When was the last time you actually were at Tarry Lodge?
It’s been closed for years!
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The best pizza in New Haven is a hotly debated topic! Here is my opinion.
New Haven, Connecticut, is a small city mostly known for Yale University. But it is also widely known for its famous pizza.
Five years ago, there was a national hubbub about New Haven pizza when the online magazine dailymeal.com ranked Frank Pepe’s clam pizza number 1 in America.
New Yorkers scoffed, and so did Rhode Islanders, but everyone else streamed into the state to find out what we in Connecticut have known for a long time. There is something special about New Haven-style “apizza.” Another favorite New Haven pizza place was ranked in the top ten (Modern Pizza), and other New Haven pizza joints were ranked in the top 20.
When you think about the top pizza places in the US, you probably don’t think of tiny CT, but this should quickly change your mind.
History of Pizza in New Haven
The tradition of pizza in New Haven began when Italian immigrants first flocked to this part of the state in the early 1900s. The immigrants were primarily from Naples and began making “apizza” similar to what they had in Italy. This pizza featured a long fermentation that gives the crust more flavor and more spring.
Frank Pepe’s was ground zero for pizza in New Haven when it opened in 1925. They cooked their pizza in coal-fired ovens and allowed the crust to get a char to add more flavor to the crust.
Pepe’s pizzas were served with tomato sauce with only a sprinkling of parmesan. They were topped with “mootz” or mozzarella cheese very sparingly (If they were topped at all!)
As pizza parlors sprung up throughout the New Haven area, many have tried to make the simple “apizza” better, and most have failed. The big three that are still cranking out traditional pizzas made in the old way (although with gas ovens) are Pepe’s, Sally’s (established 1938), and Modern (established 1934).
Most appiza places are on Wooster Street or nearby, so if you are looking for good pizza, head there, and you won’t be disappointed.
How to not stand in line for New Haven Pizza
The best way to avoid an hour long-line for pizza is to go before 6:00 for dinner on a weeknight. Or go for lunch. If you can’t do that, order your pizza and pick it up! Avoid the weekends!!!
The lines are long, and the system for taking names seems like it won’t work, but it works very well. Stand or sit in one of the waiting rooms and remember who you are standing behind. An employee will periodically come to the door and ask who is next and how many people they have. Make sure you are paying attention.
What is the best pizza in New Haven?
We had a good idea, but we set out to really find out. We visited 5 of the best pizza joints in New Haven 5 nights in a row. We ordered a tomato pie (crust and sauce with parmesan cheese) at each place, and we ordered the pizza that made them famous. We also ordered local Foxon Park white birch beer because it is a well-known fact that you can’t eat New Haven pizza without it!
We took copious notes at each location, quite a few pictures, and noted the prices of birch beer at each as a way to differentiate prices. (sizes were not comparable at each place, and a liter of birch beer is a liter of birch beer, so it seemed like the best price comparison.)
On the 6th night, I ordered tomato pies from all our top contenders, and we fed each other the different choices while our eyes were closed, thus a blind taste test to pick our winner. The top 2 were far and away better than any of the others, but one came out victorious. Read on to find out which one.
What to order at Modern Pizza
Modern Pizza is well known as some of the best pizzas in New Haven. It was established in 1936 by Tony Tolli , and they cook their pizza over a gas fire.
I will say that Modern is generally our go-to when we eat pizza in New Haven. They have a parking lot, it’s closest to home, and we love how it tastes.
Modern is known for its Italian Bomb pizza, which features: bacon, sausage, pepperoni, onion, pepper, garlic, and mozzarella.
- The Italian bomb is spicy and vinegary and overloaded with toppings, making it hard to eat without a fork.
- The tomato pie at Modern has quite a bit of parmesan, which makes it very rich.
- The crust has a nice chew with a very subtle crunch and is almost pillowy as it nears the crust. The char on the edge gives a bitter note that pairs well with the rest of the pizza. The crust is the thickest of all the crusts at the edge of the pizza.
- The sauce features a smooth mouthfeel with a very tomato-forward taste. It is well-seasoned and not too salty.
- Modern also wins for fastest service! You order as soon as you sit down and within 10 minutes, you have your pizza.
