Our New Haven
One Day - Three People - Three Pizzerias - Six
New Haven Pizzas!
We had heard about it, read about it, even written about it, but we had
never actually tasted New Haven pizza. We'd had New Haven style
pizza at Tomatoes Apizza in Michigan, but Lillian
and Cary had not haunted a booth in a pizzeria in New Haven, CT, eating
pizza even once.
It was time.
New Haven is likely the second city of American
pizza. If you've read our American
Pie section, you know that the first pizzeria in the United
States was Lombardi's in New York City, which
opened in 1905. Twenty years later, Frank Pepe opened his Frank
Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on Wooster Street in New Haven. Modern
Apizza opened about a mile away in 1934. In 1938, Sal
Consiglio (Frank Pepe's nephew) opened Sally's Apizza
just up the street from Pepe's.
So we were aware that three amazingly great
pizzerias, among the best in the country, were mere blocks from each
other and a Sunday drive from Long Island.
We had to go.
We weren't going alone. We planned this trip with
our good friend Helen, who is a pizza lover and a Connecticut native,
but NOT a New Havenite. This is important: in New Haven, where high
school newspapers have pizza columnists, people are divided -- Pepe's
or Sally's -- you go to one pizzeria or the other,
but not both. A New Havenite might not have been as unbiased as we N.Y.
pizza snobs, so we brought Helen in from Naugatuck.
The plan was simple: Get to New Haven, meet Helen
on Wooster Street (the Little Italy of New Haven), eat New Haven pizza
at Frank Pepe's and Sally's Apizza,
and if we could manage a third place, we'd go to Modern
too. We knew that each of these places had a long wait in line to get
in, so we'd have plenty of time to hang out and digest between pizzas.
9:15 a.m.: We hit the road
armed with notebook, camera, and only half our usual breakfast. We got
to New Haven without Cary singing the Whiffenpoof Song even once
(Google it, youngsters!).
11:15 a.m.We meet Helen in
front of Pepe's where there is, amazingly, no line,
even though they open at noon on Sundays.
Oh, one formed quickly enough, but almost all of
the line was behind us. We waited excitedly, until the door was opened
and we entered and headed straight for a booth. A waitress brought
menus. New Haven pizza is divided into 'with' and 'without', so we
ordered what would be our standard for the day: One tomato pie (tomato
sauce, grated cheese, no mozzarella) and one mozzarella pie. It seemed
like our order arrived very quickly - which wouldn't be surprising --
The manager told us later that the huge 14' by 14' oven (more on that
in a moment) ran best at about 600 degrees, but the coals got up to
2000! The char on the two pizzas told us that it was probably more than
600 degrees, but we're not oven experts.
With the door to the coals open, we could feel the
heat from about 25 feet away!
We tasted the tomato pie first. Cary loved the char on the very thin
crust. We all really liked the tomatoes and the way they blended with
the grated cheese - which we think was Romano. The cornicione (outer
crust) was thin too, not puffy, but the pizza was overall delicious.
The pizza with the mozzarella was thicker at the
edge; still not puffy but it had a nice little rise and the crust was
not as blackened. Cary thought he detected some cornmeal on the crust.
Two awesomely delicious New Haven pizzas. It was
gonna be a real good day.
After devouring, we talked to the manager, a
friendly guy named Steve, who told us that the big oven in front was
14'x14', which made the gigantically long peels (pictured below)
There was a 'smaller' oven in the back, 10'x10',
and the oven next door, in the place called The Spot
(owned by the owners of Pepe's and the original
location of Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana, was
12'x12'. He told us that with all three ovens going, they could produce
200 pizzas an hour. The numbers were impressive, but the pizza was more
We left Frank Pepe's,
satisfied but not stuffed, and strolled up the street to see when
Sally's would open. Sally's opens at five o'clock on Sundays! It was
about 12:30. We were going to have to shift our strategy and do our New
Haven pizza tour in historic chronology. Modern Apizza
opened in 1934, and we'd eat there next.
