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New Haven Pizza Battle

November 29, 2010

Coke or Pepsi.  Bud or Miller.  Beatles or Stones.  All of these are definitive dichotomies.  You can only choose one of them, and that choice tells the world more about you than you may care to admit.

“Neither” is not a choice.  I’ll go first.  Coke, Miller & Stones.

In New Haven there is an epic battle between two old time pizza shops that occupy the same stretch of Wooster Street, Pepe’s and Sally’s.  The Connecticut branch of my family has unanimously settled that debate, and Pepe’s is the pie they prefer.  When I go to visit them, this is a decision that I have to respect.

But my younger cousin S (the food guy who lives in Sicily and owes me a post on cheese) had some newfangled ideas.  He likes Modern too, and thought perhaps it might even be better than the family favorite.

We had no choice but to put them head to head.  But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

You see, each place is so popular that the lines to get in are enormous.  Standing outside two separate pizza places and dealing with two separate lines was not going to happen, especially in the cold of late November.  That would be a plan based in sheer folly.  Sitting down at one restaurant would really encourage over-consumption, and make cross-comparison difficult if not impossible.

Instead, we called ahead and placed orders to go.  The pick-up times were staggered by 30 minutes.  This would allow us to pick up one set of pies, eat the first slice hot out of the box while standing in the parking lot, and make it to the next location.  There we would eat the first hot slice in the parking lot for our initial comparison.

All the pizzas would then be brought back to the house, for further evaluation and consideration.

For the purpose of direct comparison, we would get a classic cheese pizza from each place.  We also wanted to try each shop’s specialty pie.  That meant clam from Pepe’s and sausage with artichoke from Modern.  Just for kicks we also got the bacon pizza from Pepe’s, and S insisted on a white pizza with broccoli too.  For the vegetarian in the group we tried the mushroom pie at Modern.

It was a lot of pizza.  And each place had its strengths and weaknesses.

Modern blew me away with its charred and magnificent bubbles.  Damn, those bubbles were impressive.  And that first cheese slice was savory and succulent.  But its crust had no structural integrity.  Zero.  It was so thin as to be soft and floppy, and its sauce was thin, too.  Not in a not-enough-sauce way but more in a this-sauce-is-oddly-wet way.

Strangely, other slices from the same pie had a bottom crust that was thicker, but still a bit doughy and undercooked.  Inconsistency I can deal with.  Inconsistency on the same pie isn’t inconsistent, it’s sloppy.

Pepe’s crust, on the other hand, was amazing.  It’s almost everything you could want from a crust.  Charred on the bottom, crisp around the edges, with good chew and flavor.  Some might mind how it leaves your hands looking like you just cleaned a chimney, but that’s what napkins are for.  Oddly the whole pie seemed like it just needed seasoning.  It’s as if whoever made the sauce that night forgot to add any salt.  Just a bit would have perked it up immensely.  Perhaps it was because of the holiday, but I’ve had better pizza from Pepe’s in the past.

Back at the house, out of the parking lot and under the bright lights of the dining room, the battle of the pizzas continued to unfold.

I can’t imagine a specialty pizza that can match Pepe’s white clam.  Those clams are just so damn plump and garlicky.  Perched on that beautiful charred crust, it’s simply the only place to get clam pizza as far as I’m concerned.

Modern’s sausage and artichoke was delicious, with big crusty chunks of loose sausage.  It’s a great combination that is perhaps just a touch more sophisticated than the traditional sausage and peppers.  But it works for some of the very same reasons.

It was a very close battle.  Cousin S was pretty close to calling the contest in favor of Modern based on the taste of its pies in comparison to the under-seasoned specimens from Pepe’s.  But ultimately it came down to the crust.  And there Modern just didn’t deliver.  Besides the lack of structural integrity, the end crust just didn’t have any lift, nor did it have the depth of flavor.

I wish Pepe’s had better bubbles.  But with that crust and those clams there was no question which shop won the night.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:39 am

    Pepe’s white clam pizza is absolutely celestial.

  2. November 29, 2010 8:25 pm

    I haven’t been to Modern in a long time, but I definitely preferred Pepe’s. I would also put Modern behind Sally’s. A Pepe’s white clam and bacon pizza is about as good as it gets.

  3. neat permalink
    December 16, 2013 2:02 am

    try bethany brick oven pizza. it’s the best.

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