If you haven’t heard, New Haven is sort of known for their pizza. And no, I’m not going to call it “a-pizza,” or pronounce it “ah-beets.” I don’t know anybody that does. So anytime some “travel blog” explains how “we” do it, I just shake my head and laugh.
But we do know our pizza. We especially know our ultra-thin, brick-fired pizza. None of that Chicago-style pizza cake for us, thanks.
(For the record, I love all kinds of pizza. Chicago-style, New York-style, deep dish. It’s all good.)
And we are absolutely spoiled when it comes to pizza pie. As I remember every time I’m on the West Coast (I don’t know what’s wrong with you folks that you can’t make a proper pizza or bagel).
But who is the best of the best? Read on, Dear Reader, for the answer may surprise you.
5. The New Kid On The Block — Da Legna, 858 State Street
My friends absolutely love this place. And for people who aren’t sold on the whole “let’s burn the shit out of the bottom of this pie” thing, Da Legna remains a creative, interesting option. Whether it’s classics like Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella, basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil) or Vongole Casino (onion, green peppers, Farmland bacon, fresh shucked clams, fresh mozzarella) or some creative new recipes like the Pecora (goat cheese, fresh ricotta, pistachio nut, truffle honey, caramelized red onion), Da Legna has a little bit of something for everyone.
Not every recipe works — the Barbecue di Maiale (BBQ pulled pork, mashed potato, roasted corn off the cob, cheddar cheese) is a bit of a miss for me — but overall, their pies are creative and delicious.
However, the place is constantly packed and, like many New Haven pizza places, the service can be all over the place.
4. Artisinal Pizza in the Back Alley – Kitchen Zinc, 966 Chapel Street
Tucked away behind the much more bougie Zinc lies Kitchen Zinc, their pizza-based offering. This perennially underrated pizza place overs a similar fare to Da Legna, but I find the recipes to be a bit better and the pie to be of a slightly better quality.
Plus, since it’s a bit hidden, I often find I can sit down in under 45 minutes, which is always nice.
The recipes are all over the place, but they’re invariably quite good. Personal favorites of mine are the Fig & Speck (roasted fig sauce, sliced speck, goat cheese, caramelized onions, balsamic reduction and arugula) and the Sausage (Housemade Berkshire pork sausage, hot cherry peppers, broccoli rabe, mozzarella).
Plus, every year they have a Make-Your-Own Pizza contest and this year’s is a real winner — the Adonis (lamb sausage, grilled onions, tzatziki cucumber yogurt sauce, lemon zest).
Their late-night happy hour (9-11 on Saturdays) and summer patio aren’t hurting either.
3. The Classic – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana – 157 Wooster Street
What can I say about Pepe’s that hasn’t already been said by every food blogger, TV food show, newspaper, or magazine across the country?
They’ve won awards as the Best Pizza in America from all over the place. Even when they don’t win, they are consistently in the Top 5, period. They invented the whole idea of putting clams on pizza and it’s actually pretty delicious.
Even the fresh tomato pie — which sounds super dumb — is actually pretty great.
However, I have a personal rule about standing in lines. Essentially, unless it ends in a roller coaster, I’m against it. Perhaps there’s some charm to it but eh… I mean, the pizza is good, but is it that good?
Some day, millions of years from now, aliens will find our remnants and look at the Great Pizza Debates of humanity and be like “wtf how could they possibly care this much”?
Then they’ll somehow recreate Pepe’s white clam pie and be like “Oh, damn.”
2. The Nightclub – Bar, 254 Crown Street
Sacrilege, you say? To utter the name “Bar” among the greats? You’re kidding, right?
The place which turns into a nightclub on the weekend full of twenty-somethings gyrating the night away has the second best pizza in New Haven?
Yes. Yes, it does.
All the pies are pretty good. But let’s get down to brass tacks: It’s all about that mashed potato and bacon pie. All other pies pale in comparison.
I have met many non-believers. “Mashed potato on pizza?! Josh, you’ve surely gone mad now! That’s it, I’m calling the cops, you’re out of control!”
But there are no non-believers after they actually eat the pie.
I do not know what sort of sorcery is involved in the creation of this pie. I don’t even care. If virgins are being sacrificed, so be it. Their fault for not doing it, I guess?
Plus, their salads are actually pretty bangin’, too, and serve as a great complement to their pizzas.
1. The Best of the Best – Modern Apizza, 874 State Street
I remember exactly where I was when I finally realized I’d made my own decision about my favorite pizza in New Haven. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago.
I was over my mate’s house after an exhausting St. Patrick’s Day party, with the kind of hunger that can only be fueled by drinking more beers than I’ll admit on a public website. We considered delivery, but then a hero came forth.
“I’m sober, I can just drive to Modern.”
I don’t know how he did it. But he did it. And when he returned with those glorious pies — the unbelievably good but simple cheese, the almost-too-much Italian Bomb (bacon, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, pepper, garlic), and the classic pepperoni, I think I almost cried. And for once after a long day of drinking, they were tears of joy.
There are more creative recipes out there at Da Legna and Kitchen Zinc. There were pizzerias who did it first at Pepe’s and Sally’s. There are cheaper pizzas where they’ll just come straight to your house and deliver.
But once that pie hits your mouth, you know that there is only one Modern Apizza. And I don’t care how they spell it — it is the very best New Haven pizza has to offer.