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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

New Haven Pizza Tour

Let me start this post by saying I am not a food blogger.  

If you are expecting colorful perfectly exposed photos featuring and 24 different angles, you must have Katie Wanders confused with another blog.  What you WILL find is cell phone pictures discreetly snapped before diving into a pizza because A) I hate being that person taking photos of food and B) I can't wait long enough to take proper photos - because - pizza.  I can't promise you food blogger photography but I can promise you honest opinions, a humorous recap, and a fun read from someone who really really loves and appreciates good food. 

While KW focuses on travel, I love to share the food I eat and the beer I drink along the way.  Somewhere between the trail guide and travel posts, I started a little series where I do the tough work of taste testing a certain category of food to find you the best of the best. 

It started with the lobster rolls where I set off to find the best lobster shack in Connecticut (an expensive hobby if you will).  Lobster shacks are a seasonal treat here in New England which means this tour is still in the works.  Before I finished my first project #LobsterShackCT, I started on two more food topics, mainly as an excuse to indulge in the best things in life - pizza and donuts. Quarantine inspired a donut tour through the state because there is no better time to find Connecticut's best donut than when you no longer have plans or have to wear anything besides sweat pants. 

Somewhere after the start of the lobster roll tour and before the start of the donut tour, I had the idea of a New Haven Pizza Tour, a highly debated topic here in the Constitution State.  New Haven Pizza is a world-famous style of pizza, known for its thin charred crust and tangy sauces.  Italian American's who called New Haven home are the founders of this thin pie we know and love today and these pizza places are all basically on top of each other.  First came Pepes, followed by Modern, and then Sallys, and then the nightclub that also started churning out fantastic pizzas, Bar.  So what is the difference between New York-style pizza and its close cousin, New Haven-style pizza?  
 NEW YORK:  round, crispy crust, more cheese, heavily seasoned sauce.  NEW HAVEN:  round-ish shape, crispy charred crust yet has a chew to it, less cheese (originally just sauce), and a simple tangy sauce that showcases the tomato.  

The New Haven Pizza Tour actually started the night I met Adam.  We were trying to plan where to meet for our first date and while Adam suggested steak and oysters, I suggested beer and pizza.  And so, February was the official start to the New Haven Pizza Tour, when I walked into Modern Apizza New Haven and met the man I would marry.  

Disclaimer 1:  We visited Modern twice (a redemption round) 
Disclaimer 2:  We were unable to eat inside BAR as COVID was only allowing for Take Out - we definitely owe Bar another try because pizza to go is not the same.  
Disclaimer 3:  Certain pizza places are famous for certain pizzas.  We ordered the restaurant's specialty pizza whenever it was offered (Sally's cheeseless pie, Pepe's clam pizza, BAR's mashed potato pizza). I also always ordered a plain cheese pizza or tomato pie to have an even playing field of crust and sauce (with the exception of BAR, we went straight for the specialty). 
RATING:  1 is the best, 4 is the worst of the four we tried 

Modern Apizza
KW rating 4/4
Modern Apizza was founded in 1934 by an Italian American man Antonio "Tony" Tolli.  Modern uses an open flame brick oven (originally coke-fueled) and their signature pizza is the Italian Bomb  (Sausage, bacon, pepperoni, onion, mushrooms and garlic, made possible by a sturdy crust and sparse "mootz.") (their menu also advertised a famous crab pizza). 
Location: 4 State Street, New Haven, CT

I hate to start on a negative note, but I have to start from the beginning.  My first time to Modern was my first date with my soon-to-be husband.  We waited about 25 minutes for a table before sitting at a booth in the quaint New Haven pizzeria (a shorter wait in the world of New Haven pizza).  We ordered a pizza that was half meatball, half clam.  It came out on a huge sheet and after waiting for about 15 minutes, out she came.  

Modern has a devoted following and I was eager to try a slice for myself.  We quickly dug into our pizza and while it was good, we both came to the first date conclusions that it just wasn't great.  No, I don't have photos from that night, I don't blog on a first date, but we were not impressed by this pizza.  I can't sit here and say anything bad about it, but nothing stood out to separate it into being AMAZING compared to other pizzas.  However, it was a first date and I wanted to see if maybe it was a bad day in the kitchen so I decided Modern deserved a second try, a redemption round if you will.  

I have to admit, our second time at Modern just sealed the deal that it wasn't as great as the hype.  We went for the standard cheese and one of their specialty pizzas, the crab pizza.  Turns out, when they say crab pizza, they mean imitation crab pizza and this rubber-stamped fish should not be a pizza topping. 

