The commotion, the huge ovens, the slicing methods and the ten-foot long pizza peels are truly sites to behold. If you're making a weekend trip and you don’t arrive by 11:30am (noon the latest) it’s doubtful that you’ll be eating during the first seating. In that case you may as well wait for the 4pm (2pm Sunday) opening of the adjacent original 1925 Frank Pepe’s location, now called The Spot. You may have to wait for someone to pull out of the guarded parking lot for a space. But hey, you’ll be there for the first seating.
The Clam Pie. Any discussion about the best clam pie starts here. It's characterized by an abundance of freshly-shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano and grated cheese atop a charcoal-colored crust. Even the folks at Sally's will tell you Frank Pepe's does it best.
Once you've done the basic clam pie, the fun starts: advanced toppings. The clam pie "no mozz" with bacon is excellent, but less discussed is the tomato pie with shrimp. Juicy, supple, and fresh.
The original Frank Pepe's location (circa 1925) is at the back of the parking lot for the bigger one at 163 Wooster Street. It's closed Monday and Tuesday, and opens later in the day when it does start serving. Wednesday - Saturday, 4:00pm-10:00pm. And Sunday, from 2:00pm - 8:00pm.
On a side note, you can rent The Spot. Mondays through Fridays during lunch, 50 people can do three hours, all you can eat pizza and all you can drink wine and beer for $750, plus tax and tip. For dinner, Monday through Thursday, it’s $1,500 (plus tax and tip).
The advanced clam pie move. White clam pizza with fresh clams, grated cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic and oregano. Then add bacon.
The advanced clam pie move: a clam pie, "no mozz," with bacon. More salt, more fat, more delicious juiciness and crunch.
One off-the-menu item that’s not as well known at Pepe’s is the “Chai” pie, a cheese-first pie that has the sauce ladled on top, “so you taste the sauce first,” explained the pizzaiolo.
The line outside Pepe’s is bad, but the wait inside the lovingly dingy Sally’s Apizza once you’re seated is worse. It’s not the machine Pepe’s is. Even if you're at the front of the line, there will still likely be a long wait before anything reaches the table save an enticing smell.
Sally’s top honors go to the Plain Tomato Sauce with Parmesan. It’s one of those situations where there’s nothing to hide. If the crust or the sauce stinks, failure is abject and obvious. While other pies in New Haven rely on toppings, here things are simple and good. There’s just sauce: sweet, garlicky and a little salty, and at the perfect ratio to crust. Not a sauce-drenched crust, but enough to ensure each bite goes down wet and easy.
Ask several New Havenites about pizza and it’s likely they’ll say they eschew Pepe’s and Sally’s in favor of Modern Apizza. Modern is good, and you can't blame locals for getting line rage, but even though you're likely to have a friendlier experience, the actual pizza doesn't quite measure up to the other two.
At Modern, the checklist item is the Italian Bomb. There's a reason why they sell a T-shirt dedicated to it. Bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion and pepper. It may be structurally unsound, but the toppings are tasty and you can always knife-and-fork-it.
The Bru Room at BAR serves four micro-brewed beers: Toasted Blonde, AmBAR Ale, Pale Ale, and Damn Good Stout. There are no less than 24 topping options at The Bru Room. The most intriguing, the reason for a visit, is mashed potatoes.
Mashed potatoes on bread. Ah, the ol’ doubling up on starch move. But which way, white or red?
“Some people order it on the red pie, I don’t really get that,” noted the server. “It’s great on the white pie, but in this case, you want the cheese.”
She was right. The pie looks a bit like it’s covered with thick béchamel. The mashed potatoes are well-seasoned and fairly creamy for having just baked in an oven. And there’s lots of garlic. Lots.