As we walked back down Wooster Street, we passed a
few of the local older gents sitting outside a social club, on folding
chairs in the middle of the sidewalk. Reminded us of Sunday afternoons
in Bensonhurst. Can't ask for a more Italian-American scene than that!
Lil, Helen, and
some guy in front of Modern Apizza
Modern Apizza is about a mile
or so from Wooster Street. It was a hot day, so we drove over and sat
in the air-conditioned car waiting for someone to show up who could
tell us what time Modern would open, since they
didn't have their hours posted. About two o'clock, we found out that
they open at three. About 2:40, we got out of the car and joined the
beginning of the line.
A man came by with his family in tow and asked if
this was "one of the good New Haven pizza places." Cary asked him where
they were from and the man said they were from New Jersey, but they
were driving down from Maine and wanted to try some New Haven pizza.
Seems like everybody knows.
Modern opened and we walked in
- dark paneling, soft lights, wooden booths - college tavern
atmosphere. We again ordered one tomato pie, one mozzarella. These
pizzas had SERIOUS char! Even so, the flavor of the dough was superior
- a good italian bread taste. Cary thought the tomato sauce was not
quite up to Pepe's. Lillian liked the sauce more than Cary did, but
found the crust a bit too burnt. Helen and Lillian agreed that the
balance between sauce and grated cheese on the tomato pizza was
We all agreed that there was a little too much
cheese on the mozzarella (or 'mutz') pizza, but that it wasn't in any
If we had to compare at this point, the majority
decision was that Modern's tomato pie would beat Frank
Pepe's, but the jury was still out on the mozzarella pie.
We got to Sally's Apizza
before it opened at five. Again we were close to the front of the line!
What we didn't know is that there is a secret reservation system. It
must be secret, because from what we've read, the phone line at Sally's
has been busy for at least the past ten years. Still, a large group of
last-minute arrivals entered before we did, and Cary did not let the
moment pass without loud comment. The word "Reservations!" was,
however, enough to shut him up.
Sally's is an old-fashioned
place -- it seems like remodeling would be a sin. Lil said it reminded
her of DeLorenzo's in Trenton, NJ - wood paneling
from a common era: Sally's opened in 1938. It's a
family place -- family owned, family managed, and sitting there we felt
like part of the family - distaff cousins maybe, but family
nonetheless. Flo Consiglio, Sally's widow and ruler of the place, still
brings pizzas out to the tables. Cary asked if she would be kind enough
to take a picture with us. "No pictures of me!" She waved us away
good-naturedly. Hey, she's running a business here! And we were
Even though we didn't have to wait very long in
line, we still had the experience of waiting a long time for our pizza.
Good thing we'd been eating all day! This gave Cary a chance to look at
the celebrity pictures on the walls... Did you know that Sally's
was Sinatra's favorite pizzeria in New Haven?
Finally, the pizzas arrived: one medium tomato,
one large 'mutz'. They were beautiful.
Sally's pizza may have been the most difficult to
judge. Lillian was concerned that after eating four pizzas in two
pizzerias, we might not give Sally's a fair shake - but this was going
to be a surprise!
The crust was really good. In terms of
consistency, 'chew', and done-ness, we all thought it was possibly the
best of the day, but Lillian preferred the flavor of Modern's
crust. Helen called it a draw.
The sauce was bright and tangy. Lil and Helen both
liked the sauce at Modern best, Cary was enthralled
with the tomatoes at Sally's. We began to wonder if
Frank Pepe's was fading into the
distance of time...
The mozzarella pie might well have been the best
pizza we ate all day. The crust was a little thicker than on the tomato
pie, the cheese was delicious and perfectly balanced with the dough and
the excellent tomatoes... One surprise -- after Lillian and Helen both
talking about how they didn't care for very charred pizza, they loved
Sally's mozzarella pizza!
So, what was the best pizza in this town of great
pizza? While waiting in line for homemade Italian ices at Libby's
Pastry Shop we realized how fortunate we are to be
out-of-towners: we don't have to choose! All of us would be very happy
having pizza at any of the three fine pizzerias we visited that day. Or
we could just go to all of them again!
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