From left: Jared, Miriam, Colin, Joe, Scott (I am not in this photo)
Every month or so, Team SPT gets together for a serious info-session so we can sharpen our collective pizza edge. August’s trip was a no-brainer once I found out pizza guides Miriam and Joe had never been to New Haven, CT. Our tours happen in NYC but cover as much of the pizza spectrum as possible. Rather than sit them down at SPTHQ for a slideshow of the various apizza locations in and around Wooster Street, we piled into the car and made the short drive up I-95. This is our story.
Because of our Saturday tour schedule, we were unable to leave Manhattan until about 3PM. That worked out just fine because Sally’s Apizza doesn’t open until 5PM, so we arrived just on time to join the line at exactly 4:30. Sally’s has the most abbreviated schedule of all the pizzerias in New Haven, so we knew we had to hit it with more precision than the other places. Five of us drove up in my sweet 2004 Nissan Sentra: SPT tour guides Miriam and Joe, guide-in-training Jared and Joe’s husband Scott. We met up with New Haven tour guide and historian Colin Caplan, our spirit guide through the context of each pizzeria and how the city itself impacted the dish’s local variation. He also cleared something up for me: Why do they call it apizza in New Haven? Apparently the Italian population of New Haven is from Amalfi and their dialect includes the term apizza (pronounced ah-beetz). Thanks Colin!
The profile of Sally’s Apizza reveals their oven!
Before we even joined the line outside the pizzeria, I showed Miriam and Joe the building’s profile, which tells a great deal about what’s going on inside. Sally’s uses a coal-fired oven, which was added after the building’s construction. You can see here that the 3-4 story building drops to a single story extension that ends with a tall chimney. That extension is the oven. Coal ovens are large and burn in such a way that the coal gets loaded into the front and exhaust escapes out the back. It’s hard to see this in New York because the buildings are built so close together. New Haven has space, so you can stand in the parking lot and look at a piece of architecture that reveals something about historic pizza technology!
But we didn’t spend all our time in the parking lot. Once inside, we ordered two small pies: one regular (no cheese) and one with mozzarella (mutz). The second was probably my favorite of the entire trip so check it out of you’re looking for one stop in New Haven. The interior is amazing, with a mix of “here are some old photos and articles about us since we opened in 1938” and “we don’t redecorate or clean” that’s both charming and alarming (ie the bathroom). I love this place for all its charm and, of course, for its excellent and honest pizza.
Our next stop was Frank Pepe's, the oldest remaining New Haven pizzeria. Pepe's has two locations right next to each other. The main building is the one everybody goes to, so there's always a long line. The other building - to the left of the main space and set back into the parking lot - is the original bakery Pepe worked at before opening his own place (Colin, correct me if I'm wrong about that) and was at one point a rival pizzeria but now owned by the Pepe family. I usually go to the main building, so this was my first time at The Spot (the former name of this pizza location, although not officially called that anymore). I'd taken photos through the windows but never had the chance to actually go inside!
The pizza was identical to that from the main space of Pepe’s. We had a regular mozzarella pie and the famous white clam pie. Both were excellent, but our group wasn’t all about the clams. That’s fine, more for me!
The journey continued to Modern Apizza, possibly my favorite in New Haven. It opened in 1936 - two years before Sally’s - but has changed hands and names since then. Much to our dismay, Modern was closed for their annual vacation. Watch out for August, Italians love to take a couple weeks off so it could be a mess for your pizza voyage. I regret not looking into this before we went but all turned out OK because we had time to hit Bar, a more recent addition to the New Haven pizza scene.
Bar opened about 18 years ago and it’s a huge brewpub / pizza joint that makes an updated version of New Haven apizza. The place is SO DANG HIP it was almost a 2 hour wait for the pizza, so we got it faster by just taking it to go. We took the pie back to my car and set up shop on the hood.
Along came a lovely couple that had just come from setting up for a friend’s wedding. They asked where they could find a slice of pizza in the area and we all squealed. They could not have approached a better crew. Sadly, there aren’t really any good slice shops in the area so we said the best option is to do what we did and hit up Bar. They looked so sad, it was really heart-breaking. So we invited them to join us! Without missing a beat Mrs Random grabbed a slice and Mr Random was close behind.
Pizza is the ultimate food of friendship. It’s both personal and communal at the same time and that’s what brought this entire group of pizza fans together in the first place. This moment truly defined the entire trip!
Us with the Van Der Beeks. WHAT?!?!
Our new friends were so lovely and of all the random things they could have said, they hit us with a real doozy. “Have you ever heard of James Van Der Beek? We’re his parents!” Yup. So that happened. They had a passerby take this photo and emailed it to me the next day. SO IT WASN’T ALL JUST A DREAM!
We finished up, said farewell and moved along to our return trip down I-95. It was late enough that traffic was light, so we cruised swiftly along the gentle glide of the highway. Only one stop remained in our path: Colony Grill in Stamford, CT. This place is a 1930s Irish pub that started doing pizza somewhere after WWII. It’s a thin pan pizza with cheese all the way out to the edge (it even burns a bit!!!!) and we had to have it as a nightcap.
Half sausage, all hot oil at Colony.
We did a classic order of a small pie with hot oil on the whole thing and sausage on half. The hot oil is a must here so don’t leave Colony without it! It’s a Serrano pepper-infused oil and it is delightful, especially when matched with chunks of sausage. This was a crowd favorite for sure and I’m glad we made the stop.
And so our journey came to an end as we returned to New York City filled with new-found knowledge and bellies filled with delicious pizza.