In Pittsburgh's South Side, on the narrow and buzzing East Carson Street, good food, drinks, and people are not hard to find. Among the plethora of stops one could make on the street, there exists a standout that provides all three of the aforementioned factors, including awesomely gargantuan pizza: Benny Fierro's.
As I strolled into Benny's, I was instantly hit by glorious pizza smells pouring out of the oven. The oven is directly behind the counter, so the scents waft around the entirety of the restaurant, but especially as one enters and approaches the counter.
Customers can watch (and sniff) the pizza being pulled out of the oven, a transformation more beautiful than a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. I was no different in this process, enchanted by the cheesy monstrosity that loomed gloriously in front of me as I walked through the doors.
However, this was not my pizza. I came in as the owner, Ryan Smith, was pulling out a perfection of a pizza for another happy customer. I had the privilege of going behind-the-scenes: I went back into the kitchen to watch my own pizza be tossed.
The employee expertly threw the UFO-esque disk of dough in the air, thinning out the perfect, giant circle. As I waited for the rest of the pizza to be crafted and cooked, I got to examine the interior and talk to Ryan about his delectable business.
The inside of the restaurant is cool: brick on one side balances a wall of contemporary artwork on the other (done by a dude called Bomb Proof, who also painted some of the other Benny's restaurants) which gives a young but legitimate pizza shop feel.
The seats include stools at the bar, long booths, and high-top chairs around the tables located in front of each window. These seats are perfect whether one wants to drink while snacking on a slice, devour a whole Benny's pizza with a group of friends, or share a meal with a date or a couple of close buds.
All of these occurrences most frequently happen in the late hours, as Ryan told me that the busiest hours at his restaurant are from one to three in the morning on weekends
Smith explained that there are more Benny's locations around the country, but Benny Fierro's is the only one of its kind in Pittsburgh. The building was a former home for Scientology. After it was vacated, Ryan Smith, a former University of Pittsburgh student, swooped in.
Upon being let go at his previous job, Smith decided to take a chance and become part of his cousin's chain of pizza shops based in Virginia. He ventured north to the Burgh and took the massive Benny's slice with him, turning a run-down building on East Carson Street into a haven for great pizza and a good time.
Benny's keeps it simple — they always have cheese, pepperoni, and sausage, as well as a couple monthly specials (October's are Buffalo Chicken and Spinach and Feta). As I sat at the round table with my accompanying photographer/pizza-feasting buddy, we awaited the 28-inch pie of glory.
The size seemed apparent to me when I looked at the wall of photos that show customers with their prized Benny Fierro's slices. However, I had no idea until the enormity was staring me in the face.
The pizza practically covered the entire table. As a nutrition-minded individual who also loves junk food, I felt like I could cry — I had chosen my cheat day correctly. Ryan cut us some slices (cheese for me, pepperoni for my photographer, Lena), placed them on paper plates (two per slice), and we dove in.
Benny Fierro's does not sacrifice quality for quantity. The slices have a crunchy, delicious, thin crust loaded with perfectly melted cheese. It tasted as good as it looks. Eating this pizza involved eye-closing "mmm"s and smiles of contentment. I wanted more even after finishing that Godzilla of pizza slices.
Whether you live in Pittsburgh or are just visiting, Benny Fierro's is a destination to have on your radar. It can be a post-drinking stop, a place to catch up and chow with some friends, or simply somewhere to fulfill your craving for some delicious pizza. You'll be met with a full experience and a fuller stomach thanks to the largest slices of pizza you've ever eaten.