Mainstream food culture likes to pit New York-style and Chicago-style pizza against one another, and while they duke it out, I’ll be over here in lil ol’ Connecticut with the best pizza of them all: New Haven-style. Certainly more akin to the thin crust of its neighbor state than the deep-dish classic of the Windy City, New Haven-style pizza – known affectionately as “apizza” – is baked like traditional Neapolitan-style pizza in a coal-fired brick oven. Its signature haphazardly-cut slices and blistered, charred crusts originated in the 1920s at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria, according to Connecticut’s Office of Tourism. Synonymous with New Haven-style pizza is the restaurant’s similarly famous white clam pizza. Since then, multiple pizza parlors in the historic Wooster Street – also known as the state’s “Little Italy” – have opened in the apizza name, vying for the most delectable slice of cheese, sauce and dough. Here are my thoughts on a few of those illustrious establishments.
I know I can’t discuss New Haven pizza without mentioning Sally’s, but I don’t want to. Opened by Pepe’s nephew Salvatore Consiglio in 1938, the restaurant bakes pies in the coal-fired oven fashion to follow in the footsteps of the source. The similar no-frills offering of classic toppings has them consistently compared to Pepe’s famous pizza, enough so that they are said to be engaged in a “legendary rivalry,” but to this humble food fan, Sally’s will forever pale in comparison to the original on all fronts.
Sure, their tomato pies are good when evaluated on their own, but my sister and her friends had an unpleasant experience there that isn’t worth any more of our business. Long story short, a rude and disrespectful server continually dismissed them, didn’t let them order another pizza on account of “other customers waiting for the table” despite them not even being there for an excessive amount of time and shooed them out because they were on their phones while waiting for the bill to come. Well, if you wanted them to leave so much, I guess we won’t return.
Right around the corner, this State Street staple has gained a following of its own since opening its welcoming doors in 1934. They put a successful spin on the original style by baking with an open flame that makes for a more substantial dough to carry a bounty of toppings. Thanks to the pizza’s constitution and a menu that offers some less classic toppings and specialties (calzones, eggplant, tuna, etc.), I feel more inclined to order different combinations than I normally would at, say, Pepe’s, where I like to stick to my typical order. It’s nice to have something different every once in a while and Modern never disappoints with their solid balance of ingredients.
Being in New Haven, a poppin’ night scene is a must for the surrounding college community (except for maybe now, considering the restrictions). The atmosphere of an eclectic industrial design is part of the experience with a cool backroom, a solid selection of drinks (house-brewed beer being one of them) and a unique mashed potato pie you certainly can’t find at any of the other classic establishments. However, without the full experience of the fun atmosphere, the flimsy, under-baked dough flops. I really wanted to like Bar more than I did; however, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there was nothing really redeeming about the actual food. Points for the cool toppings, though.
I’m always one for appreciating people’s improvement on a classic, but Pepe’s still reigns supreme for me. Never mind the constant line, tables crowded with pizza pans and less than comfortable seating – those are all part of the charm of the restaurant trying to stay true to their original location. The eatery’s attention to detail over their decades of operation is what allows them to continue to produce such quality food. From the perfect crispiness of the dough to the fresh and tangy sauce to the generous portioning of toppings, all of the components work together to produce a harmonious pizza. They’re famous for their original tomato pie, which is quite delicious even if you’re a cheese lover, as well as their white clam pie, which actually isn’t my favorite, but still deserves an order once in a while to satiate a citrus-y, salty seafood hankering. Bask in the glory of the margherita pizza with creamy slices of mozzarella, herby basil and that flavorful sauce. For something more decadent, a tomato pie with melty, slightly oily, mozzarella cheese and bacon will certainly do the trick.
Rating: 9.5/10 (Hey, there’s always room for improvement!)
Honorable mentions (to CT pizza places that aren’t necessarily New Haven-style but are still in my line-up): Half Moon Cafe (Wallingford), Colony Grill (multiple locations), Blaze Pizza (multiple locations, but a Storrs Center go-to!)