Connecticut Magazine - March 2015

The Best Pizza

2015-02-19 15:30:09

Connecticut is arguably the gourmet pizza capital of the nation, so here’s the scoop on the best pies in the state! Actress Sharon Stone and others have been quoted as saying that “pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad it’s good.” When it’s done well, of course, it’s so amazing you might hear angels singing. Connecticut falls into that latter category— well, at least for pizza. How are we so confident about the state’s talents when it comes to heavenly pies? Here’s why: Legends The generally agreed-upon best-of the- best in Connecticut pizza. These pizzerias are oft en at the top of national lists and have competed with each other for decades, much to the delight of pizza fans. The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana | New Haven Everyone calls it Pepe’s, but the full name is important to why this legend is perennially named the best (or among the best) pizza in the U.S. Every pie is blessed by authenticity, tradition and the taste derived from the original coal-fired pizza ovens. Frank Pepe came to the U.S. in 1909 at 16 from Italy’s Amalfi Coast. He would open a bakery first and then, in 1925, he and his wife, Filomena, started making apizza. Today Pepe’s original location is always overflowing with pizza disciples, and there are satellites in Fairfield, Manchester, Danbury, West Hartford and at Mohegan Sun, with one coming to Boston. Legend, empire—call it what you will but Pepe’s white clam, seasonal fresh tomato and white spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola pies remain the holy grails for pizza lovers. (203) 865-7602, Sally’s Apizza | New Haven The war between Sally’s and Pepe’s fans has waged for decades—and there are devoted legions in both camps. Located a few doors down from Pepe’s, Sally’s has been a Wooster Street institution since Salvatore and Flora Consiglio opened its doors in 1938. And it’s still a family affair here as the Consiglio kids now hold the reins and stick to what’s always worked. Thin crust, charred edges and asymmetrical wedges are Sally’s signatures and pies continue to be made in the same coalfired oven. The décor also hasn’t changed and the line can still be long to get in the door, but those who are firmly on Team Sally’s say it’s always worth the wait. (203) 624-5271, Modern Apizza | New Haven The third highly acclaimed legend in New Haven’s pizza pantheon, Modern is located nearby on State Street. The pies are fired in an oil-fueled brick oven instead of a coal-fired oven, but Modern sticks to the thin-crust, irregular sliced pies that are the Elm City’s calling card. The restaurant went by the name State Street Pizza when it opened in 1934, and may have changed its name but not the location or the quality of the pizza. Nearly any topping is available, but the classic Pizza Margarita with fresh mozzarella from Liuzzi Cheese in North Haven, the Clams Casino pie with bacon and peppers, and the Italian Bomb pizza with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper and garlic are all must-tries. (203) 776-5306, Roseland Apizza | Derby Roseland Apizza is not for the fair-weather pizza fan: It’s tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the north of Derby, making it a challenge to find (although you can follow the long lines that form on weekends); the place is a cozy, no-frills, old-school Italian restaurant where the wait can be long and the service lacking; and the price of a pie can be steep—a large plain mozzarella starts at $20. But those who persevere and make the pilgrimage are amply rewarded with amazing New Haven-style pizza, featuring a thin, chewy crust and delicious toppings such as homemade sausage and fresh seafood. (203) 735-0494 BAR | New Haven Aft er a few beers any slice of pizza can seem like the best decision you made all day, but when you drink at BAR in New Haven (which brews its own beers) you have the advantage of ordering some of the city’s best pizza—seriously. Large, oblong, thin-crust pies have been served here since BAR’s opening in the industrially chic BruRM in 1996. Toppings are diverse and all delicious, but the mashed potato pizza sets BAR apart. Pizza can be ordered for dinner all week and lunch Wednesday through Sunday, and by the slice as the hours grow late and dancing in the nightclub works up appetites. (203) 495-1111, Legends in the making These spots have rising profiles. Whether through attention to the craft of pie-tossing or savvy franchising, they are making a name for themselves and, in our opinion, could keep pace with today’s legends in the future. Colony Grill | Stamford, Fairfield, Milford Stamford’s Colony Grill is known—and has been loved since 1935—for its