By Victoria Bresnahan and August Pelliccio
The aroma of San Marzano tomatoes lifting from steaming red sauce accompanies the crunch of the crisp, just slightly charred crust, as the slice departs from a customer’s mouth, pulling a trail of mozzarella behind it. Each bite is a symphony of flavors, an amalgam of textures and sensations. Heat radiates from the 600-degree oven, causing goose bumps when walking by. The customers’ stomachs grumble and tremble with an aroused eagerness as they are led to their table. A combination of flavors and tastes that is more especial than all the others.
This experience is shared by so many of New Haven’s residents and visitors—who come from far and wide—today and yesterday. Unique and appetizing pizza is not exclusive to the city, but the pizza-lover cannot afford to be a one-stop shopper on Wooster Street, and beyond. Visitors to New Haven be warned: come with an empty stomach.
Walking through the city’s Little Italy, passing under the road-wide arch adorned in bright fluorescent red, green and white lights, approaching Franklin Street, one passes through the proving ground of two founding families to the New Haven pizza style. The Pepe and Consiglio family still own and operate four of the most popular eateries in this neighborhood, and the rivalry between their one-of-a-kind pizzas remains today as it did almost a century ago. It is a culture as rich as the city is old, but now there are several other restaurants that have solidified their ground in this pizza game.
Sally’s Apizza, Pepe’s Pizzeria, Modern Apizza and BAR New Haven are all worthy entrants to Crescent magazine’s best New Haven pizza challenge. Since the fall semester, members of the magazine have surveyed 221 people on campus to discern what they think is the best. Pepe’s, which is recognized nationwide as one of the premier pizzerias, surpassed the others with 104 votes, making it the most popular choice amongst students.
Participants quotes are used to explain why they choose one of New Haven’s bests over the other.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
In 1925, Frank Pepe branched off from his father’s business—which is right behind the pizzeria and is called The Spot—to create a pizzeria of his own. Locations have expanded out of town, and include Fairfield, Danbury, Manchester, West Hartford, Waterbury, Yonkers, NY, Chestnut Hill, Mass. and Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.
Inside the original, customers will find a well-maintained interior, similar to 1925. The iconic look is emulated at many of the locations, adding to the old-fashioned experience. From open to close, people are usually lined up outside waiting to try mouthwatering pizza.
Pepe’s offers a “thin, crisp crust” preferred by John Zoppi, a senior communication major.
“The coal fired oven adds great flavor, and the sauce is perfection,” states Zoppi. “The perfect pizza.”
Pepe’s serves great sauce on their pies, but maintains a crispy crunch, according to Jonathan Geraldino, a senior, art education major.
“It is done with fresh ingredients,” states Geraldino, “and made with their signature brick oven taste.”
Pizza has long been served on State Street and since 1934, this location has been a favorite for residents and visitors. Originally named State Street Apizza, the location has thrived for 85 years and received an interior remodeling since. Pizza is served on a large, rectangular tin oven pan—a trademark to this style of pizza. Unlike Pepe’s or Sally’s, expect Modern’s dough to be gooey and malleable. Like Pepe’s and Sally’s, however, groups of people can be found waiting in its atrium to get a slice.
Aaron White, a sophomore, business major, prefers the likes of Modern most of all, citing on his survey two specific pizzas they offer.
“The meat lovers pizza is rich and flavorful,” says White. “The clams casino [pizza] has a welcomed crunch, while not being too dried out.”
Zachary Wright, a senior, biology major, shares White’s affinity for Modern. Wright states the superior crust and toppings make for an excellent pizza.
This quaint pizzeria has maintained a cash-only policy since its humble beginnings in 1938. Located on Wooster Street, the restaurant has an old-fashioned style that fits the neighborhood well. Thin, crunchy pizza pies are made fresh using the same recipes in the Consiglio family since the 1930s.
Sandra Theoharatos, a junior, studio art major, states she prefers Sally’s to the other contenders, simply because they offer authentic, good pizza.
“It still feels like a small business who cares,” states Theoharatos.
Jonathan Marquis, a senior, psychology major, agrees the atmosphere at Sally’s remains part of their appeal, but also makes a case for their pizza’s crust.
BAR New Haven
Despite being cited on many surveys as the most popular hot spot for New Haven pizza consumers, BAR is the young entrant. The club was established in 1991 and added a micro-brewery and pizzeria to its business model in 1995. The ambience is decidedly retro; the brick walls and wooden tables have a weathered look that add to the rich experience. Customers can watch from their tables as their pizzas are made in the nearby oven. BAR New Haven succeeds at combining the need for pizza with a hip, and fun atmosphere. Open 365 nights a year, its menu includes distinctive pizzas such as its classic mashed potato pie.
It serves the best pizza in New Haven, according to Emily LaLuna, a senior, English major.
“I grew up going there,” states LaLuna. “Great environment, amazing pizza.”
LaLuna’s favorite BAR selection is the mashed potato pie, but she also loves anything they serve.
Three things crown BAR the winner for Desteny Maragh, a junior, communication major.
“Nice slices,” Maragh says, “good amount of cheese,” and, “lasting flavor.”