“Let me settle this once and for all,” tweeted Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports and a pizza aficionado. “The pizza capital of the United States is New Haven CT.”
Portnoy’s tweet set of a string of comebacks from followers all over the country. Some agreed with Portnoy, while others fired back with their own opinions about the best places in America to find pizza. The online debate continued as lawmakers in Connecticut introduced a bill to make pizza the official state food. That bill was approved by the state House of Representatives on Mary 12, 2021 and now awaits a Senate vote.
Pizza is a big deal in Connecticut, but to Connecticut locals and pizza aficionados across the country, the state’s obsession with pizza is old news.
For decades, New Haven has been recognized as one of America’s top cities for pizza. The area even has its own style of pizza, New Haven-style pizza, that originated at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut. Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant, first began serving thin-crusted, wood-fired pizzas to local residents in 1925. Decades later, pizzerias in New Haven and neighboring cities across Connecticut continue to serve the local style of pizza and countless other versions of the famous pie.
New Haven-Style Pizza
Pizza in Connecticut is more of a cultural phenomenon than a meal option. It’s a bit puzzling for those unfamiliar with Connecticut or New Haven-style pizza. If you were to ask any local, they will tell you that “apizza” and pizza are two completely different things. But what exactly is “apizza” and what makes it so special?
This unique style of pizza, pronounced “ah-beets”, is known for its thin, chewy, and charred crust. Just how much char the crust has varies between establishments, as does the ratio of sauce to cheese. But there are several components of New Haven-style pizza, or apizza, that make it different from other styles of pizza.
The most notable characteristic of every apizza is its crust. Apizzas are made in an intensely hot brick oven and are cooked for longer to create the signature char on the crust. Some would consider the crust burnt, but in New Haven, the crust is charred.
New Haven-style pizza also uses dough that ferments for longer than that of New York-style pizza. The dough is left to proof more slowly while refrigerated and is then allowed to come to room temperature before it is shaped and baked. This results in a crust with more complex flavors and a chewier texture.
Also unique to New Haven-style pizzas and apizzas in Connecticut is “mootz” – the whole milk aged mozzarella is considered a topping, so you will need to state whether you want your pizza with “mootz” or “no mootz.” At most Connecticut pizzerias, if you don’t specifically ask for “mootz,” you won’t get it on your pizza.
The Best Pizza Places in Connecticut
We went ahead and asked a few locals from Connecticut about their favorite spots in Connecticut.
Sandra Blair, a Connecticut resident and the owner of CoffeeShan says:
My favourite place to have pizza in Connecticut is ‘Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven’.
It’s signature pizza which is coal-fried White Clam Pizza is to die for. It features fresh clams, grated pecorino romano, garlic, oregano and olive oil giving it a healthy touch. The place is also lively and comfortable. You can sit their for hours and enjoy pizza while feeling that you are in the comfort of your house. The staff is also very nice and helpful. They talk politely to the customers while providing quality service.
Alicia Richards from Travels with the Crew says:
Connecticut pizza is some of the best the US. I live in New Haven and we are so lucky to have the Holy Trinity of Pizza in our backyard: Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern. My family and I recently did a blind taste off of all the big New Haven Pizzas and Modern won! Modern is the best pizza in CT because the crust is chewy and charred, the toppings are much more plentiful that other spots and the sauce isn’t too acidic.
Yet another local, Kami Evans says
Our favorite pizza is in Westport Connecticut and it’s amazing. It’s the Cauliflower based pizza at Organic Krush in Westport CT. topped with anything you want but I like the Veggies abs it’s just simply good. I have lived in CT most of my life and Organic Krush is my go to place to eat pizza.
There are three restaurants in New Haven that are best-known for apizzas: Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern. They stand far above the rest in terms of popularity and most locals are intensely loyal to one. In fact, locals have been known to engage in fierce debates over which restaurant deserves to be recognized as the best place to find a apizza.
In 2021, Food & Wine named Connecticut as the country’s #2 pizza state; New Jersey took the top spot. Author David Landsel credited the traditional pizzas at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza in New Haven for serving some of the best pies one can find in the United States.
Pepe’s and Sally’s are located in the Little Italy of New Haven, Wooster Square. Modern is on State Street. At any of the three restaurants, it’s common to see people lined up at all times of the day, waiting to sink their teeth into the delicious pizza. Each of the three restaurants has maintained its success despite a very limited menu. To keep up with the massive number of orders they receive daily, each restaurant only serves pizza and salad.
With pizzas as good as those on the menu at Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern, there’s no need for additional offerings. Pepe’s specialties include a white clam pie or a fresh tomato apizza. Modern is known for its “Italian Bomb” – a pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onion, and garlic. The two specialty apizzas at Sally’s are the tomato sauce and white potato pies.
Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern are easily the most well-known pizzerias in Connecticut, but there are several other restaurants serving New Haven-style apizza that are worth mentioning. Ernie’s and BAR are located in New Haven, Zuppardi’s is in West Haven, and Roseland, nestled in Derby. Zuppardi’s tomato pie, a pizza topped only with grated Pecorino Romano and fresh garlic, also caught the attention of David Landsel, the author of the previously mentioned Food & Wine article.
Colony Grill in Stamford is a great place to visit for surprisingly thin yet chewy bar pizzas. Colony Grill has been serving Italian pies since the end of the Great Depression. Each pizza is served with a hot pepper in the middle, known locally as a stinger. If you’re a fan of heat, try ordering your pizza with a drizzle of hot oil. It adds another layer of flavor to an already incredibly delicious pizza.
Da Legna at Nolo in New Haven is a wood-fired pizza place where chef Daniel Parillo crafts sourdough pizzas with imported Italian pizza ovens. The menu includes numerous artisanal pizzas as well as traditional pies that can be customized with a selection of classic toppings.
In addition to locally-owned pizzerias, Connecticut is home to restaurant chains that regularly serve impressively delicious pizzas. Papa Gino’s is based in Massachusetts, but with dozens of locations in Connecticut, it’s a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Papa Gino’s has been around for 60 years and has a menu that includes everything from classic Italian pies to family-sized pasta dishes. And according to this article, they seem to have won the battle against the pandemic shutdowns.
Tarry Lodge is a small restaurant chain founded by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. With locations in Westport, Port Chester, and New Haven, Tarry Lodge serves contemporary Italian food, including wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas. Customers rave about the Margherita and Burrata pizzas, as well as more unique pies like the goat cheese with pistachios, red onion, and truffle honey.
For anyone looking to step away from a traditional restaurant setting without sacrificing the chance to enjoy Italian cuisine, consider visiting Nica’s Market. Nica’s Market in New Haven is a market with shelves stocked full of Italian favorites and a deli that serves delicious Italian favorites daily. From salads and grinders to pastries and gelato, Nica’s Market has something for everyone. But what really put Nica’s Market on the map is its pizza. You can enjoy a thick slice of Sicilian or thin-crust pizza or take home an entire pie. Each pizza is made to order and can be customized to your liking, or you can order one of their specialty pizzas. The Sorrentina has fresh tomato, eggplant, ricotta, basil, and mozzarella.
Connecticut has plenty to offer pizza lovers looking for traditional classics or unique, specialty pies. New Haven has earned a reputation as the place to be at meal time, but with pizzerias, restaurant chains, and open-air markets crafting classic Italian pies daily, you’re minutes away from a delicious meal no matter where in the state you are. To truly experience what Connecticut has to offer pizza aficionados, take a step outside of your comfort zone and try a pizza you can’t find in your hometown.