“Call it what you want: apizza (“ah-peez”), pizza, (‘za) or tomato pie, the subject is serious business and ultimately words do not do justice to the experience of just eating it…(Pizza) would be my choice for a last meal.” (Colin M. Caplan, Pizza in New Haven, 2018)
I’m with Colin, 100%, if it’s pizza from New Haven!
A Short History of Pizza in the United States
Pizza’s origins can be traced to Naples, Italy, as early as the 1600s. This traveler’s dish — pizza means pie or cake in Italian — migrated to the United States in the late 19th century with an influx of southern Italians. It was a cultural unifier, and the only Italian dish to become identified as uniquely American. Until the 1950’s, though, pizza was found only in tightly knit Italian-American communities, mostly in the Northeast.
Things really got rolling in the 1960s when regional differences in pizza cooking styles began to emerge: thin-crust brick-oven Neapolitan in New York and New Haven where you have to ask for mozzarella (“mooz”) cheese, deep-dish in Chicago where cheese is the main ingredient, square-cut cracker crust in St. Louis, extra-thick and super crispy crust in Detroit, single-servings with fresh local ingredients in California, and more. Picking a favorite style is sure to inspire a fierce debate even among friends.
Only in New Haven, though, did pizza evolve organically from an ethnic snack into an everyday meal. As long ago as 1956, New Haven was declared the pizza capitol of the United States (Billboard magazine). New Haven’s Wooster Street was the epicenter of “apizza.”
Today there are more than 77,000 pizza restaurants in the United States including global companies such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Marco’s, and Pappa Murphy’s. But it is family-owned pizzerias that capture our romantic notions of a quick trip to Italy in a meal.
New Haven Apizza
The pizza wars in New Haven started on Wooster Street with Frank Pepe (1925) and Salvatore Consiglio (Sally’s, 1938). Although the Consiglio family sold Sally’s in 2018 to an investment consortium, they are still involved in the restaurant. Pepe’s is still owned by Frank’s descendants. The answer to “what is your favorite New Haven apizza” quickly boils down to a competition between these two icons.
But don’t despair. There’s plenty of pizza to go around from the more than 65 local pizzerias in and around New Haven. (The big nationals are apparently smart enough not to try to compete in the New Haven market!) One of my personal favorites is Ernie’s Pizzeria on Whalley Avenue. Second generation owner Pat DeRiso has perfected the art of partially baking pizzas, freezing them for travel, and arranging slices in packages of three to fit snugly in a thermal transit bag.
Trust me, it’s an expert methodology to get New Haven pizza to Cincinnati!
Pairing Pizza and Wine
What’s the best wine to pair with pizza? Beer, you say? Nope. There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to begin. And even though pizza originated in the Naples/Campania region, stretch out across Italy’s 20 wine regions — and even to other countries — to find perfect pairings.
Our trio of pizza selections from Ernie’s Pizzeria included white clam (a New Haven specialty), mild sausage and mushroom (an Ernie’s specialty), and pepperoni (a classic!).
A small group of people with Connecticut roots and family connections gathered to mix and match our pizzas with three wines. The official pairings were 2018 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley with white clam; 2015 Produttori dei Barbaresco with sausage/mushroom; and 2015 Chianti Classico from Isole e Olena with pepperoni.
And the winner was… all of them!! We tasted all three wines across each type of pizza served in sequence. The pairing secret? Select wines that have enough acidity to balance pizza’s heavy dose of garlic, spices, mozzarella cheese, meat, and (usually) tomato sauce flavors. The red wines paired beautifully with the white clam pie, and the white wine held its own as a partner with red sauce.
When You Visit New Haven…
- Bar | 254 Crown Street
- Ernie’s Pizzeria | 1279 Whalley Ave
- Modern Apizza | 4 State Street
- Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napolitana |157 Wooster Street
- Sally’s Apizza | 237 Wooster Street
- Zuppardi’s Appiza | 159 Union Avenue
- and 60+ more!!