No trip to Connecticut is complete without trying some New Haven-style pizza at least once. Known as Apizza (pronounced a-beets) among Italian-Americans in Southern Connecticut, New Haven pizza is beloved by Connecticut residents, many who consider it to be the epitome of pizza.
Skeptical? Check out this review from the Paupered Chef: “I grew up in New Haven, I moved away from New Haven over 37 years ago, I have never found pizza any where in the world as great, as New Haven, APIZZA. I wish they could duplicate it in San Diego, but that would be asking for too much.” I think that comment pretty much sums up the devotion people have to this style of pizza.
According to Wikipedia:
“American pizzerias generally consider a plain pizza to be crust, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. In a New Haven-style pizzeria a “plain” pizza is crust, oregano, and tomato sauce with a little bit of grated pecorino romano cheese sprinkled on. Mozzarella is considered to be a topping; a customer who wants it must ask for it.
What sets New Haven-style pizza apart from other styles is its thin crust. Brick or occasionally high temperature gas oven cooking bakes the crust to a very crispy shell (often burnt black in spots, desirably known as “the char”) but leaves the inside soft.”
There are quite a few places in New Haven that people swear by, but it seems to me that the three locations that are consistently recommended for classic New Haven pizza are Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (often referred to as Pepe’s Pizza; founded 1925), Sally’s Apizza (founded in 1938) and Modern Apizza (founded in 1934).
There is a fourth place I am frequently ordered to visit, BAR, a more contemporary restaurant. I have been to Pepe’s many times, tried Modern once, and Sally’s and BAR are on my to-do list. There is a bit of a rivalry between Pepe’s and Sally’s over who has the better apizza; each restaurant having a very loyal customer base. One of the things I like is that many of the New Haven-style pizzerias serve Foxon Park soda, a local company in East Haven.
Be Prepared to Wait
Just a bit of warning, there is usually a very long wait (up to an hour) in line to be seated. I’ve read that it’s because the original ovens can only hold so many pies at a time, so it inevitably slows down the service. Regardless of the reviewers’ experiences with the long wait, do NOT let that discourage you from trying it out. There is a reason that people are willing to wait in line for so long. People go for the food and nothing else.
This review will be about Pepe’s since it is commonly accepted that this is where this style of pizza originated. As the Yale Herald claims, “In the early years of the 20th century (the Pizza Legend goes) Frank Pepe immigrated to New Haven, where he created the first American pizza by putting tomatoes on top of old bake-shop bread. His creation was so successful that in 1925 Pepe opened his first pizzeria on Wooster Street. By 1938, business was booming, the whole family was involved, and Pepe’s nephew Sal Consiglio split off and opened his own pizzeria, Sally’s. Soon, Pepe had moved out of his original store, now called The Spot, and opened a larger restaurant. Sally’s and Pepe’s remain locked in their Wooster Street rivalry today, two blocks apart.”
When Frank Pepe began making his “tomato pies” on Wooster Street in the early 1920s, the only varieties were “plain” and “marinara” (tomato sauce, grated cheese, and anchovies). The “White Clam Pie” was invented at Pepe’s, and has become one of the things Pepe’s is best known for.
I went for a visit last week with a few friends and we decided to go to The Spot, which is the original Pepe’s building that is in the parking lot just behind the current building. The Spot seems to attract fewer people with its smaller sign and being located some feet back from the street, so I have always gone there, which by a great stroke of luck has always allowed me to be seated immediately! Keep in mind, both these buildings are owned by the same people and pizzas are cooked in the same manner so there isn’t any difference between the buildings.
For this current visit we ordered a small Mozzarella Pie, a medium Margherita Pie, and a small White Spinach and Gorgonzola Pie. I’ve ordered their famous White Clam Pie before but, while extremely delicious, it is a bit too salty for the cravings we had that night.
When we received the pies they came delivered on top of sheets of paper on rectangular baking sheets. The tables are cramped to begin with so having ordered three pies, we found ourselves very tight on space. This was not any cause for concern though, as most people eat directly over the baking sheets instead of making room for their plates. This is perfectly acceptable at Pepe’s.
When first being presented the pizza, don’t be fooled by it’s less than glamorous appearance. The pizza is usually not very circular, with slices made up of all shapes and sizes. Upon taking just one bite of the pizza, any morsels of doubt you have will be knocked right out of you. The crust is crispy and dark but not burnt at all. All three are packed with flavor from the sauces and seasonings, which is possibly thanks to the economical use of cheese. You will likely find yourself using several napkins as they tend to be a bit messy and you will find it difficult to stop eating.
Everytime I go to Pepe’s, it is not simply a trip to get some food; it is an event. My friends and I always thoroughly enjoy our experience and there is never any question of a return trip because we know that soon enough our cravings will come back in full swing until they are satisfied once more by Pepe’s pizza.
Pizzas to Try at Pepe’s
- Margherita Pie: This classic pie of tomato, basil, and (light) mozzarella cheese is one of our all-time favorites fro Pepe’s. On top of being delicious, it’s a great way to indulge in a tasty treat without feeling supeer guilty. Light cheese means healthy, right?
- Original Tomato Pie: This is the very first kind off pizza served at Pepe’s way back when they opened in 1925. It’s as simple as it sounds: A thin crust with a hefty serving of thick, wonderfully flavored tomato sauce and a thin grating of Parmesan cheese.
- White Clam Pie: Again, this is one of those pies that Pepe’s is famous for, but whether or not it’s something you opt for would, I suppose, depend on whether or not you like seafood. This is a white pie made with olive oil, grated cheese, clams, fresh garlic, and oregano. It can be extremely salty, so you may want to order a pitcher or beers if you opt to try it.
In the Mood for Dessert?
After this trip, my friend recommended that we stop at Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop (Founded in 1922 and located about a block away from Pepe’s on Wooster Street) for some pastries because she had been there before and needed someone else to enjoy it as much as she did. I stopped in and was a bit overwhelmed by the number of flavors of cannoli but I managed to settle on a peanut butter cannoli.
I have to say that I was a bit too full to eat it after the three pizzas so I brought it home to eat later, but once I ate it I enjoyed every bite. Tim bought (and devoured) a cannoli-filling filled cream puff, and his cousin swears by the chocolate mousse. Many people consider a trip to Libby’s mandatory after eating at Pepe’s or Sally’s, so why not make your New Haven pizza experience complete by finishing it off with a delicious pastry?
Libby’s only takes cash so keep that in mind before ordering.
If You Want To Go
Pepe’s Main Building
157 Wooster St, New Haven
Sunday – Thursday
11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Friday – Saturday
11:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Editor’s Note: Every so often the ovens at the original Pepe’s need to be maintained, which leads to closure of the main building. If you were almost 100 years old, you’d probably need some maintenance too! Luckily, The Spot is only about 25 feet away, right next door.
Pepe’s The Spot
163 Wooster St, New Haven
Friday 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Saturday 1:00 PM –
Sunday 1:00 PM –
Closed Monday – Thursday
237 Wooster St, New Haven
Tues-Thurs, Sunday. 5-10pm
Editor’s Note: Sally’s is currently being transitioned to new owners, so the building is closed until that transition is complete.
874 State St, New Haven