Editor's note: This piece was originally published in March 2008, when Tacconelli's was once again riding a wave of national acclaim. This week, the Port Richmond institution rose once again (in what feels like an increasingly competitive field) to be one of Food & Wine's Best Pizza Places in the U.S., alongside another Philly pizzeria, Pizzeria Vetri.
BY JOEY SWEENEY
You’ve heard the drooling tales. You’ve read the gushing press. If you’re lucky, you’ve even tasted for yourself. But on the occasion of Tacconelli’s being named one of America’s Ten Best Pizzerias by Forbes Magazine, our esteemed editor, a lifelong consumer of the Somerset Street pie, lays out in no uncertain terms how it’s done, and why it’s done. For it must be done.
HOW TO ORDER AT TACCONELLI’S: A TUTORIAL
Hi, everybody. Sweeney here. Throughout my life, I have had the great fortune of never going more than a few months without a Tacconelli’s pizza; in fact, though it’s impossible to prove, it may have been the first pizza I ever consumed. It’s odd to think about it now that it’s become one of the most celebrated pies in the world, but back in the 1970s, Tacconelli’s actually delivered: They had a little blue pickup truck with a stamped aluminum box in the back that kept pies piping hot as they were delivered all around what I can assure was an entirely different, though no less wayward and magical, Philadelphia.
And my mother’s side of the family, the Tunos, even then had been customers for a few generations. Nearly everybody of a certain age in my clan can recall picking up pizzas while Grandma Tacconelli literally did her ironing (there seemed to be much of it) just outside the kitchen while she took orders on the phone. Tacconelli’s is stamped into our DNA, and we never veer far from the place or the simple truth that no pizza is as good as this. None. Thus, we celebrate holidays here as well as birthdays or welcome home parties for our farther flung family members.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about Tacconelli’s, and I’m happy to share them with you here. As you’ve probably read, one of Tacconelli’s strong suits is the 20′ by 20′ brick oven constructed by Giovanni Tacconelli himself after he had the bricks brought over from Italy. This oven is long and narrow, and accounts for the very limited amount of pies the pizzeria can make each day; there’s only so much space, and there’s only so much time. But this is only part of the story: The Taconelli dough is particular to itself as well, as is the sauce and cheese. Tacconelli’s achieves pizza perfection by a nearly miraculous symbiosis of ingredients, equipment and tradition.
Every so often, I’ll run into someone who has gripes with Tacconelli’s. They’ll opine that limited number of pies is some kind of Soup Nazi racket. They’ll say that the long wait you sometimes experience is because some customers get treated better than others. They’ll complain about the toppings or the bubbles on the pizza. It’s all nonsense. Don’t listen to them. Follow these simple rules when approaching Tacconelli’s, and you’ll never once look back in anger. To wit:
1. Observe the 11am rule. This is the time each day when Tacconelli’s begins taking orders for that night and further into the future. You must call early in the day to assure your order. Like I’ve said, there’s only so much time and so much space. Can you get lucky sometimes and ring them up an hour before you’d like your pie? You can, and I have. But if it’s close to any holiday or major Philadelphia event (Eagles games, etc.), CALL AHEAD. AT 11AM THAT MORNING IF AT ALL POSSIBLE.
2. Always over-order. My Aunt Diane is crazy: She reserves about one pie per person when making a reservation. But there is a method to her madness: You always come home with leftovers, and unlike some other pizzas, Tacconelli’s is the gift that keeps on giving. But here’s a more realistic ratio: 3 pies for every four people. This is a little bit of overkill, as it moves on the assumption that everyone at the table will eat more than an entire half of a pizza, but you’ll thank yourself later.
3. Bring a cooler, stocked. The only liquids Tacconelli’s serves are soda pop and water, and this is the kind of experience you’re going to want to celebrate a little, so bring some sauce. While some bring wine, and some bring microbrews, believe it or not, there is nothing finer to go with this pie than an ice cold Miller Lite. We could argue about this for days, but the point is, bring something.
4. Approach what could be an hour-long wait with absolute zen. Remember the whole “so little space/so little time” trope? This affects your wait time as well. Don’t blame your server. She is a nice lady. And there is nothing you can do about it, and neither can she. You brought some booze, didn’t you? Have a drink. Relax. You’re going to be here for a while.
5. Observe the quadra-deity of pies. This may prove to be controversial, but there are four distinct pies that are the high watermark of Tacconelli’s; these are the pies for which life is worth living. To eat them is to feel nearly one hundred years of the Italian-American experience coursing through your veins. They are as magical and sublime as the deep baritone of Frank Sinatra or the teenage smile of Annette Funicello. They are much of what has made this country great. But before we list them, a word of warning: A few years ago, perhaps feeling the jaundiced strains of self-gentrification, Tacconelli’s added a Margerita Pie to their menu, a traditional crust with fresh basil and fresh mozzerella. Now, we’ve tried it, it’s quite good, but we must inform you: This is something we do not recognize as a legitimate Tacconelli’s pie. It’s something there to appease the PhillyMag crowd. It is tokenism at its worst. Because the following four pies are as sacred as these truths which we hold to be self evident:
- Plain White Pie: no toppings, no sauce, just garlic and cheese.
- Red Pie with Sausage: only the finest crumbled Maglio sausage will do.
- Plain Red Pie: for it is divinity itself.
- White Pie with Spinach and Tomatoes: a little frou-frou, perhaps, but it shuts the vegetarians up and makes the girls really happy.
So there it is. With that, I bid you peace, and to our friends at Tacconelli’s, we say congratulations. You are giants among men, and quite easily, Port Richmond’s proudest export.