Posts Tagged ‘new haven’

I’ve got a pizza bucket list. I’ve been to Lombardi’s. Al Forno in Providence claims the rights to the first (and some argue the best) grilled pizza. Dying to go to DiFara’s in Brooklyn…Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. And I’ve tried going to Frank Pepe’s original location in New Haven, CT for years. Right off Rt 95, it’s easy to get to, in New Haven’s Little Italy neighborhood on Wooster St. The problem was, every time I stopped by, the line was down the street and parking was impossible. Take-out was not an option. My first visit had to be inside, at a table.

I never gave up!

My chance finally arrived recently, when my daughter and I were returning home to Rhode Island from a weekend in New York City. It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon. I found a parking space…we were third in line at the door…could we really be going inside Frank Pepe’s? Yes!!

 

Our booth was literally one step in and a step to the right. Boom. We sat. We looked around. We breathed it all in. It was loud. People were happy. They were eating pizza!

Soon it was our turn to order. I had no choice but to order a white clam pizza, the stuff of legend at Frank Pepe. That had to be my first bite there. My daughter ordered a large margherita pizza…and we were off!

 

 

We started by sharing a Caesar salad. Good…but not why we came here!

 

 

Soon, the pies arrived…the margherita came first, served on a large rectangular sheet pan, not the standard round pizza pan. And it was HUGE. We didn’t have a problem with that! It looked and smelled amazing. Moments later, our server brought out a metal frame that allowed for a second level of pizza…and my white clam pie arrived!

 

 

The white clam pizza is so simple: a thin crust, fresh clams, olive oil, some cheese, oregano. But the oven…that magical oven…is as much of an important ingredient as anything on the pizza itself. A coal-fired oven that burns hot and dry, not wet like a wood fire…an oven that dates back to 1936, when Frank Pepe moved from his original bakery location to a spot right next door, where it still stands today, at 157 Wooster St. That means my pizza “touched” every other pizza made at Frank Pepe’s…perhaps even a molecule of Frank’s first pie touched mine. Whatever…my first bite was pure magic. My daughter’s reaction to the margherita was the same.

 

 

 

The pies were huge, so we boxed up whatever we couldn’t finish and brought it home. When I asked my daughter what she wanted for dinner that night, she simply smiled and said: “More of that pizza!” I couldn’t agree more!

Frank Pepe’s now has 10 locations in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and their newest location: in my little state of Rhode Island. But for me, the only place to go is New Haven: the oven, the atmosphere…you can’t replicate that anywhere else.

 

That hook hanging from the ceiling holds the handle of the long pizza peel in the air so they don’t smack into it. (See the peels on the left.) The pizza oven is so deep, they can go about 4 pizzas deep at one time. It takes a real pro to keep them all cooking perfectly.

 

 

 

A side note: Frank Pepe originally opened a bakery in 1925 at 163 Wooster St., now doing business as Frank Pepe’s the Spot. When he got tired of baking and delivering bread, he decided he would start making pizza, so that his customers would come to him instead.

He sold that bakery to move in next door at 157 Wooster St., in 1936, and that’s been the location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana ever since.

Frank’s daughters bought back the bakery years later, and so now you can visit either location for a taste of history.

And Frank’s nephew, Salvatore, opened his own pizzeria: Sally’s Apizza, a must-stop for me the next time I’m passing through New Haven.

 

In the tradition of the Food Network’s extremely popular show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” I get a special thrill in discovering great old eating establishments while on the road.

One way to easily hunt down those local gems is by downloading an app like MapMuse on my iPhone, which tells me all of the locations of every joint featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

So whenever I’m heading home to New York to see my family, I check the website out for the possibility of a fun eating experience along the way, not too far off I-95.

One time I made a stop in Westport, CT at the Black Duck Cafe, and chowed down on an amazing sauteed crawfish po-boy and Caesar salad, on the waterfront of this sleepy blue-collar town, the elevated highway directly above.

More recently, I stopped in New Haven, CT at the legendary Louis’ Lunch, established in 1895. With room for only 25 people, this tiny hot spot claims it is where the hamburger was invented. If you want a fancy burger, this is not the place. They serve ’em just a few ways: with cheese or without, with tomatoes and onions or without. All burgers are cooked medium-rare, and come on toasted white bread. No ketchup in the building. No salt and pepper. For sides: potato salad or chips. Some drinks. And that’s it!

Apparently, they don’t need to cater to the masses, because there’s always a line out the door, and the wait can be as long as 2 hours for a burger…and people gladly wait.

A fresh batch of burgers right out of the grill!

I was lucky: I got there on a Friday afternoon and missed the lunch rush, so I only had to wait a half-hour for my taste of history, still grilled in the funky-looking original gas-fired grills built back in the 1800’s.

The original grills at Louis’ Lunch: 9 burgers are cooked at a time, placed in a screen that holds them while they cook sideways.

In all honesty, it was not the best burger I’ve ever had…and I don’t know if I’d wait 2 hours for one. But it was a fun experience being there…watching others in line doing what I was doing: whipping out the phone and taking pictures of this legendary establishment…one that almost succumbed to the wrecking ball until the people of New Haven came to the aid of Louis’ Lunch and had it moved down the road to its current location.

At the counter: White plastic bags full of sliced bread await the toaster that sends them spinning around on a belt.
It just takes a couple of minutes off I-95 to get to Louis’ Lunch. Certainly more fun than stopping at some fast food joint. And a chance to taste a bit of  history.