What’s So Great About New Haven Style Apizza?

Apizza (“Ah-Beetz”)

Magic happened in 1925, when Italian immigrant Frank Pepe opened Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut. Frank immigrated to the Wooster Square neighborhood and was a factoryworker, left during World War I to fight in Italy, then came back to New Haven to work at a bakery. Frank began selling tomato pies on foot, then later by wagon, ultimately buying his employer’s bakery when his pies proved to be highly sought after. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana was born, and it would change the way in which we speak about pizza a century later. New Haven would forever be a pizza city, and many similar businesses such as Sally’s and Modern Apizza would pop up serving the same style of cheesy deliciousness in the city, state, and later beyond.

Apizza is a Neapolitan-style of pizza. With it’s thin-crust, blackened edges, and charred bottom – this piece of culinary art is a feast for the eyes and mouth. Traditionally, a plain apizza is comprised of the crust, tomato sauce, oregano, and some pecorino-romano cheese. Today, you can expect to receive all of that but with some mozzarella cheese to craft a delight that very few can turn down.

To survive as a pizzeria in New Haven, one must produce amazing pizza. The locals won’t have it any other way, as they are proud of being the “pizza capital of the world”. Even Dave Portnoy, the most influential pizza related guy on YouTube, has declared New Haven to be the pizza capital of the United States:

Apizza has spread outside of the epicenter of the city and can be found in every corner of the State of Connecticut. The phenomenon stretches outside of the state, as New Haven Style Pizza places sprout up across the nation. Furthermore, the love and demand of the major apizza places has created a boom in expansion as more locations pop up for Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Zuppardi’s.

History

After Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana opened in 1925, other apizza places began to sprout up in Elm City. In 1934, Modern Apizza opened. Salvatore Consiglio opened Sally’s Apizza in 1938. Master bread-baker Dominic Zuppardi opened Salerno’s Bakery, and two year’s later moved to nearby West Haven where Zuppardi’s was born. Today, there are hundreds of pizzerias in Connecticut serving up apizza.

Where did all this even come from? Who do we have to thank? When we think of food cultures – the countries that take food extremely seriously, places like France and Italy spring to mind. Perhaps China, Greece, and Spain come next. When people leave these places en-masse to their new homelands, they bring their food culture with them. If we are lucky enough, we get to benefit when they settle beside us. This is exactly what happened at the end of the nineteenth century when thousands of Italian immigrants crossed the Atlantic to come to Connecticut.

The United States was experiencing a boom in industrial growth, and Italians came with dreams of work opportunities as they relocated entire families to Connecticut’s urban centers of New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, and more.

While a large amount of these immigrants worked as manual laborers, others began to meet the demand of the tastes of the newly transplanted populace by opening restaurants, bakeries, and other food establishments that in turn became popular with the locals.

Today, it’s easier to count municipalities in Connecticut which do not have a pizzeria. While not all of them serve apizza, the Italian influence is apparent on the menu where you will find Bolognese, Tiramisu, Lasagna, and more. It would be difficult to not trip over a dozen Italian delis in every city, and you’d be doing yourself a favor by walking into an Italian butcher shop.

What Makes A Pizza…Apizza?

So what exactly is apizza? As mentioned earlier, you can expect a thin-crust with tomato sauce and oregano. While mozzarella is considered a topping in some apizza places like Roseland Apizza, you can almost always expect apizza to come standard with cheese. The traditional way, which Frank Pepe sold in apizza’s infancy, would come as a “tomato pie”; subtracting the mozzarella and receiving a dusting of grated pecorino-romano cheese.

The shape of apizza is often rustic and oblong, and coal-fired ovens singe the characteristic char on the edges and bottom of the pie. The dough creates a chewier texture than you would expect, and is most closely related to Neapolitan and New York style pizza. While apizza is beautiful in its simplicity, all pizzerias have high-quality ingredients to throw atop the pie – with the major places having their own signature apizza pies. For example:

Zuppardi’s Apizza: “The Special”: Red pizza topped with mozzarella, mushrooms, and homemade fennel sausage.
Modern Apizza: “The Italian Bomb”: Bacon, Sausage, Pepperoni, Mushroom, Onion, Pepper, and Garlic.
Pepe’s: “White Clam Pizza”: Fresh Clams, Garlic, Oregano, Grated Pecorino-Romano & Olive Oil
Chowtrip’s Favorite: Red pizza topped with mozzarella, hot cherry peppers, and broccoli.

Where Should I Go?

In conclusion, if you are coming to New Haven to experience apizza – there are a couple places you must hit in order to experience the sought-after tastes of Elm City. Come hungry, as you can hit a bunch of places in one day, and you won’t be able to order a slice. Be prepared to purchase a whole pie, and you’d be surprised how much you can eat of the light thin apizzas.

Start in Wooster Square, go to the original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Take a short walk down the street to Sally’s Apizza. Take a break by visiting Yale University’s free Yale University Art Gallery and the Beinecke Library. Afterwards, go to Modern Apizza. If you are still feeling hungry, you can drive outside of New Haven and check out Zuppardi’s in West Haven or Roseland in Derby. If you want to stay in within city limits, for a spin on something different, go to BAR and try the mashed potato pie. Beware, the pizzeria/brewery becomes a nightclub after a certain hour.

Either direction you decide to take after the major three, you will not be disappointed. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Chowtrip Apizza Ranking

While all the well known apizza joints are fantastic, here is the Chowtrip top four:

1. Sally’s Apizza
2. Modern Apizza
3. Roseland Apizza
4. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

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