New Haven Apizza
On Wooster Street in New Haven are two famed New Haven apizza (pizza) restaurants. New Haven-style pizza is cooked in a brick oven and noted for its thin crispy crust. Pepe’s, the original from 1925, and Sally’s, the newer kid on the block from 1938, regularly have long lines of patrons waiting for their pies. Locals argue about which one is better. I tried them on different nights with slightly different orders, so I know I am comparing eggplant to basil here, but this is how they stacked up.
Sally’s has an old-timey charm, with newspaper clippings on the wall and a dimly-lit interior. It was easy to imagine Frank Sinatra biting into a slice. Pepe’s has a similar decor, but more upscale and more recently renovated. For the historical feel, I give the atmosphere edge to Sally’s.
At the time I went to Sally’s in a party of four, there was no line (about 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night). We opened the door and walked in. Oops! We were supposed to wait outside and were gruffly told so by a waiter. The waiter was well-schooled in ignoring us when we wanted to put in new drink orders, too.
At Pepe’s, on the other hand, we were greeted warmly. There was a large stop sign on the door indicating the “rules,” so we knew to wait outside. We timed our visit to avoid lines (5 p.m. on a Thursday). I know the line-waiting is part of the tradition, but it’s just not our thing! Our waitress was extremely friendly and attentive. By the way, as we were exiting, we saw some new patrons walk right in through the stop sign, and they were asked to wait outside in a very friendly and helpful way. For service, Pepe’s won by a mile.
It all really comes down to taste, right? Going in, I was predisposed to thinking they both would be great, and they were, so it is hard to make the call. Ideally, we would order the same pies and try them side by side, but I will do the best I can here.
At both places, we got a red pizza (eggplant parmesan at Sally’s, margherita at Pepe’s) and a white clam pizza (with bacon at Sally’s). They were all delicious–crispy chewy crusts, with fresh, flavorful toppings. For the red, I give the prize to Sally’s. The red sauce was thicker and richer, and the creamy eggplant and mozzarella were perfect additions. Pepe’s red was delicious, too, though; don’t get me wrong.
The white: Pepe’s white clam pizza was sublime. Huge, juicy chunks of freshly shucked clams were all over the pie, interspersed with big chunks of garlic and swimming in olive oil.
Sally’s red won and Pepe’s white won, a split decision. I award the taste prize to Pepe’s, though, since its white was the overall winner. I don’t even fancy myself to favor white clam pizzas over red pizzas, but it won me over at the first bite.
What is your favorite style of pizza?
#23. 101 things in 1001 days: Eat pizza at Pepe’s.