2311-2313 Frankford Ave
Today marks a significant moment in not only the evolution of pizza, but for the City of Philadelphia as well. Brian Dwyer and the rest of team Pizza Brain will be opening the doors to the World’s first (and only) museum dedicated entirely to pizza. It’s not just a museum. It’s also a stylish pizza parlor where you can grab a few slices while you scope the amazing pizza artifacts strewn across the walls. Back in July of last year, The Guiness Book of World Records dubbed Brian as the owner of the “largest collection of pizza related items.” Since being crowned with the coveted title as such, the envisioning of this monumental museum was birthed. It was roughly a year ago when I first heard of Pizza Brain through the grapevine. After a simple “like” on their Facebook page, I was kept in the loop of their progression from a delapitated, boarded up, 3 story East Kensington store front to a beautiful, iconic addition to Philly’s already significant national history. If you’re looking for a simple YouTube video of a 1986 pizza hut commercial to photographs of makeup-less celebrities stuffing their faces with pizza, you’ll most likely find it somewhere on their facebook page. My pizza tattoo even made it to their “pizza ink” collection. The fact is, with the opening of a museum comprised of nothing but pizza themed collectibles just a few miles from the Doughboys’ stomping grounds, we sure as shit wouldn’t miss this party for the world.
4:00 P.M, opening day: T-minus one hour until the doors officially open to Pizza Brain. Already there’s a handful of local news media set up with their lenses focused on the front doors. I’m currently 2nd in the line of about 300-500 pizza enthusiasts, most of who are armed with steno pads and SLR cameras, all waiting to catch a glimpse and document history in the making. Being brushed shoulder to shoulder with every bushy bearded, bike riding, tattooed, skinny jean wearing hipster this side of The Delaware River was a tad bit uncomfortable for me, but definitely rewarding in the end. What’s the events scheduled for today’s grand opening you ask? Probably a combination of the most awesome and unexpected things you can possibly think of. A stringed quartet, an accordian player on stilts, a photobooth complete with a special effects green screen, firebreathers, dancing flash mobs, a rear courtyard where artists were painting a giant pizza mural. Costumed pizza freaks, tons of awesome pizza shirts and local breweries offering a taste of Philly’s finest craft beers. This is basically gonna be the world’s largest pizza party. The ribbon cutting ceremony is just about to begin. The deputy mayor of Philadelphia is on hand for the unveiling of Pizza Brain. As a lifelong resident of Fishtown, he was delighted to address the occasion. A few words he used to describe the addition of Pizza Brain to the neighborhood were “revitalization” and the “rebuilding” of Frankford Avenue. I couldn’t agree more. Brian Dwyer’s father held up a handmade card in the shape of a slice of pizza that he received from his son in 1992. It read: “I wanna own a pizza shop when I grow up. I wanna call it ‘Pizza Brian’. Because my name is Brian. And I like pizza.” Cue the entrance of the 6’5″, wild haired, brains behind this whole operation. Brian spoke about the journey from a mere idea to the museum that stood before me. I could tell that he was extremely proud of what him and team Pizza Brain had done. His eyes welled up as he ended his speech with a quote from Mother Teresa. “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” The Star Spangled Banner was then crooned in the key of a barbershop quartet by all the members of team Pizza Brain. With that, the ribbon was finally cut and history was undoubtedly made. Posters, comic books, teenage mutant ninja turtles toys, newspaper articles, vinyl records, cereal box toys, pizza related DVD and VHS boxes, nick knacks. I even seen a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter. Literally anything and everything you can imagine that dealt with the subject of pizza in the past or present is on display here. I was like a kid on Christmas morning.
If I had to describe the pizza at Pizza Brain in a single word, it would be “passionate”. I personally watched these guys post photos throughout the past few months of pizzas that they’ve been experimenting with, evolving from pizza eaters to pizza creators. They are masters of the craft and they take pride in what they do. The recipes are pulled from the depths of their hearts, and have been molded from trials and tribulations. To these guys, pizza is an art form. The dough is their canvas and the toppings are their media. They could’ve easily chosen the path of cheap cheeses and sauce and slapped together a mediocre pie to keep the visitors of the museum happy, but they decided to go a different direction. Fresh, all natural, locally sourced ingredients; handcrafted to perfection. When that first slice hits your tongue, close your eyes and think about the journey that Pizza Brain has undergone to get to this point. Think about all the sacrifices that were made to bring this wonderful building to Philadelphia. From nothing more than a penciled brainstorm in a copybook to a truly delicious pizza, I’m honored to say that I consumed a slice from the first official pie ever served to the public at Pizza Brain. After eating my za’ and photographing all the unique memorabilia, I made my way to “Little baby’s ice cream” parlor. It’s Pizza Brain’s sister shop located within the same building. I ordered myself a single scoop of their infamous pizza flavored ice cream to wash down my slice. I can’t even begin to decipher the different flavors of it but I can tell you that it tastes like I was eating an actual slice of pizza. I wouldn’t go making a banana split with it, but it was one of the most creative and innovative ice cream flavors of all time and fitting for such a special occasion. Make it a point to grab a cup of it to go. You won’t be disappointed.
