Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pizza Quest: New Haven

Sally’s –

Modern Apizza –

It’s an old saw: You like the pizza you grew up with. If you grew up in Chicago, Chicago-style is your favorite and New York will never really compare. I disagree. I grew up with “NY slice joint” pizza, but my favorites have a bit of a Neapolitan edge to them (DiFara’s and Una Pizza Napolitana) or are made in a coal-oven. Some might call this splitting hairs (it’s all in the New York family), but I don’t think so. These are distinct entities, and love of one does not predicate love of the other. Also: Are we supposed to believe that this only applies for pizza or am I supposed to, for example, forever hunger for the hamburgers (gigantic, nearly round affairs with a coat of Worcestershire sauce) I had as a youth? Because I don’t -- give me flat and crispy any day. This is all a preface to the following: I wasn’t crazy about New Haven pizza.

Tara, John, and I headed to New Haven following a wedding in Norwalk and snagged lunch at Modern Apizza and dinner at Sally’s (My suggestion of a post-dinner pie at Pepe’s was met with groans and scowls. Whatever.). The pies were similar. Both places had irregular, large almost-circles, cut into extremely narrow wedges. While cooked in a coal oven, the bottoms of both crusts were pale and not very crispy (the outside crusts had some decent charring, Sally’s moreso). The only signs of charring on the bottom crusts were from the semolina used on the pizza peel (the ball bearings that allow the pie to roll into the oven) – basically there was a burnt grit clinging to the bottom of the pie. My biggest complaint was the cheese. It had been cooked till brown, and didn’t so much top the pizza as pave it over. In the sauce department, Sally’s wins (pretty handily). It had good tomato flavor and hadn’t dried out as much as Modern’s. We also split a small clam and garlic pie at Modern. It was good, but suffered the same crust problems as the “plain” (in New York parlance, or “cheese” in New Haven-ese). I really wanted to like New Haven pizza; it’s the oldest American pizza tradition outside of New York, it’s located close enough that I could convince myself I to travel there every few months to have it, and all the cool kids like it. And yet…not so much. Sorry, New Haven, I’ll be back to try Pepe’s when my knowitallism kicks in, but I won’t be happy about it

It should be noted that Tara and John had a far more positive view of the pizzas than I did. Tara even put it in her top five. She is clearly insane.

Pepe's - Bridgeport, Ct.

Yes, yes. I know the original Pepe's is in New Haven, and, yes, I know I haven't been there...but I was in Bridgeport. What do you want? Cunningham took me and Tara to Pepe's, where the pies are irregularly shaped, sliced into narrow wedges, covered in strange toppings, and ginormous. Oh, and they're pretty good, too. It was in the same pizza family as Modern Apizza and Sally's (unsurprisingly), but was a bit better than either. Again, the crust wasn't charred on the bottom the way I like it (though it was a coal oven, what gives, Connecticut?), the cheese was slightly overcooked to my tastebuds, and it was a bit chewier than I prefer, but it was quite good. We got a small white clam pie (excellent) and a large (meaning: huge) pie split between plain and bacon (good). Bacon? Yeah, bacon, pancetta's unruly, nitrite-filled cousin. The bacon was a bit much, I have to admit, but the pie was pretty tasty. Bridgeport, like the New Haven location, also has a line to get in. We waited a good half-hour early on a Saturday evening. While waiting we looked in on those who were already eating, comfortable and warm, and felt deep stabs of envy. So, if you want pretty good pizza and an opportunity to break the tenth commandment, head to Pepe's in Bridgeport!

1 comment:

rosalie said...

This comment is over a year late, but better late, etc. New Haven's is NOT "the oldest American pizza tradition outside of New York." That would be Chicago, where street peddlers sold pizza at the turn of the 19th century, or possibly Trenton -- tomato pie places opened in Chambersburg (Trenton's predominantly-Italian neighborhood) in 1910 (Joe's) and 1912 (Papa's). Frank Pepe might have sold pizza from a pushcart at an earlier date (who knows?), but he didn't open his pizzeria, supposedly the first in New Haven, until 1925.