When Zagat recently set out to select the best pizza in each of the nation’s 50 states, the competition both fierce and tasty. That’s certainly true of Connecticut, where special pride is taken in pizza specialties in every corner of the state. It was the white clam pie at Pepe’s on Wooster Street in New Haven that came out atop the list.
When the website The Daily Meal compiled the 101 best pizzas in America, the result was the same. The number one pizza in America? At Frank Pepe’s in New Haven.
That’s not all. Connecticut fared quite well among the top 101, with no less than five pizza selected – including another top ten selection – the Tomato Pie at Sally’s Apizza at number seven – and yet another ranked at #11, Modern Apizza – both, of course, in New Haven.
As was pointed out by Zagat, “whether it’s regional specialties like Detroit deep dish or white clam pie in Connecticut, or unusual varieties like python pizza down in Florida, we’ve got something for every palate and every citizen.” And indeed they did.
“Sally’s Apizza is a New Haven classic,” the Daily Meal described, “operating from the same location where they opened in the late 1930s in New Haven’s Wooster Square. Their pizza is traditionally thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and “mozz.”
Of Modern’s, the Daily Meal noted “coal-fired brick oven puts out pizza in the same thin-crust style. Modern’s pies are a little topping-heavy with less structural integrity. Given the focus on toppings, the iconic Italian Bomb is the pie to try: bacon, sausage, pepperoni, garlic, mushroom, onion, and pepper.”
The 27th best pizza in America is the sausage pie from Colony Grill in Stamford. They have been serving up pizza since 1935 and now have locations in Fairfield and Milford.
At #68 on the list is the Margherita pizza from Alforno in Old Saybrook. When Bob Zemmel opened the restaurant in 1992, his goal was to bring the style of pizza you typically find in New Haven’s “Little Italy” to the shoreline. It was a success, the website noted.
Why was Pepe’s number one?
“There’s a reason Frank Pepe routinely inspires a line down New Haven’s Wooster Street: that crust! It’s coal-fired perfection, thin yet substantial – a true feat of pizza engineering. You can pick up a slice, and it won’t flop over like most new-school Neapolitan pies. The most justly famous option is the white clam, piled with out-of-the-shell longnecks and a healthy dose of garlic – it’s briny, creamy, chewy and a true revelation,” Zagat pointed out.
Established in 1925, recent years have seen the singular location replicated – or nearly replicated – in a half dozen satellite locations, the latest in West Hartford, following Fairfield, Manchester, Danbury, Mohegan Sun, and Yonkers (just over the state line in New York). It began as so many immigrant stories did, with hard work, a transplanted delicacy, and more hard work. As the company website explains, “in 1925, with his wife Filomena, who was a pivotal influence on his success, Frank Pepe started making a simple and humble product from their homeland, pizza — or as they would say in their Neapolitan dialect, “apizza” (ah-beets). They baked their pizzas offering two types, tomatoes with grated cheese, garlic, oregano and olive oil and the other with anchovy. The Original Tomato Pie is still offered today and anchovy is still available as a topping.”
Pepe’s signature pizza, the White Clam Pizza, was most likely an organic inspiration by Frank Pepe; an idea born from the fact that Pepe’s also served raw little neck clams from Rhode Island, on the half shell, as an appetizer. This occurred around the mid 1960’s, the website explains, and gradually became popular through the years.
The Daily Meal considered 400 pizzas from throughout the U.S., using a judging panel that included 46 American chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities. “Of the 101 best pizzas, 30 were from New York State (that includes Long Island),” the website reported. “That being said, only three New York City pizzas made the top 10 and two of them were in Brooklyn. By contrast, two pizzas from Connecticut made the top 10, and three from California ranked among them.”