Friday, October 24, 2008

New Haven: Frank Pepe's

The Bacon and Mootz Pizza.

From what I can gather, Frank Pepe's is the ORIGINAL place for pizza in New Haven. Even at 4pm it's pretty busy. There isn't really a line but the tables are all pretty much full. Originally, I didn't think I was going to get the change to eat here because American Pie said it was only open for dinner. Don't know when it changed but Frank Pepe's now opens before lunch. Good thing I decided to take a drive down to Wooster Street anyway.

Located in the heart of New Haven's Little Italy, Frank Pepe's is a pretty big place with two dining rooms and an absolutely huge brick oven. It doesn't look like much at first, until you peer into the lit oven through the door. That's when you notice that it looks kinda deep. Real fricken' deep. Like fifteen feet deep. The oven is bigger than a New York apartment.

The crust.

Since I'm dining solo, I find it relatively easy to secure a two top from the friendly waitress who seats me. Pepe's has the usual assortment of pizzas but since I've already set the tone at Modern, I just go for a small bacon pizza to make an easy comparison.

While waiting, things are bustling. Like I said, the place is full and there's a steady stream of take out orders being picked up. Since it's only about 4pm, I can imagine what it must be like during the dinner rush. And it is a Friday night tonight - must be sheer pandemonium in here.

I was told the oven is 15' deep.

But for now, I'm okay. In a few minutes, my pizza arrives. Like Modern, it comes on a half sheet pan - does everyone in New Haven do this? I actually like this approach than the round metal pans pizzas normally come in. It's just kinda classy looking. Again, this is high-temperature pizza and it has the uneven colored marks of the classic pizza.

I take a bite. And it's just heaven. It's not as sweet as Modern's but definitely more complex. More depth, more juicy, a sheen of oil coats the cheese. God, this is good. Is this better than Modern? It's different. The flavors come together in a symphony. It's luscious and elegant. It's like a mosaic of flavors. The tomato sauce is sublime. Combine it with the cheese and the dough and it's almost unbelievable. This may very well be the best pizza in the United States.

I can't eat it all. I refuse to. I must reserve myself and see what it tastes like later, when it's cold (I've got the Modern leftovers in the truck). I ask for a box. I think that I should have ordered the large pizza instead - or at least an additional one for the road.

A Frank Pepe photo shoot.

Frank Pepe's is famous for its' pizza and now I know why. Yes, there's good pizza in New York City. There's good pizza in Washington, D.C.. But Frank Pepe's has a combination that I haven't tasted anywhere else. It really might be the best pizza in America. I must explore further. And I will report back later.

The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511


rich said...

Ahhh... maybe the biggest reason I miss home.

However, even if you thought Pepe's bacon pie was the best ever, you STILL should've gone for the white clam, IMO. That's the signature pie. You need to go back to NH soon.

On on the way up, you can stop at the Colony in Stamford for a hot oil & stinger pan pie. Add it to your list ;-)

Kenny said...

OK, now you've got me jones'ing for some pizza. Unfortunately here in Towson I am unaware of anything remotely touching those that you tasted.

Here's a question for you. In the Baltimore/Towson area... where would you go for a good pizza?

Serpico's (Perry Hall)?
Italian Gardens?
Somewhere else???

-Kenny, always looking for a good pizza.

onocoffee said...

Hmm, pizza in Baltimore... Now that I've had pizza in Tokyo, Zagreb and New Haven, it's hard to say.

Maria's Pizza - Timonium
Definitely nowhere near the league of Pepe's but it's a pizza I ate for many years and I do have a fond spot for their sweet tomato sauce, cheese and sausage pizza. BTW, their normal sauce is sweet and not an option like might be implied here.

Italian Gardens - Kenilworth Mall, Towson
This is has been a favorite of Northern Baltimore for many, many years. It's pretty good - when they actually take enough time to crisp the crust for the single slices of pie. Actually, I think I would only eat their pizza as single, crispy slices - but only the cheese with a sprinkling of powdered garlic and crushed red peppers.

Pizza John's - Essex
Reputed to be the Best Pizza in Baltimore. It's good but not the best I've had. Worth checking out for yourself, though. And I made a visit back in August:

Joe Squared - North Avenue, Baltimore
They keep telling me that North Avenue is making a comeback (slowly) but I can't help but still be a bit unnerved about parking a block or two away. And I haven't been there since they installed their new coal-fired oven but, in the past, when Joe2 has been on point, their pizza has been very good.

Of course, there's an equal amount of times that I've been there when the pizza fell flat and was just ho-hum. Consistency has not been their strong suit - and neither has expediency of service. However, if you happen to go there on a good night, the pizza experience can be quite rewarding.

Woodberry Kitchen - Clipper Mill, Baltimore
Yes, I'm close friends with the chef. Yes, I know the kitchen crew there. But no, I would not recommend them just because of that.

While not a pizza joint per se, Woodberry does have some really nice examples of pizza on their menu. From potato and cheese to fruits and (if you're lucky ) egg - it can be a bit more experimental than most places and definitely outside expectations but that can also translate into something delicious as well.

These are the places that immediately come to mind. If I think of more, I'll be sure to mention them.

Good luck!