Eeva – Philadelphia, PA
Eater has been doing a pretty cool "Best New Restaurants in America" list of late, and since I found myself with a car and no real itinerary on the east coast for two weeks, I mapped out which of the 11 spots might be on my route. Philadelphia is a thriving food city in its own right, and I was happy to see a new pizza place, Eeva, on Eater's list of the best new places in the country, and even happier to find a cover for myself between visits to two of my fave queer couples on a super gay Pride Month Saturday evening in the City of Brotherly Love (appropriate!).
Eeva's is a remarkable story of a thriving restaurant that somehow came out of the pandemic amidst the backdrop of a culinary world turned on its head. Greg Dunn, owner and head chef/baker, and his team started selling takeout-only pizzas, baked goods, and bottles of natural wine during the pandemic in the storefront next to ReAnimator Coffee on the periphery of Philly's trendy Fishtown neighborhood. In late 2021, it became clear the project had the legs to become a full-service spot, and they opened up to robust anticipation.
The back-of-house team consists of mostly bakers, so the pizza dough, a masterclass in airy sourdough, is predictably incredible. It's the toppings, though, that make the pizza so special. Focused on the best seasonal ingredients available from local purveyors, the pies celebrate the experiments of the staff. As Eater writes on their website, "The spicy Leah’s Pie, named for Leah Gotchel, Eeva’s first employee and one of its star pizzaiolas, is pasta puttanesca in pizza form, briny and rustic with capers, green olives, fresh oregano, and optional anchovies." Their pizza recipes are deeply imbedded in the tight-knit family of the restaurant, people who endured the topsy-turvy world of the service industry during the pandemic and managed to come out on the other side with one of the most exciting new eateries in the country.
Philadelphia is a city I've not yet really had the chance to explore, so I was happy to briefly walk around the buzzy environs of Eeva before my reservation, a reminder of the distinct architectural styles each of these old northeastern cities exhibit. I slid into a super chill cidery to cool off, and also strolled through a street market of local artists geared toward offering artisan goods at affordable prices. I even acquired a mug to gift my sister for her birthday!
I got lucky to be seated at the bar overlooking the pizza kitchen, right in front of the wood burning oven. Dinner and a show. Even luckier was being sat in the section of Catherine Brown, the fabulous wine director with a penchant for natural wine and chill conversation, who guided me through her stellar list and helped me pick a cocktail to start. "Fat washing" is a technique that came to prominence in mixology in the late aughts––fat is added to a spirit at room temperature and allowed to "marinate" for a while before the spirit is refrigerated and the fat skimmed off, leaving the flavor infused in the liquor. The gin for this "Eeva Spritz" was washed with olive oil and then mixed with fennel syrup and lemon before being topped off with a jammy lambrusco. Fantastic little tipple to start the evening.
"This is a bakery, so you must get the sourdough" says Catherine when I ask for recommendations for pre-pizza nosh. Baker Kate Mach clocks in at 5AM every weekend to make these nutty, fluffy sourdough loaves for the week. Paired with butter and flaky sea salt, the slices of sourdough were an excellent snack for my hungry belly, and I had plenty left over for the drive the next morning.
Eat your veggies, kids! A salad was a necessary addition to this carb-heavy meal, though this IS a bakery and the sourdough croutons added a carby element! Various herbs like dill accompanied local lettuces dressed in an effortlessly light green goddess dressing, but the sourdough croutons provided a contrasting savory crunch. I ate the whole damn thing.
Fortunately for my waistline, I was able to resist eating the whole pizza in one sitting––though the remaining slices the next morning served as ideal hangover food! Catherine recommended the seasonal "Spring Pie," graced with verdant asparagus, wild leeks, green garlic, and chives and made nice and cheesy with local cheddar, pecorino, and mozzarella. Atop were green olives, a scant but flavorful citrus glaze, and local sausage from Lancaster Farms.
The airy crust gave way easily to the teeth, revealing tender, sweet sourdough and a bouquet of fresh greens given heft with a perfect bed of rich cheeses. Meanwhile, the olives and citrus imparted a sweet and saline acidity which beckoned for another slice, and the umami and subtle spice of the sausage left a lingering weighty heat. I struggle to imagine a more well-rounded, satisfying pie.
But wait! Wine must accompany your pizza at Eeva, and Catherine should be trusted to assist in your selection. I tasted two of her recommended skin-contact wines, one from Spain and the other from Sicily, and had her pour a glass of Spanish Arién, a particularly rare grape treated with a high degree of skin contact, imparting a funky, tannic mouthfeel with exotic fruits and lingering acidity. For pizza, a practically perfect pairing.
Eeva is certainly a place worth visiting for those living in or visiting the Philadelphia metro area, and is a testament to one of the great success stories of service industry establishments coming of age during the pandemic. Make sure you give Eeva a chance should you find yourself in the area, even just for a carry-out pizza. You won't regret it!