New Haven, Connecticut, with its population of about 180,000, might not seem like it could stand up to nearby behemoth New York City. But there's at least one respect in which it most definitely does, and that would be in its pizza, or "apizza" as it's lovingly referred to in New Haven.
Amazingly, you can find six nationally ranked pizzerias within a five square mile radius in New Haven. The place is a pizza goldmine, which is why we had to make it a destination for an episode of our new series The Pizza Show. The city is known for a classic tomato pie: topped with fresh tomatoes, a dusting of aged grated cheese, garlic, and a swirl of olive oil. John DeStefano Jr., the former mayor of New Haven, describes the city's pizza as "flat and thin, cooked a little bit more than someone else's… It is not ladled with cheese, and doesn't have next Tuesday night's leftover meatloaf dinner on top of it, if you will. It's by its simplicity authentic and real."
Here's how to make the rounds (get it?) like Pizza Show host Frank Pinello when you hit New Haven's pizza heaven.
As the oldest pizzeria in town, Frank Pepe's is known as the "old reliable." It's also the home of white clam pie, which has been ranked as the best pizza in America (!!!). Pepe's tops their white pie with fresh shucked clams (they shuck 80 to 90 bushels a week at their New Haven location alone), garlic, oregano, and olive oil. While they now have eight locations, the original is right on Wooster in New Haven. Gary Bimonte, the owner and Frank Pepe's grandson, was on the "bench" for roughly 13 years perfecting their pizzas, meaning he made about 1.2 million pies. Our own pizza guru Frank Pinello says they have "some of the best char on pizzas I think I have ever seen," thanks to the fact that they're cooked in old coal ovens from the 1800s.
RECIPE: Frank Pepe's White Clam Pizza
WHAT YOU SHOULD ORDER: Frank Pepe's Original Tomato Pie and the nationally-acclaimed White Clam Pizza.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana 157 Wooster Street New Haven, CT 06511 Hours: 11 AM—10 PM Monday to Sunday Phone: 203.865.5762
The key to Zuppardi's top-notch pizza? "All things fresh." We're talking high-quality tomato, basil, olive oil, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano, each as fresh as they come. Their sausage pie is a thing of wonder. Frank is impressed with their roots in classic Italian baking, and they use Baker's Pride gas ovens instead of coal. Get your brine on with their fresh shucked clam pizza with garlic and lemon wedges on the side. Run by sister's Laurie and Cheryl, Zuppardi's is an 80-year-old family heirloom known for their sausage pie, in which "the first slice is as good as the last."
WHAT YOU SHOULD ORDER: Traditional Pie with Sausage and the Fresh Clam Pie.
Zuppardi's Apizza 179 Union Avenue West Haven, CT 06516 Hours: 11 AM—9 PM Monday through Saturday 12 PM—8:30 PM Sunday Phone: 203.934.1949
Part of what makes any pizza go from OK to great is its oven master, and at Modern Apizza, Billy Butts has been making pizza dreams come true at Modern Apizza for the last 44 years. This place serves a signature thin-crust apizza that's baked in an oil-fueled brick oven, lending its pies with toppings galore—pepperoni, anchovies, hot cherry, sausage, or the traditional style—an extra crunch.
WHAT YOU SHOULD ORDER: Plain Apizza with Garlic and the Sliced Tomato Apizza.
874 State Street New Haven, CT 06511 Hours: 10:30 AM—11 PM Tuesday through Thursday 10:30 AM—12 AM Friday and Saturday 3 PM—10 PM Sunday Phone: 203.776.5306
Christopher Martin's Restaurant and Pub
When you've eaten your way through this city, no apizza experience is complete without stopping by Christopher Martin's pub and making a few friends over some White Russians. Frank Pinello's newest pal, a legendary local named Helen, has lived in New Haven her entire life, and knows more about the art of apizza than any outsider ever will. If you spot Helen at the pub, raise a glass with her to the glorious pizza ovens, pizza lords, and dough masters of New Haven. There's no time like the present, so start planning for round two of your New Haven pie tour.
WHAT YOU SHOULD ORDER: White Russians so you can make some new friends
Christopher Martin's Restaurant and Pub 860 State Street New Haven, CT 06511 Phone: 203.776.8835