to $12 at the store, Beddia told Billy Penn, alluding to an industry standard that says the two should be about equal.
By comparison, Pizzeria Beddia’s natural wines hover around $14 per glass, but the bottles are pricier — between $15 and $28 wholesale, he said. He and other natural wine fanatics see the lower margins as a trade-off for introducing it to the customer, which really is the whole point of the pairing.
Eeva co-owner Mark Capriotti acknowledged that from afar, Philly’s natural wine and pizza scene can look expensive. At his restaurant, pies are topped with zesty gremolata, housemade stracciatella, and lots of fresh basil. They’ll also run customers just south of $20 for a 12-incher. The larger pies at Beddia run $23-$25.
But Capriotti believes enjoying a glass of Cara Sur Blanco with a hot-from-the-oven Neapolitan round can be as relaxed and unpretentious as cracking open a cold one with some takeout.
“My personal experience with wine has nothing to do with luxury,” Capriotti said. “It’s about just having fun with it.”