Friday, October 24, 2008
New Haven: Modern Apizza
The Bacon and Mootz Pizza.
In the book American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza Peter Reinhart seeks out some of the best pizza in the world and finds a mecca of pizza in New Haven, Connecticut. I read his book a year or so ago and ever since, I've been meaning to visit and sample for myself. Today, is that day.
According to Reinhart, there are three classic pizza joints in New Haven that defined the genre: Frank Pepe's, Sally's and Modern, with Pepe's being the first. In the book both Pepe's and Sally's open for dinner only and usually have lines down the block - which means I might not have the opportunity to try either of them. Hearing that Modern opens at the sensible hour of 11am, I head there first.
Modern is just that, pretty modern. It's got that classic brown wood, collegiate look to it. Since I got a late start and it's past lunch, the place is looking a bit worn from the first daypart of service. As I hunt down a table, I notice that many of them have already been used and that bussing really isn't a priority here. From remnant bits of bacon and other toppings to stacks of plates and trays.
I find a spot by the main window and seat myself. The host, looking like a jock in baseball cap, gym shorts and Modern t-shirt pronounces mozzarella just the way Reinhart described: "mootz," telling me that while he might be in college, he's more local than Yalie. I take it as a good sign. He kindly wipes off my table of the bacon bits.
A little charred.
Coming to a new place is always difficult. What do you order? I'm here to sample what is supposedly some of the best pizza in America and I don't know what to try. Just tomato and cheese? Sausage? The works? Clams? So many problems. I decide to go simple: tomato, mootz and bacon.
I don't know why I chose bacon. It just rolled off the tongue. Usually I go for sausage. Bacon? I don't know why.
After a while, the pizza comes and it's served on a half sheet pan. The foodservice part of me loves the industrial look of the tableware. The pizza looks pretty darn good, though a part of it has been charred a bit too heavily for my tastes. It looks like black carbon, but I guess that's part of the dilemma when cooking with superheated ovens - the kind that are appropriate for pizza making.
The first bite is blazing. The pizza is still searingly hot. Crap. Luckily, I didn't burn my tongue or my taste buds. Let it cool for a few moments and then try again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This time the flavor is unmistakable. There's a slight tang and then sweetness in the sauce. It's romantic. It's slightly complex. It's nourishing and it's warming. Wow. This is some good pizza. In fact, it's definitely one of the best pizzas I've ever had - although the best pizza I've had yet was the pizza at Salvatore Cuomo in Ginza, Tokyo.
But this pizza is great. The mootz just glistens and slides into your mouth. It's silky smooth with a mellow flavor. The bacon is, well, bacon. It can only do good. I know I've got a couple more places to hit, so two slices would be ideal. But it's so good, I end up eating three before I force myself to stop.
The downside to me is the crust. Not that it isn't good, because it is. I just wish the crust weren't soft from the toppings in the center of the pie. I don't know if it needs to be cooked longer to dry and crisp, or if it needs to be thicker in that spot. Though while it was soft, it was still delicious and I would like more.
874 State Street
New Haven, CT 06511