Friday, September 3, 2010

New Haven Pizza Rivalry: Sally's vs. Pepe's


When asked where to find the best pizza, most New Yorkers don't bother looking past Manhattan, let alone, the other boroughs, which are superior in my opinion. Pose the same question to the usually mild mannered mid-westerner and they'll surprise you with how passionately they defend Chicago deep dish. Whereas L.A. is home to the grilled pizza, made famous by Wolfgang Puck and further north in San Francisco, newcomer, Flour and Water, has received critical acclaim. But those in the know turn to New Haven, Connecticut as home to some of the very best pizza in all of America.


Unfamiliar with New Haven pizza? I forgive you, but also implore you to try this regional specialty that has earned a James Beard Award. While the world is more familiar with the thin-crusted New York style of pizza, as Italian immigrants settled in the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven they brought with them their culture as well as their food. Opened in 1925, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napolentana or "Pepe's," as the locals call it is the birthplace of this style of pizza that's characteristically oblong in shape and cooked in coal ovens bestowing a uniquely charred and chewy thin crust. Having sampled Pepe's multiple times whenever I visited my older sister when she worked in New Haven, I was long overdue for a return trip and was accompanied by MW, YW and JC for a taste of this specialty treat.


Though Pepe's is the original, Sally's Apizza and its legion of passionate fans believe they've perfected the New Haven pie. Founded in 1938 by none other than Frank Pepe's very own nephew, Sal Consiglio, Sally's is located only a few feet away on Wooster street, producing one of the best pizza rivalries in all of the country. Seeing how Sally's only serves dinner, we decided to start there. Arriving before 5 p.m., we were the last lucky party to be allowed in during the initial seating. Unfortunately, we ended up waiting much longer inside for our food than we had spent outside waiting in line. Sally's interior was dirty and dated, a combination of wood paneling, brown booths and a thick layer of dust coated the picture frames hanging nearby along the wall and made for anything but an appetizing ambiance. Fortunately, the staff was friendly, leisurely taking orders and chatting with me as I took some photos of their ancient coal oven.


Knowing we had lots of pizza ahead of us, we resisted the temptation and ordered a single Tomato Pie with Mozzarella, Pepperoni and Mushrooms. Another unique characteristic of New Haven pizza is how they are typically served without mozzarella and only come with a dusting of Pecorino Romano. But times have changed and mozzarella cheese is now available as an additional topping. Our pizza arrived steaming hot and was served on a rectangular baking sheet, lined with wax paper. More reminiscent of a prop from the movie Backdraft than food, our pizza was oddly shaped and heavily charred along its exterior. Regardless, our pizza was excellent as the tangy tomato sauce was mellowed by the creamy mozzarella, kicked up by the spicy pepperoni and fortified by the earthy flavor of the mushrooms. Although it looked incinerated, the thin crust (though thicker than what is commonly found in New York) was wonderfully chewy and crispy along the edges.


After paying our bill, we sauntered down Wooster street running into the line for Pepe's. Our strategy to initially eat at Sally's paid off, as the line for Pepe's moved exponentially faster. Thanks to expanded seating and a more efficient waitstaff we didn't have to wait long before we found ourselves seated. A stark juxtaposition to Sally's, the interior at Pepe's is clean and open. The walls are lined with white and green booths filled with patrons eagerly stuffing their faces with pizza and washing it all down with Foxon Park sodas, brewed nearby in East Haven, Connecticut. We ordered two Root Beers and two of my personal favorite, White Birch Beers. Tasting faintly of anise, I can best describe its flavor as a liquefied version of the Lifesaver Wintergreen mints, a sweet and refreshing beverage.


Finally, it was time for the pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance, Pepe's famous, White Clam Pizza. Originally topped with Fresh Clams, Grated Cheese, Olive Oil, Fresh Garlic and Oregano, we decided to bastardize the classic by adding Mozzarella and Bacon. Proving yet again that bacon makes everything better, the combination of pork fat with a generous portion of roughly chopped clams, pungent garlic and creamy mozzarella is still my favorite white pizza.




It's said that you're either a Sally's man or Pepe's man. For what its worth, I proudly consider myself a Pepe's fan, and while I've yet to visit any of their new locations the better service, shorter lines and most importantly, white clam pizza culminate to beat out Sally's. But in the end my opinion is just of of many that continues to stoke the coals that fuel these pizza ovens and perpetuates this rivalry. Best pizza in America? Maybe not, but as far as I'm concerned, New Haven rightly deserves to be in the middle of any pizza-centric conversation.


Sally's Apizza
237 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 624-5271


http://temp.sallysapizzanet.officelive.com/

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Sally's Apizza on Urbanspoon

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napolentana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 865-5762


http://www.pepespizzeria.com/

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

9 comments:

  1. try the potato pizza at Sally's -- you won't be disappointed. Thin slices of potato are overlapped on the crust along with rosemary and olive oil. It is worth the ridiculously long wait at Sally's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds awesome...Still need to check out Louis' Lunch so I be sure to check that out on my next visit to New Haven.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think pepe's is the best check out the study I did on them
    http://manchesterct.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dude, I'm from New Haven and most people from New Haven swear by Modern Apizza, for simple pizza perfection try half plain half mozzarella, the muzz at modern is the best in town!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. The worse New Haven Ah-beets is better than any other pizza in the USA, hands down. Grand Apizza also makes a killer pie.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Take note you New York turds - New Haven is now, and always has been *the* pizza capital! I am so tired of the standard New Yorker answer - "I live in New York - we have the best everything!" If culinary ignorance and arrogance is the contest, then yes, New Yorkers win. But if you're talking the best pizza anywhere, New Haven rules baby!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sally's and Pepe's used to be the best in America, but since the 90's they've declined a bit. But Modern Pizza is still the same and now reigns supreme.

    ReplyDelete
  8. If you want the best Apizza in New Haven, go to Sally's. Period end. The others are quite good in their own right but they are not the best. Again, when it comes to Apizza in New Haven, there's Sally's and then there's everyone else.

    ReplyDelete