Yes, you are probably thinking "your fault Katie for ordering crab on a pizza" but when someone offers a famous specialty, I just have to try it and I was expecting CRAB.  I will save you the calories and let you know that imitation crab is not a great pizza topping.  Modern, I wanted to love you but you just didn't live up to the hype.  Modern ranked number 4 out of 4 on my list. 

KW rating 3/4
BAR is a night club with pizza that has made it's rankings onto the "Must Eat" list for New Haven Pizza Pie.  BAR was founded in 1996 and uses a gas oven for their pizzas.  Their  signature pie is the mashed potato (with bacon) and BAR 
Location: 254 Crown Street, New Haven CT

I really really really wanted to love Bar Pizza.  I am a large fan of the simple potato is any form and a creamy potato on a pizza pie sounded like a fantastic way to carb load. To BARs credit, when we tried this pizza it was during COVID-19 and we had to get it to go.  It didn't feel entirely fair to judge a pizza out of a box, not freshly delivered to our table.  But regardless, we ordered the mashed potato pizza (with bacon) to go and dove into it right in the car.  

While the pizza was good, it just wasn't great  I wasn't impressed by the crust and felt that the flavor just fell short.  While I enjoyed the pizza, it ranked number 3 out of 4 on my list.  To be completely fair, you can expect an update on BAR once we are able to dine IN the restaurant.  

Frank Pepe Pizza
KW rating 2/4
Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana was founded in 1925 and uses a coal-fired brick oven.  Of all the pizza places, Pepes pizza is probably the most famous and has branched into other parts of the state.  Their signature pizza is the white clam pizza.
Location: 157 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT

Frank Pepe Pizza is the most famous of the New Haven restaurants.  They actually have to buildings side by side.  The original building is smaller and set back and had a much smaller line than the new bigger building.  We decided for the 10-minute wait at the original location and sat down at a booth inhaling the heavenly smell of pizza.  They are known for their white clam pizza and I was excited to actually enjoy a real seafood pizza (Modern Crab Pizza Fail).  The clam pizza is what made them famous and once you take a bite, you know exactly why.  Its salty, and clammy, and garlicky and oh so good.  We also got the meatball and the cheese for comparison and we were quite happy with the crust, sauce, and overall pizza. 

Sallys Apizza
KW rating 1/4

Sally's was founded in 1938 and uses a coal-powered brick oven to cook their famous pies.  Sally's Signature Pizza is the Tomato pie (no cheese) and the Garden pie
Location: 237 Wooster Street, New Haven CT 06511

Sallys pizza probably had the longest line but let me tell you, it - was - worth - the - wait.  We stood in line for probably 40 minutes before being seated at a booth inside.  We decided to order Sally's famous tomato pie (no cheese), a simple cheese pizza, and a meatball pizza. 

I am amazed at how much I loved that tomato pie.  It was just bread and sauce, a classy fried dough if you will (well, baked dough) and between the tangy sauce and perfect crust, even this cheese lover didn't miss the cheese.  I could have eaten only this pizza and been quite content and probably would have ranked Sallys number 1.  The cheese pizza and the meatball were also diving and we left impressed and in total agreement that Sally's tangy sauce and perfect crust, the mastery of the simple details  - Sallys was the winner.   We voted Sally's number 1 out of 4 on our New Haven pizza tour and I cannot wait to go back for a tomato pie.  If you don't believe me, believe Sinatra who also thought Sallys was number 1.  

Pizza is the northeast reigns supreme (quick pizza joke there).  When I lived in Utah, I was thoroughly convinced it was only here in the Northeast where you could find a decent pizza pie.  When I lived out west, I quickly discovered that a frozen pizza was the best option outside of the borders of New England and New York.  Here in the northeast, we have that perfect think wood fried crust, tangy sauce, and simply but perfectly done toppings.   While New Haven and New York are our favorites, even the greek pizzas are good.  I can't talk about the deep dish until I get myself to Chicago but I feel lucky to live within reach of amazing New Haven pizza.  While Modern and BAR left me disappointed, Pepes and Sallys were better than expected and won the top two ranks on my list.  Sallys won the top spot with their simple yet amazing tomato pie. 

New Haven, thank you for churning out some fantastic pizza pies.  We will be back for Sallys tomato pie, Pepes clam, and to give BAR a fair chance post-pandemic. 


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