Roadfood Roundup: Connecticut Pizza
While shooting the second episode in our Roadfood video series at Frank Pepe's in New Haven, Connecticut, we asked Michael Stern for some of his other Nutmeg State favoritesstarting with a couple other New Haven classics and branching out from there.
SALLY'S APIZZA | 237 Wooster Street, New Haven CT 06511 [map]. 203-624-5271
"Sally" was Sal Consiglio, the nephew of Frank Pepe; and in 1938, about a dozen years after Frank Pepe’s opened New Haven’s first pizzeria, Sal broke away and started his own just down Wooster Street. Sal himself is gone, but his wife Flora still runs the old pizza parlor. So Sally’s and Pepe’s are still in the same extended family. There are some aficionados who love one much more than the other; but in truth, each has its charms, and both make superb pizza.
Sally’s has soul. The place glows with old-neighborhood feel: wood-paneled walls, booths with well-worn Formica-topped tables, ubiquitous images of Frank Sinatra (a fan of Sal’s cooking) all over the walls. And the pizza packs a wallop. It is generously topped, well-oiled and comes on a thin crust that is smudged and gritty underneath. While the kitchen’s version of the New Haven specialty, white clam pizza, is second-rate (made using canned clams), it does turn out two outstanding pizzas that are Sally’s alone: fresh tomato pie (made only when good fresh tomatoes are available) with thick circles of tomato, creamy mozzarella, and hails of garlic; and broccoli rabe pie, heaped with bitter greens when they are available at the Long Wharf produce market. Although it is not formally listed on the menu, Sally’s multi-meat “Italian bomb” (sausage, pepperoni, bacon, plus lots of onions) is also significant.
Old friends of Sally’s are treated like royalty. Newcomers and unknowns might feel like they have to wait forever, first for a table, then for their pizza, and they will likely endure a staff who are at best nonchalant; but no one comes to Wooster Street for polished service or swank ambience. It’s great, thin-crust pizza that counts, and on that score, Sally’s delivers the goods.
And by the way, the second word in the name of this restaurant, Apizza is the old Connecticut way of giving the place a Southern-Italian flair. It is properly pronounced a-BEETS. Originally reviewed by Michael Stern on Roadfood.com
MODERN APIZZA | 874 State Street, New Haven CT 06511 [map]. 203-776-5306. modernapizza.com
While there are many connoisseurs of pizza who will fight us on this point, we do not believe that Modern Apizza of New Haven serves the best pizza on earth. In our book, it is only the second best on earth, after Pepe’s of New Haven … except on those days when Pepe’s has no clams for its white clam pizza, in which case we will gladly go to eat white clam pizza pie at Modern. Let us say it plainly: Modern Apizza is a fantastic four-star pizza parlor, and if you eat here rather than on Wooster Street, it’s about like winning only $100 million rather than $125 million in the Power Ball.
As for the New Haven favorite, white clam pizza (hold the mozzarella, please) Modern uses pre-chopped clams rather than freshly shucked ones, meaning there is less soulful marine juice to infuse the pizza; nevertheless, it is delicious – ocean-sweet and powerfully garlicky, and built on a crust that puffs up dry and chewy around the edges, but stays wafer-thin all across the middle. “Our brick oven reaches temperature in excess of 700 degrees,” Modern’s menu warns. “Some pizzas may blacken around the edges, and even lose their perfect shape due to contact with the brick floor of the oven.” Ok with us! While a few places around the edge may be charred, the whole pizza has a swoonfully appetizing smoky taste; and you see why when you devour slices off the paper on which the pizza rests atop its round pan. The paper appears strewn with charred little bits of semolina from the oven floor, most of which cling to the underside of the crust, creating a slightly burnt hot-bread flavor that no wussy metal-floored pizza oven could produce.
Modern’s specialty toppings include broccoli, sliced tomato, artichoke, and clams casino, which is clams, bacon, and peppers. It is also known for the Italian Bomb, which is a joy to eat despite the fact that it totally overwhelms its crust: sausage, pepperoni, bacon, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. There is also a Vegetarian Bomb topped with spinach, broccoli, olives, peppers, mushrooms, onion, and garlic.
One other reason we love Modern, sometimes even more than our beloved Pepe’s: it is open for lunch! Originally reviewed by Michael Stern on Roadfood.com
CARMINUCCIO'S | 76 South Main Street, Newtown CT 06470 [map]. 203-364-1133
We slightly disagree with Carminuccio’s motto, which is A Little Slice of Heaven. We say it is a quite a large slice of heaven. In Connecticut, home of America’s most delicious pizzas, this house by the side of the highway serves some of the very best.