I still recall the first time I laid eyes on the mummies at the Academy of Natural Sciences, the first time I walked through the giant beating heart at The Franklin Institute and the first time I seen Archie Bunker’s chair at the Smithsonian. I’m fairly certain I will never forget the first time I stepped foot inside Pizza Brain. My 2 favorite pizza keepsakes on display that stood out from everything else were the “Munchie” movie poster (a movie that I haven’t seen in at least 15 years) and the Pizza Hut walkman that I vaguely remembered owning at some point in my life. As a lover of all things pizza, I’m blessed to live in a city that is home to the World’s first AND ONLY pizza museum. In due time, it will surely become one of Philadelphia’s most sought after tourist attractions. Liberty Bell. Rocky steps. Cheesesteaks. Pizza Brain.
Even though I wasn’t as fortunate to make it to the ribbon cutting ceremony, I was lucky enough to experience Pizza Brain firsthand that following Sunday. I’ve been keeping Pizza Brain on my radar since the very beginning, and had been anxiously awaiting their grand opening. Not only were we talking about a pizzeria, but a home to the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia?! Even though it sounded too good to be true, it certainly lived up my expectations.
A lack of originality in the pizza community has been plaguing Philadelphia for far too long. The average selection of “specialty” pizzas has become dull, repetitive and redundant. Realizing the severity of the situation, Pizza Brain has worked tirelessly to break the mold and challenge the average eater to rethink the way they view pizza. Their creativity really became apparent when I glanced at their selection and placed my order on that Sunday: The “Bob Shieldsmoose” and the “Charlie Mayfer.”
The slice of “Bob” was an obvious nobrainer considering it was undoubtedly going to be unlike anything I’d ever had before. Blue cheese, mozzarella, caramelized onion, fresh garlic, cracked black pepper, horseradish, and beef brisket atop of a white pie is an incredibly stellar combination that couldn’t possibly come together without many trial and error attempts. But when they got it right, they knew they were onto something. You seriously have to read over all the ingredients on the menu to be able to single each one out, but that in itself is half the fun. (The other half obviously being able to actually eat and enjoy the pizza.) In the words of Patrick Bateman, it was “a playful but mysterious little dish.” Confirming every flavor with the menu became an engaging little game that only added to my pleasure. By the end, all the toppings had added up to form a more than memorable first slice at Pizza Brain.
Next up was the “Charlie”, a seasonal selection to honor the upcoming fall. Although I wasn’t terribly interested in this pizza when I first came in, Brian insisted on me trying and critiquing their new concoction. After all, how many places around have offered sweet potato, honey goat cheese, and brown sugar on a pizza? This was a proposition I couldn’t pass up, and I’m so glad I didn’t. This. Was. AWESOME. If ever there were a pizza fit for a dessert, this takes the cake. (Or should I say pie?) You can imagine exactly how it tasted; like a sweet potato pie and a pizza had sex and gave birth to some sort of delicious and exotic new breed.
Now although the “Charlie” would be the ideal finale for my visit, there was still one more item I had to try while I was in the vicinity. Attached to Pizza Brain is Little Baby’s Ice Cream, a parlor that serves PIZZA ICE CREAM. That’s right, PIZZA ICE CREAM. I still can’t get over it myself. After Castro attempted to describe it for me, I knew I had to give it a go myself. “Yo, it’s ice cream… but it tastes like pizza.” As absurd as it sounds, he was absolutely right. It’s ice cream that tastes just like pizza. I’m not gonna lie…it kinda weirded me out a little. But while you’re there, you’d might as well give it a try and make your own decision.
Hanging out in Pizza Brain, while scarfing down a slice and admiring their amazing collection of pizza memorabilia, was an adventure I won’t soon forget. My only regret is not getting a chance to tell the guys there how good of a job they did, on the interior and the pizza. So if Brian and the gang are reading this, job well done.