New Haven is one of a handful of American cities which has gained nationwide fame for its fabulous pizzerias. This legend centers primarily on Wooster Street, the town’s Little Italy, where a pizza war has raged since the 1930s. The two antagonists are Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s Apizza, both of which carry the distinctive qualities that have come to be associated with New Haven pizza: its name apizza, the product of a strong Neapolitan accent; and the use of a coke or coal-fired oven, creating a charred crust that is mid-way between puffy and crisp. In recent years these original artisans have been joined by a smattering of upstart competitors, and there is now a broad array of superb pizzerias in New Haven.
Kitchen Zinc is a newcomer to New Haven’s happening pizza scene which is rapidly assembling a passionate fanbase. It has a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere, unlike some of its more famous competitors, with guests clustered around an outdoor patio, convivial bar and cosy booths. The pizzas themselves are great, with a puffy Neapolitan-style crust mixed with some delicious and unusual topping combinations. And the salads are wonderful, too.
BAR is a funky pizza venue which diverges from the no-frills, Neapolitan traditions of New Haven’s emblematic pizzerias. It is located in a former auto showroom and has large glass windows which, previously having advertised cars, now bathe diners in a warm glow of natural light. Its pizzas are lengthy, oblong creations, cut into signature rectangular slices, with a chewy and crispy base and, depending on what you choose, a generous load of toppings. The menu is pretty simple – there is a red pie, a red pie with mozzarella, and a white pie. But the white pie comes with an expanse of topping possibilities, the most unusual being mashed potato with bacon. BAR brews its own beers to go with the pizza, and it keeps selling slices to club-goers until late in the evening.
Modern Apizza is a trendy and modern restaurant which has successfully muscled its way into New Haven’s pizza pantheon, and is often talked about as one of the "Big Three" pizzerias in the city. It has a stylishly dark and wood-panelled interior, and uses a traditional wood-fired brick oven to turn out its immensely popular pizzas. These have a crust that lies somewhere between thin and crispy and chewy and puffy, and a variety of toppings, made with excellent ingredients, including a signature combination of well-seasoned meatballs and meltingly soft onions.
Sally’s Apizza is one of the two titans of New Haven pizza, which have together placed the town among the top-tier pizza cities in the States. It has been run by the same family since 1938, and continues to serve hand-made pizzas baked in the original coal-fired oven. The pizzas are huge with a crisp thin crust, and the flavors are assertive – a strong smell of garlic and spiced meats suffuses the dining area, mingling with the warm scent of baking dough. There are a carefully chosen collection of toppings to adorn the standard tomato and mozzarella pies, alongside a smattering of speciality pizzas, the most lauded of which is the White Potato – a crisp base topped with potato, onion, mozzarella, parmesan and rosemary.
Pepe’s is the original pizza joint in New Haven and, despite stiff competition from Sally’s, probably still the best. It is with its founder, Frank Pepe, that New Haven came by its distinctive ‘apizza’ nomenclature – this was how Frank and his family pronounced the word in their native Neapolitan dialect. Pepe’s can also claim credit for the distinctive style that has come to be associated with New Haven pizza, a product of the the combination of his Neapolitan roots and a coke oven: his huge apizzas have a half-puffy half-crispy crust that stands midway between Naples and Trenton. These pizzas are relatively stripped down and simple, but infused with clear flavors. The tomato pies are fresh and delicious, and Pepe’s is particularly revered for its white clam and garlic pizza.