When you walk in, it doesn’t seem much to look at. The interior consists of an order counter and a small array of bare-topped tables. But look closely, and towards the back you see the breads of the day arranged in a case. It’s a beautiful sight. Carminuccio’s makes not only its own very wonderful Italian bread for submarine sandwiches (the steak and cheese is grand!), but also stuffed breads: long savory loaves wrapped around such ingredients as ham or capicola, pepperoni and cheese, broccoli and sausage. Served steaming hot, one of these breads is a soulful meal every bit as satisfying as a pizza.
As for pizzas, the Carminuccio repertoire of toppings ranges from basic cheese to escarole & beans, barbecued chicken, sautéed spinach, and a knock-out “BLT” combo of pesto sauce, bacon, cooked escarole, and roasted tomatoes. Each pie is made to order; near the cash register, you can watch the pizza man stretch the dough ultra-thin and slide it into the ovens. About ten minutes later, out comes a pizza that has a chewy rim of crust all around the circumference and a brittle undercrust with just enough grit from the oven to give it real character. Originally reviewed by Michael Stern on Roadfood.com
COLONY GRILL | 172 Myrtle Avenue, Stamford CT 06902 [map]. 203-359-2184
Pizza at the Colony Grill is unique. It is thin-crusted, thinner even than the Neapolitan-style pizzerias of New Haven; and it is brittle. Regardless of the ingredients on top, each triangular slice can be lifted by its broad end from the circumference of the pie and the pointy end of the slice will remain on the same plane as the rest. There is real character to this crust, and at the outermost edge, a luscious crunch unlike any other pizza you will eat.
As for toppings, the usual repertoire is available, including clumps of excellent locally-made sausage; but Colony connoisseurs frequently get what is known here as a Hot Oil pizza. Hot oil -- "hot" meaning spicy -- is drizzled over everything and seems to bake right into the crust, giving every crunchy bite a zest that is not merely fiery, but brilliantly pepper-flavored. We love the hot oil with sausage, or with wide discs of pepperoni.
Pizzas are served on metal trays. There is only one size, about enough for one very healthy appetite. Pizza is the extent of the Colony Grill menu, other than drinks. This place is a local tavern, featuring a long bar along one side of the room that you enter off Myrtle Avenue; and while it is famous for pizza, many customers come for shots and/or beers. We sat there during lunch hour and watched at least a dozen customers go to the back for take-out orders ranging from one to eighteen pizzas. Originally reviewed by Michael Stern on Roadfood.com
JERRY'S PIZZA | 885 Washington Street, Middletown CT [map]. 860-346-5335
Jerry's "white Sicilian" is a wonder of the pizza world. Baked in a square pan, it has a crust that is medium-thick, rising up in glistening, oil-gilded golden puffs around the edge. It's got a bit of crunch at its surface, and at the outermost edges, it is brittle; but in the center of the pie, it is a lush pillow of taut, yeasty bread. Atop it is spread a finely chopped melange of garlic, anchovies, and fresh parsley, plus a spritz of oil and a dust of Parmesan. That's all there is on a white Sicilian, and it is pizza pie paradise.
How well we remember the time we asked Jerry if he could make a white Sicilian with anchovies only on half to satisfy an anchovy-phobe among us. He answered simply, no, he could not make a white Sicilian any way other than the right way. Then when the pie came to the table he pointed to one quarter and explained that he had indeed tried to make part of it as we wanted, without the anchovies. Jerry Schiano is that kind of guy – a real sweetheart. However, we've got to warn you that the part without evidence of actual pulverized anchovies still had their distinctive salty smack. In fact, the whole shoebox-shaped restaurant smelled of anchovies and garlic once our pie emerged from the oven. And after eating it, we, too, smelled like a pizzeria (a great pizzeria) the rest of the day.
Jerry's makes other things: thin-crust pizzas, whole or by the slice; foot-and-a-half hot oven grinders (eggplant parmigiana is especially lovely); and plates of unstylish red-sauced spaghetti. But the white Sicilian is Jerry's triumph. Warning: It takes ninety minutes from the time it's begun -- Jerry has to let the crust rise slowly, he explains; so it is best to call ahead to place an order or plan some interesting activity while you wait … such as driving to O'Rourke's Diner or Ted’s and having a few cheeseburger hors d'oeuvre. Originally reviewed by Michael Stern on Roadfood.com
These are just a few of the pizzerias featured on Roadfood.com. For a complete list, or to find a delicious one-of-a-kind pizzeria in your area, click here. You can also read more about pizza on Serious Eats site Slice.
ABOUT JANE AND MICHAEL STERN
Jane and Michael Stern have written numerous books on road food; write the monthly column "Two for the Road" in Gourmet magazine; and run the website Roadfood.com, a review forum for one-of-a-kind mom-and-pop places like the pizzerias listed here. We like Jane and Michael because their hunger for offbeat roadside eats knows no limit. Through their books and website, they've made it easy for the rest of us to find serious local eats, whether as a pit stop on a road trip or as destination in its own right.