After years of sampling slices, you might fancy yourself as a pizza aficionado. You know the difference between a dollar slice and a gourmet pie. You’ve savored Chicago deep dish and dug into Detroit-style.
But if you haven’t had New Haven-style pizza, you are missing a big, and delicious, part of the pie.
Let’s dispense with some misconceptions about the Nutmeg state first. Connecticut cuisine isn’t the Stepford Wives nightmare of never-ending country club cucumber sandwiches you might expect. New Haven, in particular, has a rich and working-class friendly food tradition. Not only does the city have a plausible claim on inventing the hamburger, but it has a signature pizza style that’s among the best in America.
Called “apizza” by the descendants of Italian immigrants who brought it to the Wooster Square neighborhood of the Connecticut port city nearly a century ago, New Haven pizza is like the crispier cousin of the Neapolitan pizza, only worked over enough to feature some loveable quirks.
Hot N Cold
Pizza dough in New Haven is cold-fermented in fridges at least overnight and allowed to rise back up to room temperature before being shaped into a distinct oval, topped and fired. Two of the three original parlors are still keeping the tradition alive. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza use coal while Modern Apizza switched to oil-fueled open-flame around 1967 to heat their brick ovens to very high temperatures, charring the thin crust and imbuing it with smoky flavor.
Call Me By My Name
An “original” or “plain” pie in this town doesn’t usually come with mozzarella. Order a “regular” and you’ll most likely get a crispy crust topped with tomato sauce and maybe a sprinkling of aged cheese like Parmesan or pecorino. If you absolutely need mozzarella on your pie, be sure to let them know.
According to local New Haven pizza lore, the invention of clam pizza came about organically. At first, Frank Pepe’s served clams from nearby Rhode Island at the bar as appetizers. One story holds that the Pepe’s employee tasked with shucking clams came in from the alley to ask the pizza maker if he’d ever thought to put littlenecks on a pie. On they went with olive oil, Parmesan, oregano and chopped garlic and so one of the most unlikely worthy-of-a-road-trip meals were born (pro tip: add bacon).