Beyond Pizza: New Haven's Beer, Doughnuts, Sustainable Sushi

Pizza enthusiasts will tell you that New Haven, Conn. is known for founding the New Haven-style thin-crust pizza (resembling Neapolitan-style Italian pizza), or "appiz," as natives call it. Though visitors come for the pizza, the famous town is less recognized for its culinary history that dates farther back than pizza — to craft beer, parking spaces used for outdoor seating, the first ever square-shaped doughnuts, the original sustainable sushi restaurant, and much more.

The city, which is home to more than 130 restaurants, was the first in the United States to design a city plan, for which a nine-square-grid concept is used. At the center of its nine grids is the Center Green. Across from the Green, Ordinary — what the town referred to in the 1600s as the "ordinary" tavern for eats, drinks, and accommodations — dates back to 1646, when New Haven's first beer was brewed at the site. The first alcohol served in New Haven was not beer, though; it was rum and Spanish wine acquired from trading with nearby port cities. Having been passed through many owners through the years, Ordinary has had many names, from Miles Tavern to Beers Tavern to the Taft Barroom — when it was torn down and rebuilt as part of the Hotel Taft. After closing during Prohibition, Barroom reopened as the English Tap Room with detailed woodwork, masculine archways, and various other renovations that still define the bar.

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

When the Tap Room later became known as Richter's, owner Richter Elser wanted to allow people to choose their own beer and began offering craft beers, making Richter's New Haven's first craft beer bar. It's latest renaming is Ordinary — after what locals of the town called it back in 1646 — serving barrel-aged cocktails, charcuterie, chocolates, cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches, smoked meats, and pies.

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

Bartenders will show you that the bar still opens into the lobby of what is now known as the Taft Hotel, which resides next door in the former space of Hotel Taft.

A few blocks from Ordinary, Cask Republic, a bar designed entirely of mahogany from its entry doors to its bar to its beer cellar, may not have as rich of an architectural history but is known for brewing its own cask-aged beers — traditionally an English style of brewing in which beer undergoes a secondary fermentation, adding sweetness and making the beer taste more like a port or dessert wine.

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

Republic offers the largest selection of beer on tap (53, domestic and international) in New Haven and its cellar is filled with vintage and rare beers from all over the world. Complementing the various flavors of beer, snacks of smoked teriyaki beef jerky and roasted barbecue peanuts are made in house.

Down the road at Meat & Co., a farm-to-table sandwich shop, the café's grilled sandwiches are best enjoyed outside in a parking space set up with a table and chairs for customers. Meat & Co. was the first venue in New Haven to rent out parking spaces for outdoor seating — a trend that residents of New Haven take advantage of when the weather's nice. 

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

Every Meat & Co. sandwich is one-of-a-kind, whether it's the Garden Rustla (roast squash, onion, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce), the Smoked Trout (pea tendrils, pickled radish, ginger-avocado-lime dressing), or the God Forbid (roast beef, liverwurst, Landaff cheese, sesame, coriander, balsamic red onion jam).

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

For the late-nighters, the shop makes a secret sandwich called the Bubble and Squeak (prepared on a house-made, square English muffin with cured ham, tater tots, gravy, and cheese) that you have to hear about to know about (this writer heard about it from a bartender at Ordinary). Meat & Co.'s locally-made sodas are a must-try as well.

Nationally ranked for its doughnuts, Orangeside on Temple café promotes itself as the "home of the square donut."

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

The story goes that when the chef was forming the doughnuts from dough, he didn't want to waste corners to make circles, so he made the doughnuts square instead. The flavors, which include apple crunch, Samoa, and chocolate coconut, change seasonally — and the café is even working on a gluten-free line.

New Haven is big on sustainable sushi, as the town's oldest Japanese sushi restaurant Miya's is said to have been the first to create many cutting edge, sustainable sushi dishes, like the sweet potato roll and insect-integrated dishes.

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

Chef Bun Lai, who forages for ingredients himself, cooks keeping in mind the idea that bugs as well as invasive plant species have less impact on the earth, and likes to incorporate wild flavors. From fly larvae, served raw and dehydrated, to sake made of invasive Japanese knot weed that grows wild in New Haven, to spicy invasive Asian shore crab topped with seaweed, everything on the menu is fresh, sustainable, and an original creation.

Photo Credit: Dan Tontini

Lai even offers a menu under $5 to so that everyone can enjoy a healthy meal.

And of course, New Haven is never lacking in pizza, whether from Frank Pepe'sSally's Apizza, or Bru Room at BAR. But considering its offerings of international craft beers, original doughnuts, and inventive sushi, New Haven has made a name for itself with more than just pizza.

Haley Willard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.