This past weekend, Mark and I had a wedding to go to just outside of New Haven, Connecticut. After spending 16 hours of traveling from San Diego to Chicago to D.C. to New Haven (in one day!), we decided to reward ourselves on Saturday before the wedding with some New Haven-style pizza, courtesy of the legendary Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. New Haven-style pizza, known as "apizza," is a style of Neopolitan pizza characterized most popularly by its thin crust. I'd heard others wax poetic about the superiority of New Haven-style pizza, and had eaten one of D.C.'s top New Haven-style pizza offerings at Pete's Apizza (which is good), but was excited to have a pizza directly from the source - the apizza was invented by Frank Pepe on Wooster Street in the early 1920's, and the pizzeria has been dishing it out to locals and tourists alike ever since. Did the pizza live up to expectations? Um, the only answer to that is a resounding "hell yes!"
Click below to see what we ate!
We fully intended to do a sort of pizza showdown between Pepe's and Sally's Apizza just down the street. Unfortunately, Sally, not knowing of our intentions, did not see fit to open until 4 pm (the wedding was at 4:30). Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead with our plan to eat at Pepe's (at its original location on Wooster). We arrived at Pepe's a little after it opened at 11:30 am - there were already quite a few parties seated, but we managed to snag an empty booth upon walking in (about 30 minutes later, there was a line out the door).
Upon looking at the menu, I noted the other defining characteristic of New Haven-style pizza - normally, a "plain" pizza would include crust, tomato sauce and mozzarella; not so at Pepe's. Here, an "original tomato pie" comes sans mozzarella (just crust topped with tomato sauce, and sprinkled with Parmesan, garlic and oregano), but you can order it as a topping, which we did. We also added sausage and fresh garlic.
While we were waiting for our pizza, we decided to order a small pitcher of beer (we were on vacation!), and Pepe's just happen to have Long Trail, a Vermont beer with which Mark is intimately familiar, on tap. As our warm and welcoming server checked our ids, she smilingly noted that I was from Oregon, as was the manager of that location. A few minutes later, the manager walked over to our table, and we happily chatted about Eugene and his recent trip to D.C. with his family. I thought to myself, "If the pizza is as good as the staff is friendly, Pepe's is in pretty good shape."
After about a 20-minute wait, our pizza arrived at the table in all its glory. Behold:
At this point, Mark and I looked up at each other with big grins on our faces.
The sausage was everything you want sausage to be, juicy, salty, and incredibly flavorful. There were visible fennel seeds here and there atop the individual pieces, yet the fennel flavor was really subtle and lovely. The fresh minced garlic scattered across the top of the pie provided nice, sharp bites of flavor (although Mark said he would have preferred roasted garlic), and the mozzarella, while not the best I've ever had on pizza, was very good. And the sauce? Fresh tasting, ideally seasoned, and refreshing tangy - just bursting with tomato flavor. More importantly, the ingredients on the pizza were really well-balanced, at least for me - I know that some people prefer a less "saggy" pizza, but I loved everything about my pie.
The crust was a thing of beauty: perfectly seasoned and chewy throughout, but with the perfect amount of crispy crunch. The coal-fired oven gave the edges and bottom of the pizza a gorgeous char.
I managed to stop myself from eating the entire pizza (so I wouldn't be sick at the wedding), but it took all my willpower to do so. As we walked out, Mark said he couldn't conclusively say that he's ever had a better pizza. I agree. The pizza was magnificent, and the service was so friendly and welcoming - even though I didn't get a chance to sample Sally's, you better believe if I'm ever in the New Haven area again, I'm coming back to Pepe's for more!