- $2.25 per liter of birch beer.
On-site parking is often full, but they do have it. Our wait time was 15 minutes on a Tuesday night. Street parking is fairly easy to find on weeknights.
What to eat at Sally’s APizza
Sally’s is known for their tomato pie, and its devoted fans say it is the best in New Haven. Sally’s was established in 1938 by Salvatore Consiglio, the nephew of Frank Pepe. The Consiglio family ran it until 2017 when it was sold to new owners. The exact recipe is still being used today, and the same equipment.
We got a tomato pie and a pepperoni pizza.
- We found the tomato pie to have a much more acidic sauce than other places, but they were more generous with the tomato sauce. The sauce was pretty plain and didn’t have tons of seasoning other than salt.
- The crust has a much darker char than anywhere else, making for messy eating. (We went through a ton of napkins!) The crust is less chewy and more crunchy and is definitely not our favorite crust of the bunch.
- Sally’s is for the purist as their pizzas are built on the foundation of a few ingredients and letting their sauce and crust shine.
- Our wait time on a Wednesday night was 5 minutes.
- $4.00 per birch beer liter
What to eat at Pepe’s Pizza
Pepe’s is famous for being the oldest apizza spot in New Haven. They also began the pizza empire with relatives breaking off to start Sally’s and Modern. Pepe’s is famous for its white clam pizza.
We ordered a tomato pie, a white clam pizza, and a pepperoni pizza. If you visit during the summer, the fresh tomato pizza is heavenly.
- The tomato pie tasted like fresh tomato unadorned by anything other than olive oil. The sauce is chunkier than other tomato pies we had, but there was less of it on the pizza. The pie has a very thin crust with less chew than either Sally’s or Modern. But the crust has the best flavor of the bunch. The fermentation of the crust leads to a tangy and delicious crust. The edges are subtly charred.
- The clam pizza is a must if you are a seafood lover. Garlic, parmesan, and tender clams are tossed across the surface of the pizza, and olive oil completes the symphony. It is pure bliss.
- We had the longest wait at Pepe’s (40 minutes) on Thursday night at 6:30 pm.
- $3.50 per birch beer
What to eat at Bar Pizza
Bar opened in 1991, making it the youngest of the competitors for the best pizza in New Haven. Bar is known for its beer on tap and its nightlife, and its pizza.
Bar is known for its mashed potato pizza.
We ordered a mashed potato pizza and a classic tomato pie.
- Bar has the thinnest crust of all the pizzas we tried. There is not a lot of chew to the crust, nor is it very strong. I found it hard to eat the mashed potato pizza with my hands and had to resort to using a fork.
- The tomato pie is not what you want to order here. The sauce was very bland and needed salt. Instead, order the mashed potato and bacon pizza. It is yummy and different. The crust becomes a kind of an afterthought, and the salt from the bacon rounds out this unusual pizza.
- $8.00 for a pitcher of birch beer 2 liters
- Bar was the most expensive at $60 for a large pizza, a small pizza, and a side salad.
- Our wait time on a Tuesday night was 30 minutes.
So what is the best pizza in New Haven?
After we went to each restaurant, we brought home a. tomato pie from each of the contenders. We assembled the tasters and tasted them with our eyes shut.
In our blind taste test, the winner was……..Modern Pizza! The majority of our tasters preferred the puffier crust of Modern and the smoother sauce. I was the sole holdout for Pepe’s. I loved the chunkier tomato sauce and the olive oil in the sauce. It tasted rich, tomatoey, and more flavorful.
So our trips to Modern Pizza will continue, with an occasional stop at Pepe’s when I am the one in control of our dinner.
Other options for good Pizza in New Haven
If you want to explore other choices in New Haven, you have some other good options.
- If you want fun and unusual toppings, visit Da Legna Pizza- my favorite is the Pecora which has goat cheese, pistachios, truffle honey, fresh ricotta, and red onions.
- Do you want a gourmet pizza experience? Tarrylodge is Mario Batalli’s restaurant, and they have small but spectacular pizzas. I love the burrata pizza with chili oil and pancetta.
I hope this helps you figure out what pizza you want to start with on your trip to New Haven. We had so much fun doing research for this post.
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