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Pizza Crawl

Now, this journal entry is mostly intended for readers from Connecticut. If you're not from Connecticut, there's probably not going to be a lot here to interest you, so go and talk amongst yourselves.

A few posts back, I wondered whether or not I had any fans in New Haven. Turns out I do. Some of them spoke up in replies to that LJ entry, and others sent me email. Here's why I asked --

Next month Parris and I will be making our annual visit to Boston for Boskone (a great convention, I urge you all to attend). After the con, we'll be making our annual post-Boskone visit to New York City. We usually take the train down from Boston to NYC's Penn Station (soon to be renamed Moynihan Station, I hope, in honor of Parris's Uncle Pat), and that's what we plan to do this year... but this year, we're planning on getting off at New Haven on the way, to try out the pizza.

Some of you may have read my "What I'm Reading" page, and may remember my 2005 review of Ed Levine's book about pizza, A SLICE OF HEAVEN. If so, you'll know that I am a huge fan of classic NYC style thin crust pizza pie ("real pizza," I call it, and don't talk to me about that Chicago deep-dish tomato and bread casserole thing). Well, Levine's book claims that the best pizza in the world comes from New Haven. Since that time, I've also seen a special on the Food Channel that makes the same claim. Two specific places are mentioned -- Frank Pepe's and Sally's.

OK. Out here in New Mexico, I live thousands of miles from great pizza (some of the local pies are adequate, but that's all, and they don't even call 'em "pies," which is a dead clue that the pizza is going to be second rate). I can't stand the thought of riding right past what may be the best pizza places in the world without trying. Ergo...

You've all heard of pub crawls. Well, I'm up for a pizza crawl. I want to try BOTH of these famous pizza places, and see how their pie stacks up. And maybe some place called Modern too. I see from my webcrawling that there are some New Havenites who rate that one even higher than Sally's and Frank Pepe's.

So here's the plan. Parris and I leave leave Boston by train on Tuesday, February 20. It will only take us a few hours to New Haven. We'll check into a hotel, stay overnight, and check out a few slices before departing again for NYC on Wednesday, February 21.

If any of my Connecticut readers want to join us for a slice or three... hey, the more the merrier, I always say. Some local guides would be most welcome... and who knows? If the pizza is as good as advertised, I might even be convinced to make a few knights...

So speak up, New Haven! Who's game for a pizza crawl?

Comments

(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2007 09:45 pm (UTC)
Pizza crawl logistics
Hello Mr. Martin, et al.,

I've lived in the New Haven area for five years or so after having lived in New York for the previous five years, and here's the best objective take I have on New Haven pizza.

First off, New Haven is blessed by being a town of real eaters; there are many, many people around here who like to go out to eat, and are willing to spend money on and wait in line for good food. This has resulted in an unusually large and good selection of restaurants for a city its size, and frankly, it's one of the reasons that I live here. I like to eat; I like to talk about eating; I like to eat while I talk, and talk while I eat; and I like to talk about eating while eating.

Whether you decide New Haven pizza is the best pizza you've ever had or just too thin with slightly burnt crust, it is a species of pizza distinct from other pizza I've had--distinct enough that New Haven pizza joints call their pizza "apizza," not "pizza." (Don't everyone get all excited. I'm just saying that's the way we spell it around here. I won't defend it, or apologize for it.) Apizza has different priorities from New York pizza. New Haveners like to point out that New Haven apizza places were using brick ovens in the 1920s, well before it became fashionable in New York to do so, but that's neither here nor there. The key differences I've noticed between New Haven apizza and New York pizza, as characterized by Di Fara, Grimaldi's, Totonno's, and John's, as well as the generally good pizza joints you might find in Brooklyn or Queens:

1. Apizza is considerably thinner and wider than is NYC pizza.
2. Greater emphasis on sauce in New Haven, versus a greater emphasis on cheese in New York. Some hardcore New Haveners consider mozzarella to be an abomination unto pizza, and stick to straight-up grated parmesan. (Sally's, for example, can look askance at those who don't order "red pies," meaning pies with just sauce and no cheese.)
3. Different crust: aside from being thinner than New York pizza, apizza is also crunchier and perhaps a tad sweeter. Because of the infernal heat of the aforementioned brick ovens, the crust can get pretty toasty, which some people like and some don't.

Sally's and Pepe's duke it out for most famous in New Haven due to the generally accepted excellence of their pies, but the wait at these places can be really long--two hours is not unusual. Modern, as far as I can tell, wins the New Haven Advocate's poll for best pizza because the pizza there is deemed as good as it is at Sally's and Pepe's, but the wait isn't remotely as long and the service is considered slightly better. There may also be a generational factor in play: Baby boomers seem to prefer Sally's or Pepe's, whereas younger folks gravitate toward Modern. Make of that what you will; really, my evidence for this last point is so anecdotal that it's kind of irresponsible of me to bring it up.

All three places--Sally's, Pepe's, and Modern, have been around for longer than most people have been alive, so that tells you something right there. They're all good. Lately, a newcomer named Bar has been serving New Haven-style apizza, and most people around here feel that they make a good pie, too.

The one thing I would say about the pizza crawl idea--other than that it's awesome--is that it'll be hard to do unless you have a couple people with you. First of all, none of the three big places in New Haven serves pizza by the slice. Second, the waits at Sally's and Pepe's really can be long (or not; it's kind of like traffic in Los Angeles). You could, of course, not eat all of the pizza that you order; and perhaps the waits at Sally's and Pepe's will be long enough that by the time you get your pizza at the second place, you'll be hungry again anyway. Or, if you're here overnight, you could eat one in one night and then save the other two for the next day. But the waits are a factor, and should be considered. I'd allot two hours of wait each for Sally's and Pepe's, and forty-five minutes for Modern, though if you go during the day, the waits will likely be a lot shorter.

Finally, I might be able to join you for at least one of these pies. How would I get a hold of you to coordinate?

Thanks--and I hope this was helpful.

Brian Slattery

(Anonymous)
Jan. 20th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Pizza crawl logistics
Great write up Brian! I would give you 5/5stars if I could rate posts.

-Zen Blade

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