New Haven Pizza – The Only Guide You’ll Need

where to eat pizza in new haven

featured photo by @newfood_newhaven on Instagram

Going to college in New England, I was introduced to a lot of people from Connecticut.

Aside from proudly screaming an undying home state love, they are always ADAMANT that southern Connecticut has the best pizza in the United States.

Over New York City, New Jersey, anywhere.

I haven’t met anyone from Connecticut who hasn’t presented this argument to me. Even people in southern MA on the Connecticut border were strong willed in their argument, telling me my hometown pizza “tasted like DiGiornos.” (It doesn’t. How insulting!)

Someone even decided to film “Pizza, a Love Story,” an entire documentary by director Gorman Bechard dedicated to New Haven-style pizza (stream it on Youtube or Amazon video).

At first, I thought it was a weird cult following of crazy pizza lovers, but then I went to see what they were talking about. And I hate to admit it, but…they might be onto something.

Enter: New Haven

This is the Mecca for Connecticut pizza.

Some will argue Hartford, but anyone who knows anything about Connecticut pizza will stand their ground with New Haven. New Haven’s reputation for apizza is simply unmatched.

In Rome, there’s Roman pizza. In Sicily, there’s Sicilian pizza. And in New Haven, there’s apizza.

@almondartsy on Redbubble

New Haven pizza, or “apizza” as the locals call it (pronounced ah-beetz), got its name from the accents of Italian immigrants who settled down in the city.

Among those immigrants was local legend Frank Pepe. And Pepe knew wtf he was doing. 

What made him so special?

He began selling his own, coal fired pizza out of a pushcart in Wooster Square. But he didn’t just make any old Neapolitan style pizza.

He made the freaking tomato pie.

A tomato pie is, you guessed it, literally just a plain pie made from pizza dough and tomato.

Mozzarella (or muzz, if you’re Italian American/from New Haven) is actually considered a topping. You have to specify whether or not you want it.

His coal fired pizza became such a hit, that he opened his own little pizza shop that’s still standing to this day.

As with anything great, more pizza shops began to follow suit and opened up their own places as well. Many of those iconic locations are still booming, selling the popular white clam pizza or “clam pie” that New Haven is known for.

And thus, an empire was born

There are a few key secrets to New Haven style pizza, and what gives it its signature crispy, sooty flavor.

Their secret to great pizza, as any pizza connoisseur would be able to guess, is in day long fermentation (sound familiar)? Allowing the dough to ferment for a day gets rid of the chewy crust and doughy texture that New York pizza is known for and gives it the crispy, thin-crust pizza bite.

After fermenting for about a day, the pizza dough is then cooked in a coal fired oven.

This dates back to the 20s and 30s, when coal was much cheaper than wood when firing up the pizza ovens.

Even today, coal is still the preferred method of baking New Haven style pizza, as your typical brick oven can get up to around 1000° F, crisping them up really nicely and creating that signature New Haven crust that’s garnered so much popularity.

As I’m sure you’ve picked up on by now, the coal is also what gives New Haven pie that signature, blackened look and smoky bite (But it’s not burnt. It’s never, ever burned. If you complain about this, people will look at you like you have two heads).

I hate to admit it, but as I’m writing this, it’s 10:30am and I’m strongly considering a single day trip to the New Haven pizza places to ball out on their pies.

There are three main pizza places that New Haven is known for. These shops have been standing for almost 100 years.

Although there are many other New Haven pizza places worth mentioning (shoutout to you guys, Zuppardi’s Apizza & Da Legna), I’m going to be talking to you about the Holy Trinity.

Whether or not I end up making the trip, I hope that I inspire at least one of you to go. And when you do, here’s exactly where you need to be.

#1. Modern Apizza

modern apizza new haven
@modernapizza on Instagram

A tried and true tradition and New Haven classic, Modern is the first pizza shop that makes up the New Haven Holy Trinity of Pizza.

Started in 1934 by Antonio “Tony” Tolli, Modern Apizza (called Tony’s Apizza at the time) was the only pizza parlor on State Street.

Along with the help of Nick Nuzzo, who worked for Tony since he was 14, Tony carefully expanded business to meet the demands of pizza for factory workers amidst the war effort.

When Louis Persano decided to take over Tony’s lease just up the street, he and Nick Nuzzo needed a unique name for the location. They asked around, and finally settled on Modern Pizza. A name that has stuck with them to this day.

Sticking tried and true to their coal fired roots, they make their delicious pizza today exactly as they did almost 100 years ago, when a pie was only 25 cents.

Modern Apizza has garnered national recognition and is probably known as one of New Haven’s top pizzerias around the country. This is a must-stop on your New Haven pizza tour.

#Sally's Apizza

sally's apizza new haven
@sallysapizza on Instagram

Number two in the holy trinity of pizza is Sally’s Apizza. Among New Haven residents, this one might just be the local favorite (although this is just based off of speculation; everyone is deeply loyal to their pizza parlor of choice).

Salvatore Consiglio, or as everyone knew him as, Sally, built his empire around New Haven’s Wooster Square. Also started in 1938, this pizza shop was owned and operated by Sally and his wife Flo, and is carried out to this day by their children.

This place embodied the simplicity and charm of a 20th century pizza place. Flo would complete all of her transactions by pen and paper in a little booth inside the restaurant.

She would greet customers as they entered, and embody the importance of family to everyone who walked through the door.

You go to Sally’s and brave the long lines for the amazing pizza, of course (as did Frank Sinatra back in the day), but you also go for the years of history, family tradition, and charm.

A place that has stood the test of time, Sally’s is often the first thing that comes up when you google “New Haven Pizza,” and has been a fan favorite for generations.

Even one of my good friends and her family gets a tomato pie from Sally’s every Good Friday without fail. This last time when I saw her post it, I almost drove 2+ hours to get one for myself.

#3 Frank Pepe's Pizzeria

frank pepe pizzeria new haven
@frankpepepizza on Instagram

Even if you don’t know about the ins and outs of New Haven Apizza, I guarantee you’ve heard of Frank Pepe’s, number 3 in the holy trinity.

My guy Frank was the one who started it all in 1925.

An Italian immigrant (and funny enough, the uncle to Sally we talked about earlier), Frank did things the old fashioned way.

He’d first sell pies literally off of a headdress on top of his head, and then once he saved up enough money, out of a push cart, and then, out of his first location on Wooster Street.

His pizza shop was simple and only sold two types of pies: the simple recipe of a classic tomato pie with olive oil and pecorino Romano cheese, and a second pizza that was topped with anchovies. You can still order both to this day.

Like the other pizza places we’ve talked about, Pepe’s Pizzeria is one that’s rooted in family and tradition. He was known to those around him as “Old Reliable” for his unwavering love and dedication to his family.

The pizzeria, to this day, is still owned by his grandchildren and spans over 12 stores in 4 states, one being right in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Though you won’t see Frank himself selling pizzas off of a headdress, you will be able to taste the simplicity and history that’s been rooted in New Haven for almost 100 years.

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