simplicity: no fancy décor, no upscale dress code and only one item on the menu (pizza), so you know there’s focused dedication to crafting the ideal complement for a night of socializing. Even more, the ultra thin-crust pies (super chewy, plus more room for beer!) are either served with or without Colony’s custom hot oil and only a handful of basic, traditional toppings (meatball, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, anchovies, etc.), so it’s a haven that draws bar-style pizza purists from all over. The recently added Fairfield and Milford locations have been thriving, proving that by keeping it simple, Colony has been keeping it delicious. Da Legna | New Haven When Connecticut Magazine told the world about desserts wizard Tommy Juliano at Community Table in Litchfield County, we asked about his favorite restaurants. High on the list is Da Legna, the wood-fired pizza and gourmet Italian place of his friend Daniel Parillo, a co-owner. Parillo’s parents came to Hamden from Italy, he grew up speaking Italian, developed a passion for pizza early, earned his stripes by opening Portofino in North Madison, and arrived in New Haven with Da Legna in December of 2011. He and chef Francisco Pereira produce flash-fired pizzas so inspired Da Legna is flirting with the legendary status of Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern. Taste the pies and you’ll see why. (203) 495-9999, Tarry Lodge | New Haven, Westport With big names Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich behind this restaurant group, there was no question that Tarry Lodge would be a success. Its brand of contemporary Italian cuisine has made an impression on diners in Westport, Port Chester, N.Y., and most recently New Haven, where the pizza competition is already stiff . But the pies at Tarry Lodge are thin-crusted, authentic and truly delicious. These gourmet pizzas are topped with some delectable ingredient combinations like goat cheese, pistachios and truffle honey or burrata with pancetta and chili oil or guanciale with black truffles and egg, and all are cooked in the restaurant’s dedicated pizza oven. Opened just a few months ago on Park Street, Tarry Lodge has slid into the New Haven dining scene easily. (203) 672-0765, Bufalina | Guilford At Bufalina it’s all a numbers game. Square feet of the restaurant: 325. Time it takes to cook a 12-inch pizza in the 900-degree wood-fired oven: 90 seconds. The number of wondrous, blistered, Neapolitan-style pizzas they make daily from a kitchen the size of a hall closet: seemingly hundreds. One visit to this itsy-bitsy pizzeria and you’ll understand why it’s a legend in the making. Husbandand- wife team Melissa Pellegrino and Matteo Scialabba pay serious attention to the details learned from months of research in Italy. Special 00 double milled flour, San Marzano tomatoes, the best local cheeses and seasonal influences are just some of what make the BYOB Bufalina shine. The rest awaits discovery in that first bite of heaven. (203) 458-1377, Beer bar pizza Pizza and beer is a classic combination. These restaurants know that and have made impressive beer lists a staple of the menus, pairing ideal brews with hand-craft ed pies. Fire Engine Pizza Company | Bridgeport Aft er a fire destroyed his original pizza restaurant, Marty McCarthy bought a fire engine and converted it to a pizza truck, and following its success, brought that theme to his new place on Fairfield Avenue in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. Firefighting paraphernalia hangs on the walls, there’s an inviting brick-faced rectangular bar—with an excellent selection of seasonal draft s and craft brews—but ultimately it’s the delicious specialty pizzas with bubbly crusts from McCarthy’s brick oven that draw the crowd, gems like the Fruitti Di Mare (laden with clams, lobster and shrimp), the Buffalo Chicken and the Loaded Mashed Potato (with garlic mashed potato, scallions, bacon, caramelized onion and cheddar). (203) 333-3473, Krust Pizza Bar | Middletown As soon as you walk through the door of this downtown Middletown hotspot, you are struck by the hip, young vibe, but after you sit at the bar and start talking to the staff , you realize that there’s also an honest passion that goes into every facet of Krust, especially the pizza. Inspired by the classic Neopolitan style and wood-fired in a custom oval oven, the pizzas here are as tasty as they are creative: the Sunny Side has garlic, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, pancetta and egg, while the Meat is topped with pancetta, pepperoni, salami, tomato and mozzarella. The libations here are also a source of pride, from whiskey, rum, bourbon and scotch to the dozen or so local craft brews on tap that change