For many, no visit to New Haven is complete without a stop at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally’s Apizza, or both! Sometimes, New Haven pizza is the reason for the whole trip.
People have been fighting about it for years, but the folks at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza–two blocks from each other on Wooster Street in New Haven, Connecticut — don’t seem to notice or care that their mutual specialty, and people’s devotion to it, is the subject of this state’s well-publicized “pizza wars.” Pepe’s opened first, in 1925; Sally’s, founded by Pepe’s nephew Salvatore Consiglio, opened in 1938. These folks care about their pizzas, but the feud itself is wholly among the folks who join the perpetual queue outside both eateries, whatever the weather.
The two restaurants have a lot in common. Both make thin-crust “New Haven-style” pies–an American translation of the traditional pizza of Naples, Italy. Both venues cook their pies at blisteringly hot temperatures in cavernous coal-fired brick ovens. And both secretly add an eyedropper’s worth of some addictive, mystical substance that keeps us hankering for more.
Personally, despite arguments within my own home, I think they’re both delicious treasures — well worth the three or four times a year that we travel from Boston to New Haven for the sole purpose of “pie-dration.” I can say that when we opt for Pepe’s, it’s the white clam pie that evokes Pavlovian responses. The crispy-yet-chewy crust holds a generous smattering of sweet and briny little clams, gobs of minced garlic, oregano, a shake of Parmesan cheese (seafood with cheese is usually a no-no in Italian cooking, but…), and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.
At Sally’s the crusts arrive a bit more charred (and that’s good flavor), and the tomato sauce has more of a tang and a kick to it (which I prefer). You might get the “dirty eyeball” from your server (neither restaurant gets points for service), but the not-on-the-menu “Italian bomb” is a meatlover’s dream come true: sausage, pepperoni, bacon, and enough onions to make the car ride home seem an hour longer than it really is.
Originally Published in Yankee Magazine, May 2009