A long time ago (last May), in a land not so far away (actually, it was here), I turned 27. I’m big on birthdays, so I knew I wanted to head into my late 20s with a treat. As you all very well know, pizza rules everything around me. So, for this special day, I took on the quite ambitious task of planning my own damn pizza crawl. To sum things up: yes, it was wonderful and satisfying and delicious and so gram-worthy. However, having lived through all the crawling and all the bites, there were some things I would have done differently. From one pizza loving lady to many others, I’m here to share what I learned.
Planning a Pizza Crawl
Before I began my planning, armed with a brain full of pizza knowledge, I knew I obviously had to do some additional research. At the time, there were no organized Philadelphia pizza crawls I could find on the internet, so I started scouring the “best pizza” lists. There are plenty of those. I made my own list and started to group the places by neighborhood. I knew I’d have a lot of friends who would be into this idea, but the size of my guest list did determine what places we could occupy, so a size check of each place (done by memory, by Philly friends, and by googling) and ability to pop in quickly with a big group was next.
Once I had a reasonable number of spots jotted down, I started plugging those babies into Google Maps to find the most efficient route. I’m sure there are programs that can figure this out for you, but this was actually a super fun step for me (#planningnerd). I searched for bars nearby, just in case we felt we needed a beverage, and added a few of them to the route as well.
To keep track of it all, I created a Facebook event, complete with the below #branding (what did you expect?). Here is what it said:
Come one, come all, and join me in celebrating my DOB with a Philadelphia pizza adventure! This crawl has been a long time in the making & I’m thrilled it’s finally coming to life. Please join me, I’d love to celebrate with you!
IMPORTANT: I know staying for the whole crawl is quite the undertaking, so I’ve provided some timing estimates for those of you who’d like to only join for a spot or two. Exact timing may change, so text me to verify our whereabouts.
The comment section on the group served as a place for people to share which stops they could make it to, which allowed me to make a reservation at Santucci’s and reserve my dough at Tacconelli’s. I gave out my cell number, checked if anyone was bringing a significant other, planned my pizza-centric outfit, and we were off.
On the night of, we ended up at four of my five planned pizza spots. I’ll share why below, but for now, let’s just focus on the pizza.
Pizza Brain (2313 Frankford Avenue)
Finding a spot for our group of 14 was a little tricky here, but we made it work. We got one pie split with the Kira Tierston (red pie, mozzarella, smoked bacon, hint of brown sugar, red onion, oven-roasted brussels sprout) and the Forbes Waggensense (red pie, mozzarella, fontina, grana padano, fresh basil, smoked pepperoni). We asked for the slices double cut so everyone could get a mini slice. This was actually the correct amount of pizza to order on a crawl, but for our first stop, it felt small. Don’t let this fool you – you’re in it for the long haul.
I love Pizza Brain’s za so much, and the Kira Tierston ended up being a few people’s favorites on the whole trip. That brown sugar and those brussels, baby. Yum.
Tacconelli’s (2604 E. Somerset Street)
Our second stop was a Philly pizza legend. It’s been around forever and is a neighborhood gem, but I had never been. You have to reserve your dough ahead of time, and when I told the lady on the phone how many people were coming, she talked me into three pies. We got the signature white pie (spinach & tomato), a Margherita pie, and a regular pie with pepperoni. The pizza was as old school as the place, super thin and authentic and definitely worth a trip. That being said, this slice didn’t make it to the top of anyone’s list (which may have been caused by something else – keep on reading, folks).
Santucci’s (655 North Broad Street)
My friends and I go to the Santucci’s in the Italian Market pretty often, but their newer spot up on North Broad is awesome. There’s always a table, the staff is super nice, and it’s the same delicious, delicious pizza. Santucci’s square pie is thick, so three pies here was likely not our best choice. We got The Works (extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, onions), Veggie Works (extra cheese, spinach, broccoli rabe, green peppers, mushrooms, onions), and a sausage (my usual go-to).
One of the goals of my crawl was to test my loyalty to Santucci’s. It’s my tried-and-true and I take a lot of pride in calling it my #1 pizza pick. After this crawl, I am happy to report that Santucci’s remains my #1, and was the favorite of the majority of the crawlers. It’s just the best.
SliCE (1740 Sansom Street)
Many years ago, at an event promoted by my friend Kory Aversa, I saw my first pizza cake. It was pizza slices, stacked on top of each other, in the form of a cake. I was instantly smitten, but since the cakes are specially made by SliCE, I wasn’t able to get my hands on one until this day. The owners at SliCE are the best, and they so generously made me up a Pepperoni Pizza Cake, for which I stuck my own animal print candles in to make a wish. We were so full by this point, but the cake was amazing. You can special order these cakes from SliCE, too, and it should definitely be on your bucket list.
Along with any new experience comes some lessons learned. Here are my top tips, tricks, and #fails.
What I would have done differently
- I tried to give time estimates for people who didn’t want to do the entire crawl. This was hard to predict, with factors like traffic, weather, and wait times. In the future, I would just encourage everyone to join for the whole thing to save on coordination/stress.
- Since we were only going to four places, and our group was huge, there was a sense we should be ordering more than a pie or two at each spot. This, naturally, made us pretty full by the end of the evening.
- The majority of my friends live in Center City, and we started way up in Fishtown. I’m not actually sure if I would have started us at the closest spot, but getting everyone up to Pizza Brain to start did make timing pretty hard.
What flat out went wrong
- It rained. A lot. 🙁
- The biggest snag (that I hinted at above) was this: I had never been to Tacconelli’s before this night. I asked a few people, and didn’t get a sense we’d be waiting too long. I called weeks in advance, reserved my dough, called a few days before to confirm all was good and give my final count (it was 14). When we arrived, there was some confusion over where we were going to be seated, and we waited over 90 minutes to get a table. Though my friends were so great about it, I felt unprepared and we had to skip an entire two places (Pizzeria Vetri and Barcade) to make up for the time lost. It was . . . a bummer.
What worked well
- Everyone. likes. pizza!
- When playing around with the route, I found the coolest thing from Google, My Maps. Have you guys heard of this? It allows you to make interactive, custom maps and share them. I was even able to add little pizza icons to each spot, which obviously pleased me greatly. This helped me and my guests visualize our plan for the evening.
- A Facebook group was really the best option to organize the guest list. Just make sure your Book-less buds are in the loop!
- I knew I wanted the majority of the places we visited to be BYOB to save on cost. But because I knew we’d be moving around, I wanted to give people options to stock up along the way. Picking spots and calling out the bottle shops nearby was key.
- Most importantly: I hosted a fun, super unique, and special event for so many of my best friends and family. It was a night I’ll truly never forget, and has served as my “fun fact” on dating profiles, blogger meetups, and work icebreakers. There’s nothing more “me” than a pizza crawl in Philadelphia, and I’m so glad my friends indulged me and crawled right along with me.
Did I miss anything? Let me know and I’ll be happy to answer! In Pizza We Trust! xx