NEW HAVEN-Wooster Street, lined with modest residences and straightforward restaurants, iswhat??--a quarter mile long? Yet, it is the Epicenter of the Pizza World, which yours truly (in 1978) slanged-up as the "Pizza Belt".
Here is where all comparisons begin and all of 'em end. Here is where Frank Pepe first sold tomato pies in 1925. Here is home to Pepe's, the Spot and Sally's, as well as Abate's Restaurant. This is the very hasp of the Pizza Belt. Take off your lame baseball hat, put it across your chest, and give it a moment of silence. Okay, now flip a coin or so into the juke box.
Nice: the locals do not take themselves or these parlors of pie, seriously.
Me? I would stack any of these Wooster Street joints up against the best of Paris, Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Sao Paolo or Hong Kong. Toss in any other city in the world, and toss in planets Mars, Venus and Pluto. This is the Epicenter, at least within the Milky Way and any other Galaxies nearby.
This is not another routine Rave Review, o Scowl & wild person. Hardly.
I paid top money for 3 or 4 several suspiciously undercooked Pepe's pies three years ago, so my heart had hardened and turned against the great Pepe's.
1. "Too much success" I'd say.
2. Or, "they don't care anymore."
3. Or worse, "they are on cruise control, the place is a gold mine, and the old regime has left the building."
I was angry: were Pepe's ancestors crassly exploiting my people, as well as the innocent, the tourist and the hoi polloi (about whom I could give a fig, but hey nonetheless!)
Plus the pie/product was not up to snuff.
Well, inhale a Medium with Clams and Mozzarella!
Getting Pie Done, No Doubt
Pepe's proved itself well up to it's worldwide reputation-- well beyond it's cult status, last week. A twin visit, under (as you'd expect) cover.
They's back in the game, as VP wannabe Dick Cheney might say, "Big time."
Here's what we did to bring them back into the Fold, only to learn, quickly, that Pepe's owns the Fold
1. Insisted on the birch soda from East Haven a quart of Foxon Park's clearest nectar, distilled from the fine waters of, well, East Haven. Make sure your waitress puts plenty ice in them glasses.
2. Order the Special, with mozzarella, sausage, pepper, onion, salami, bacon, mushroom and pepperoni (I never would), and you have a "deal" financially, if not heartburn. But at $13.70 for a medium, and $18.70 for a large, which is large, this is such a deal. Me, I don't eat all that shit on top of a pie, but hey, the public likes its indulgences, salami and whatnot. I would barf, but who am I? A man who would be a Scot, but is American and a pie-eater of note.
3. Me, a purist, I check the Crust first. The Pepe Crust is burnt at the edge, and how they do it successfully on each pie? Well that's why they make the big money here (one moron recently put Pepe's down, saying "Oh them, they burn the pizza, yech." Well, that honey/critic isn't on my Christmas list,) eh?
Suffice, this crust is advanced on a Master's Degree level, even here, near Yale where Ph.D's abound. This crust, my friends, is the real thing. Now, this crust won't pass My Wedge Test-it isn't a crisp-crunchy item, like that at Luna (West Hartford), but it is a fine crust, tasty, and it get's the job done. Hey, Pepe never had great crunchy crust, it ain't in their repertoire, so let it go, and let's move on. Don't whine, just know that's Pepe's style.
4. The half moon sausage, on top. Also not the best in the industry. Barely memorable, this sausage is sliced thin and when cooked it surely curls up into 25 cent piece sized toppings, nothing good nor bad: adequate.
5. The cheese: a lot of it. Yellow, not creamy white from the south of Italy. Bet on this: no Italian water buffalo yielded up or put out, had nothing to die for -- not with this stuff, but it is tasty and it works atop the Pepe product. Again, it is edible and tasty as hell, oh low end mozzarella surely helps the profits each year.
6. Peppers and fresh garlic: well, mandatory here at Pepe's or you'll have a pie without much taste. Do these. Nothing laudatory or worthy of negative comment about, on these items. Visit Luna, in West Hartford, or not.
In all, Pepe's make's it all work together, No, I am not impressed by the sausage or the crust --or whatever, but believe me: the whole thing comes together in a huge way, and it is tops. An absolutely brilliant pizza. But not the all time best, but great surely.
Of course, the Foxon Park quart bottle, of birch clear white soda (Foxon won't call it "beer") over ice does put one into a nice mood, better than wine, I must say. For beverage: you go with a couple bottles of Foxon Park birch soda, Period.
And of course, I still insist that the pie behind Pepe's,-- at the Spot (Pepe's annex) -- is superior, but that's a whole 'nother story.
--Bruce H. Alexander