almost daily. (860) 358-9816, Coal House Pizza | Stamford With 52 craft beers on tap, beer cocktails, beer events and bargains like a $12 per pitcher deal for brews from Connecticut breweries, this is a place that certainly understands the deep spiritual connection between hops and dough. “In many ways we look to the American craft beer revolution for inspiration in what we do,” says owner Gerard Robertson. “Like these brewers, we strive for authenticity with a free-spirited approach.” The restaurant’s craft pizza is cooked at high temperatures that sear in all the flavors and add a delicious char and smoke taste. During a recent trip we were able to wash the pizza down with hard-to-find gems of brewing such as Sip of Sunshine IPA and the soon-to be- renamed Gandhi-Bot from New England Brewing Co. (203) 977-7700, Stanziato’s | Danbury Minutes from the Danbury Fair Mall, Stanziato’s is a gourmet pizza and craft beer oasis. Specialty small pies are prepared with farm-to-table ingredients in an Italian-made wood-fired oven and have a crust that is crunchy and smoky on the outside yet flakey and airy on the inside. Try red sauce classics like the Margarita or go for a white pizza such as the delectable Totes McGoats topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, chopped spinach and a squeeze of lemon. The bar features a constantly rotating and curated list of great and hard-to-find beer from breweries in Connecticut and beyond. There’s oft en at least one sour beer on tap, a wine-like tart style that pairs well with pizza. (203) 885-1057, Brick + Wood | Fairfield One of the newest additions to the Fairfield dining scene, this is not “just another brick” in the pizza beer bar wall. The small pie pizzas are topped with decadent fresh mozzarella prepared at the restaurant’s mozzarella bar. During a recent visit, the bar’s draft beer list included brews from established craft beer players like Cisco Brewers and Allagash Brewing Co. In addition Brick + Wood has more than 20 wines on tap, which allows the restaurant to take a page from the craft beer/ brewery playbook and offer flights with samples of four different wines. (203) 939-1400, Unusual places Great pizza can be found anywhere, from bakeries to train stations. These are not locations where it is traditionally found, but we dare you to step outside the pizza box. Nica’s Market | New Haven With its crowded shelves of artisan pastas, imported olive oils, fresh produce and meat, Nica’s Market has long been beloved as East Rock’s small grocery wonder. But the market’s true streng this its deli, where Italian salads, monstrous grinders and pastries are served daily. This is also where you can take away a slice of thick, airy Sicilian or thin crust pizza for lunch, or get an entire pie. Whole pizzas are made to order and can be topped with any number of ingredients from pepperoni to eggplant. Try specialty pies like the Sorrentina with fresh tomato, ricotta, eggplant, basil and mozzarella, or the Campagnola with artichoke, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. (203) 787-5919, Mozzicato DePasquale Bakery, Pastry Shop & Café | Hartford Most Connecticut folks think they have to go to Boston’s Nor Thend or New York City to find authentic Italian bakery-cafés. Proving otherwise is Mozzicato, divided between a gleaming bakery with a staggering array of cookies, pastries and cakes, and an adjacent but separate café, which offers everything from breakfast or espresso at the “bar” to a hearty lunch, or espresso martinis with dinner. The location near Hartford Hospital and Trinity College gives Mozzicato a cosmopolitan following, and its best-kept secret may be the Sicilian pan pizzas. Made with bread dough, these thick, chewy delights are always available in a few varieties (like sausageand- peppers) to be warmed in the oven and enjoyed immediately or taken home. The establishment created by Gino Mozzicato after he arrived in the U.S. from Italy in 1968 will make a pizza any way you want it—and everything here is a true bargain; also true at the satellites in Plainville and Wallingford. (860) 296-0426; Nauti Dolphin Pizza | Fairfield Terrific pizza in a train station? You are on the right track in Fairfield, where Nauti Dolphin has gained a well-earned reputation for serving delicious slices (perfect for commuters) and whole pies (take-home aft er a long day), all out of a cozy location alongside the northbound rails. Unlike other pizza places, there are two kinds served here: If you order by the slice, it’s a wide, thin-crust New York-style piece that you get, ideal for folding in half as they like to do down in the City; get an entire pizza and it’s a thicker, crunchier, crustier version, ideal for piling on the fresh toppings. The