East Coast Apizza, West Coast Cravings

by on March 9, 2012
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A sign of good pizza ahead

The kitchen

Working in the kitchen (note the huge peels and paddles!)

My salad and Foxon Park soda

Finally, the pizza: half white clam, and half "mootz"

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Following January’s four week pizza spotlight, I found it fortuitous to be in New Haven, Connecticut, as it’s famous for its apizza restaurants in the Little Italy section of town. (It truly is “little.”)

Most famous is Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Frank Pepe is the original pizza restaurant in New Haven, open since 1925. I believe it is one of the most important/iconic pizza places to visit in the United States. That list would also include Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn (my favorite), Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and the original Pizzeria Uno (or whatever it’s called these days; the name changes aren’t helping its status) in Chicago. The James Beard Foundation named Frank Pepe an “American Classic” in 1999.

Apizza is thin-crust, similar to Neapolitan but, as Frank Pepe claims, that crust is both crisp and chewy. While most of us are familiar with pies topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, apizza has grated pecorino romano, but mozzarella is a requested topping—called a “mootz” pie.

I hadn’t been to Frank Pepe in about fifteen years, and was happy to slide into one of the hallmark wooden booths. And I was anxious to see my pizza slide into a white-tiled, coal-fired brick oven. But what to order? Dining solo, I was pleased to know I could customize a small pie, getting half “mootz” and half the infamous white clam.

Frank Pepe used to sell shucked clams outside the restaurant. Clams made their way to the pizza, but that white clam pizza is only available when the clams are fresh. Note that the clams are unshelled, but still fairly moist, and that the only other ingredients are olive oil, grated cheese, oregano, and garlic—LOTS of garlic. Have a toothbrush handy!

The pizza is indeed thin, more cracker-like than my preferred New York style and lacking the same cheesy chewiness, but still delicious with less bubbles and more charring. Eight slices were filling, but I still enjoyed a generous salad on the side. And locally-made Foxon Park soda still in a glass bottle. I’ve sampled birch, cream, and more, and this time went with Gassosa—natural lemon flavor.

Locally, I understand that Tutta Bella just started selling a clam pie (the clams are still in their shells), perhaps an homage to Frank Pepe’s version. While we don’t seem to have an exact New Haven style here in Seattle, I recommend pies at places like Delancey, Via Tribunali, Flying Squirrel, Serious Pie, and Queen Margherita, to name a few. And stay tuned, as soon I’ll be exploring some pizza by the slice to add to my list of suggestions.

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