YARDLEY BOROUGH >> For Eliyahu Kheel, the new owner of Yardley Pizza, the kitchen is his stage and his customers are his audience.

“I love the art of it,” he said. “I grew up in a very artistic family. Everyone in my family plays at least one instrument. They draw, they paint, they do everything. So I knew I had to find some kind of art.

“In my entire life I never thought of food as art,” he continued. “When I started getting into it and experiencing the art form, it was like nothing else. It was better than any art I had ever tried. And I fell in love with it. I’ve done a lot of art in my life, but this stuck out like nothing else.”

Eliyahu was on his way to a career on Broadway when a few bad pizzas changed the direction of his life.

“I got into pizza making when I had the worst pizza in my life during my wedding and my honeymoon,” he said.

Eliyahu and his then fiancé, Keira, had hired a Brooklyn five-star caterer for their wedding reception. “Every time I ever had his food it was amazing. On my wedding day, everything was utter garbage. The pizza tasted like cardboard.”

The second bad pizza surfaced on their honeymoon. While at a restaurant in London, the couple was served pizza made with ketchup instead of the traditional tomato sauce.

“When I got home, I decided I was going to make my own pizza to see how it goes. And I fell in love with it,” said Eliyahu. “I spent the next five months trying to master it, learning everything I could.”

He took a master class in pizza making, spent everyday reading about pizza and attended two international pizza schools in New York - Accademia Pizzaioli for Neapolitan pizza and the Goodfellas Pizza School for New York style pizza.

“I absolutely fell in love with every aspect of pizza making,” he said.

Eliyahu put his dreams of becoming a Broadway actor and singer aside and started working at a couple different pizza shops in New York, New Jersey and later, Pennsylvania, including Caesars in Bristol. He also started making pizza out of his home for people in the community and quickly earned a solid reputation in the FaceBook group, “Pizza Justice,” which has a following of more than 6,000.

Eliyahu ended up moving to Levittown where the bulk of Pizza Justice followers live with the idea of one day opening his own place while continuing to make pizza out of his house and building his reputation for delicious pies.

His longer term goal of opening his own place happened quicker than he thought when he was contacted by Jim Verrelli, the owner of Yardley Pizza, who was looking to sell his business on South Main Street to a reputable pizza maker.

On Saturday, Eliyahu realized his dream officially cutting the ribbon on Eliyahu’s Yardley Pizza on South Main Street following a week-long soft opening

A line of customers stretched down the sidewalk as US Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, State Senator Steve Santarsiero, Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie, Yardley Borough Mayor Chris Harding, Yardley Borough Councilman Matt Curtin and David Appelbaum, president of Experience Yardley, joined Eliyahu and his wife in cutting the ribbon on the new business.

“It’s a great thing for this young couple starting out. Yardley’s a great place to make a dream come true and we wish them the best,” said Harvie.

“Yardley Pizza is an institution and it’s great to see new energy being put into this store,” said Santarsiero. “It’s going to be a delicious addition to the restaurant scene and reviving this institution is wonderful for the community.”

“Yardley has a great pizza tradition. There’s no doubt about it. And it continues to grow,” said Mayor Harding. “I’m excited for Eliyahu. To him, this isn’t another pizza shop. It’s a passion. This is his pizza shop and he’s making pizza the way he fell in love with it. We’re so excited to have him here.”

“I’ve been coming to this place for 30 years and my kids cannot wait to come here,” added Curtin.

“I’m gluten free and it’s great to have another gluten free option,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m very happy for him and I wish him well.”

“They are also bringing a food option that hasn’t been available in this town before - vegetarian pizza with vegan options,” added Appelbaum. “As Eliyahu would say, it’s not that people who eat meat won’t enjoy vegetarian pizza, it’s that everyone can enjoy pizza.”

Over the past three months, since taking over the space from Verrelli, the Kneels have renovated the space installing a new wall, new countertops, three new prep tables, a new floor, all new tables and chairs and giving the place a fresh coat of paint.

The new eatery is unique in that it specializes in vegetarian pizza with vegan options.

“We use more natural ingredients than anyone else,” says Eliyahu, citing, for example their use of Italian flour rather than the flour most pizzerias use which contains potassium bromate. “We try to keep our ingredients as clean and simple as possible. There’s no sugar in our dough or in our sauce.”

Some of his most popular pies include the Yardley Montanara, a deep-fried pizza dough topped with Margarita toppings, including tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and pecorino Romano.

“It’s unbelievable and like nothing you’ll ever taste,” said Eliyahu. “It’s inspired by a pizza that’s very famous from Naples, Italy. It’s a street food. They take it and make a little cone and eat it on the street.”

Eliyahu’s personal favorite is the Tri-Sauce Pizza, inspired by his favorite pizzeria, Joe & Pats in Staten Island. “First a light layer of tomato sauce on the bottom and it’s topped with mozzarella, oregano and pecorino Romano cheese. Then it gets our homemade vodka sauce. Then when it comes out of the oven we top it off with our homemade pesto sauce. “It’s incredible.”

He also recommends the Brooklyn pie. “That one you can get anywhere but I say we do it better than anyone else,” he said. “It’s a thicker square pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce and some oregano and garlic powder. “It’s also an incredible pie.”

The menu also includes five salad selections, including a make-your-own salad, Caesar, house, antipasto and strawberry; appetizers including mozzarella sticks, garlic knots and house made garlic bread; and desserts made by his wife, Keira, including the Ultimate Dessert, chocolate fruit pies, cannoli and tiramisu.

“Don’t be discouraged that it’s a vegetarian pizzeria,” says Eliyahu. “It’s not vegan. We use regular cheese unless you request the vegan cheese. Even the fake meats are shockingly realistic. And either way, I found that most people who go into a pizzeria they’ll order a cheese pizza, they’ll order a white pizza, they’ll order a mushroom pizza, they’ll order a tomato pie. None of those have meat. So give us a shot.”

So why vegetarian pizza?

“I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life. I’ve never eaten any meat or fish,” said Eliyahu. “I wouldn’t know the first thing about preparing it. And it just wouldn’t feel right to make a meat pizza. I wouldn’t feel like I was putting out the product that I was proudest of and truly in my heart,” he said.

Eliyahu invites everyone to stop by 20 South Main Street to experience the art and flavor of Eliyahu’s Yardley Pizza. For a mouthwatering look at some of his pizza creations, check out the store’s FaceBook (eliyahuyardleypizza) and Instagram (@eliyahuyardleypizza) pages. For information, call 215-493-6888.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eliyahu and his team have been swamped with customers and orders. Please be patient until everything is worked out. In a posting on his Yardley Pizza FaceBook page, Eliyahu reports, "We have been running out of dough nearly every day in our five hours of being open! This is unbelievable. None of the pizzerias I've worked in have come close to this. We have two pizza makers working as fast as we possibly can to keep up. If we haven't been able to answer your call or we had to reject your order, I am so sorry. Please keep trying. Hopefully things will calm down soon. If not, we will be switching to reservation only if needed. Thanks so much for all the amazing support! You guys have made our opening weekend a success beyond our wildest imagination."

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