Some say that dining out is all about the experience. Well, not many eateries can offer you the experience of a famous museum. Welcome to Pizza Brain. On the Fishtown-Kensington border of Philadelphia, Pizza Brain is the world’s first pizza museum — with an artisan pizzeria attached — and is home to the world’s largest collection of pizza-memorabilia (as certified by Guinness Records). The walls, ceilings, floors are all adorned with pizza artifacts (comic books, magazines, vinyl record album covers and more) featuring plenty of pop culture icons (such as Domino’s Noid, The Simpsons, Bo Jackson, and of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). They even share a space with Little Baby’s Ice Cream (who we profiled years ago here on CCM). There are numerous articles covering this eccentric pizza shop (read one of our favorites here), but who actually bakes the pies at such a destination pizzeria? Meet Daniel Gutter, the pizza man/pizza maker who’ll you often find spinning pizza dough high in the air behind Pizza Brain’s counter. Gutter (who prefers being called simply by his last name) was raised in the Delco (Delaware County, Pennsylvania) area, and even when he focused his studies on criminal justice, he knew that his passion was pizza — even making/experimenting with new pizza recipes at home just for fun before landing a job at Pizza Brain. I met Gutter through a mutual friend, who also works at Pizza Brain, where we talked about craft beer, pizza and more. Recently we caught up and chatted over some slices, and we’re honored to have Pizza Brain’s pizza man Daniel Gutter share his (Chocolate Covered) Memories with us …
How did you end up in this niche of the industry?
I was working on a grant that was about to expire, and I knew I needed to have something else lined up. My focus then was criminal justice, but I knew my passion was with pizza. I sent Pizza Brain a bunch of pictures, through Facebook, of pizzas I had made at home. The timing was right, and I started working here just a month or two after they opened up over three years ago now.
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
My first job was cleaning a butcher shop and lasted about a month. I made pizza at Cocco’s Pizza on Woodland Avenue (Springfield, Pennsylvania) all through high school.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
I think cereal was the first food I loved, but I when I was 3 years old, we moved from the city to the ‘burbs and I remember eating pizza on the floor of the new house with no furniture.
What foods remind you of childhood? What were your favorite foods growing up?
I loved peanut butter when I was a kid, and I still do. My sister Erica and I had a pretty elaborate sliding scale for rating chicken fingers based on breading, dipping sauce and fries. But mostly either my mom or dad cooked every night when I was a kid.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
This time last year I got to go to Beijing to help open up a pizzeria in a craft brewery. The owners were visiting the States and swung by Pizza Brain. We hit it off, and I was hired as a consultant to fly over and teach their staff how to make pizza — from making the dough to cooking the pies. Not speaking Chinese, I had to use a whole lot of nonverbal communication, but they picked it up quickly.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I don’t care for eggs. I like them in baking, but other than that, I can’t stand them. My grandmom used to serve hard boiled eggs in salt water, and I think that turned me off to all eggs forever. People would then mash the eggs up in the salt water and eat them with a spoon. People still try to convert me, and I can’t do it.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult?
Favorite snack to eat outside is probably peanuts. You don’t have to worry about where the shell is gonna’ go. You are free to just crack it and enjoy. Same for pistachios. I do like eating outside. Philadelphia has a good public park system in my opinion. Lots of nice places to eat outside, and I think the vibe has a lot to do with your perception of the food or drink your consuming. Beers and snacks always taste better in front of a fire or on the water.
What do you think of the modern, big-business pizza world? Do you eat such pizza (like Domino’s, Papa John’s, California Pizza Kitchen, etc)?
I don’t eat pizza like that, but mostly because I eat all the pizza I want from myself all week. I would eat it though if it was in front of me right now. My dream right now is to just do regular neighborhood pizza but do it really well. Nothing fancy — just high quality ingredients — but normal.
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden and Starbucks, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers)?
I always ask people where they shop at, “Whats your go to market?” Port Richmond Thriftway Market is what I am using right now, and it’s decent. Independently owned, they sell beer, they have the best Utz Selection and Kreider Farms Dairy. I try and stay away from anything like Starbucks or Olive Garden. I don’t have anything against them. I just don’t have that much money to spend, and I’d prefer it went somewhere I like.
What family recipes do you want to share with us?
We were trying to make a pie using Brussels sprouts at Pizza Brain. I was reminded of a dish my mom used to make frequently when I was growing up — roasted Brussels sprouts, bacon, red onion and balsamic vinegar. We decided to use brown sugar instead of the balsamic at Pizza Brain, and we call the pie Kira Tierston. Kira is my sister’s name, and the “tier” in “Tierston” is a play on the tears you get from cutting red onions. Here’s a variation of the pie that I make at home, including my homemade dough. Enjoy my mom’s Brussels sprouts & bacon pizza!