take-home pizza also offers more options, from a classic Margherita to a Clams Casino or even a Hawaiian- style pie. (203) 256-1877 Vocatura Bakery | Norwich The best thing coming out of the oven at this no-frills, old-school bakery isn’t the legendary made-daily Italian bread, or the cannoli and other Italian delicacies that will leave your sweet tooth singing “That’s Amore"—it’s the pizza. The square sheet-style (not Sicilian) pizza is a hidden gem with a cult following in the area. The crust has a unique crunchiness and the toppings are exceptional. Just remember it’s a grab and go establishment with an emphasis on food quality rather than customer service or flashy décor. Our advice: “Take the pizza, leave the cannoli,” or better yet take both. (860) 887-2220 Best of the Rest These places also make great pizza, be it classic style or thin crust, and are well worth a try. Michaelangelo Pizza & Subs | West Haven (203) 389-1603 Otto Pizza | Chester (860) 526-9445, Camille’s Wood Fired Pizza | Tolland (860) 896-6976, Bohemian Pizza | Litchfield (860) 567-3980 Rizzuto’s | Bethel, Westport & West Hartford Willington Pizza | Willington (860) 429-7433, Vero Pizza | Plainville (860) 846-0491, Al Forno Brick Oven Pizzeria & Ristorante | Old Say brook (860) 399-4166, The Little Rendezvous | Meriden (203) 235-0110, Mad Greek | Southbury (203) 264-3080 Cappie’s Apizza | Hamden (203) 553-7518, John & Maria’s | East Haven (203) 466-1550, Papa’s Pizza | Milford (203) 874-0215, Pizzeria Marzano | Torrington (860) 618-0875, Pizzeria Lauretano | Bethel (203) 792-1500, The Upper Crust Cucina Italiano | New Milford (860) 350-0006, Julio’s Wood Fired Pizza & Grill | Southbury (203) 264-7878, Locali Pizza Bar Kitchen | New Canaan (203) 920-1440, Pizzetta | Mystic (860) 536-4443, Mango’s Wood-Fired Pizza Co. | Mystic (860) 572-0600, Kitchen Zinc | New Haven (203) 772-3002, Bar Sugo | Norwalk (203) 956-7134, Grimaldi’s | Woodbridge (203) 556-9889, ReNapoli Pizz Restaurant | Old Greenwich (203) 698-9300, First & Last Tavern | Hartford, Avon, Middletown, Plainville (860) 956-6000, World Pizza Champ Bruno DiFabio Opens Amore in Stamford A year ago we talked with Connecticut based pizza maestro Bruno DiFabio—the sixtime World Pizza Champion and owner of 10 artisan pizzerias around the country, including Re Napoli in Old Greenwich—about his appearance as a judge on the Food Network hit series “Chopped.” We asked about the state’s pizza scene: “We totally get it here and we’re willing to pay a little bit more for an independent pizzeria and we’re able to appreciate the artisan component. I’m proud to be a pizza maker from Connecticut. We have better pizza in Connecticut than we do in New York.” Would he open a pizzeria in the gourmet pizza capital of Connecticut, New Haven? Turns out DiFabio had a New York style place in the Elm City for a couple of years and found that outside of the big three—Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern—pizza consumption was a neighborhood thing as opposed to a destination thing. Not in Stamford, apparently. In late January DiFabio opened a new pizza restaurant there called Amore Cucina & Bar. “As a teen, Bruno made his first pizza dough in this little Italian restaurant in the Springdale neighborhood of Stamford,” the press announcement said. “Numerous awards, 11 restaurants and several Food Network gigs later, Bruno [has reopened] Amore Restaurant as Amore Cucina & Bar.” “My dad and prior Amore owner Al Carozza were best friends and both are from Abruzzo, Italy,” DiFabio said. “When I opened my first restaurant in 1993 I asked Al’s permission to name it after his Amore Restaurant. He granted me the permission and Amore Pizza remains a West chester County favorite to this day. Now, reopening the original Amore Restaurant as my own is surreal. ” Amore offers classic Italian fare such as lasagna layered with slow-cooked ragu Bolognese, ricotta, Parmigiano and mozzarella cheese, and wood-fired meatballs in a simple tomato marinara. Contemporary dishes include prosciutto-wrapped jumbo prawns with pesto broth. DiFabio’s popular Pizza Romana is a square pie that uses the “Poolish” dough method of a 72-hour fermentation process and is cooked in a gas-fired brick-floor oven. Varieties include the West Side—spicy salami, green olives, tomato, mozzarella and pasta—which won a Best Traditional award at the Las Vegas Pizza Expo. From the woodfired pizza oven comes Pizza Napoletana, and these pies are blistered by the 900-degree Cirigliano wood-burning during a 60-second cook time. Signature pies include the New Haven White—chopped cherrystone clams, bacon, garlic, mozzarella, flat-leaf parsley and fresh clams au jus. (203) 357-1066,

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