Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review: Modern Apizza, New Haven CT

There are a number of cities known for having superb pizza. Rome, Naples, New York, New Haven, San Francisco. I'm not at all sold on Chicago-style "pizza" which is really a bread casserole, but I understand that Cubs fans have some really good regular pie too. Not mentioned enough (except here) are some of the transcendent pie slingers in Trenton NJ and Philly.  Anyhow, traveling from West Chester PA to Boston and back presents an opportunity to stop in New Haven and sample some fabled pies.

Last month, I was able to get to legendary Frank Pepe's (review HERE). That pie met my very high expectations, and I classified it more or less as a Trenton-style pie; it also had a lot in common with the very fine Denino's pizza of Staten Island (review HERE).
The crowd buzzes outside
More recently, I was making the journey northward to Boston, taking FEEP (fellow enthusiast for eating pizza) Jr. back to college. It really is an ugly detour to take interstate 95 in order to get to New Haven, but now after 2 such trips, I judge it worthwhile. But I am DONE with the George Washington Bridge. From now on, it's only Tappan Zee for thee.

Pizza cognoscenti often cite Frank Pepe, Sally's Apizza, and Modern Apizza as the Big Three pizza purveyors of New Haven (albeit not the only three worthy of a visit). Because I read that you can often get in and out of Modern with more ease than facing big crowds at Sally's or Frank's, we targeted Modern Apizza. 

On arrival, we found parking tight on the tidy neighborhood street, but we shoe-horned ourselves into the tiny lot adjacent to the restaurant. We arrived just before 5pm and were dismayed by a crowded waiting lobby and more folks outside. But we put in our names and were delighted to be seated after about a ten minute wait.
The meatball and onion pie
We had planned carefully; in the trunk we had a large cooler, plenty of ice packs, and a roll of aluminum foil (my mom always called it "tin foil" and I suppose it once was; I still think "tin" before I say "aluminum.") So our strategy was to order a lot more pie than we needed so that FEEP Jr. could take a few slices back to her dorm fridge and so I could take home lots of classic pie for myself and EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese).


A slice of the meatball pie. Click any pic to enlarge.
With that savvy strategy, we jumped in feet first and ordered two large pies (I also got a tasty white birch beer. Like cream soda, birch beer comes in a variety of colors and may vary by region. They also have beer but I had too much driving left). For my own taste, we got one pie with sausage. I like that best and I use it as the standard to compare to other pies. 

FEEP Jr. likes meatballs, onions, and mushrooms as pie toppings. I lectured about mushrooms being a "wet" topping that can bring unwelcome changes to the texture and moisture content of a pizza, so she ordered her pie with meatballs (Modern makes their own meatballs) and onions once the helpful waiter told us that the onions go on the pie uncooked but are sliced so thinly that they almost melt into the pie. We waited anxiously!
The sausage pie
The pies arrived one right after the other, so that we could alternate slices as we tasted. It was sliced in a conventional pie style, but in a way that yielded very uneven slice sizes. I think each pie had about 10 slices. Each was a tiny bit wet in the center, and you needed your knife and fork for the first bite. That is about the end of any criticism I have. The success of any pizza, and its hope of rising above the ordinary, rests on the crust.  This was a thin crust pie, and except for the wet center, the crust was perfectly sturdy enough to support the sauce, cheese, and toppings. It was not a New York crust, a Trenton crust, nor a Neapolitan crust. 

The cornicione was very Trenton-like -- golden yellow with a crunchy snap. But the rest of it was lighter in texture and color, with a hint of Neapolitan puffiness. My best description is that it was a hybrid of a stiff and chewy Trenton crust and a soft, pliant Neapolitan crust. No matter what you call it, it wore a lovely char and tasted fine. At the end of the day, however, it was not quite as good as Frank Pepe's sturdier crust.
Closeup of the sausage pizza
The sauce and cheese on both pies was in harmony with the pie. The sauce was pleasantly salty, and the cheese appeared to be conventional aged mozzarella. One pie (the meatball pie) may have had a little too much cheese. Quite tasty, especially the sauce, but not standout ingredients. No matter, the balance is more important and all of the ingredients played nicely together.
A slice of the sausage pie
The sausage was large chunks of real Italian sweet sausage, not slices nor those dreadful mealy pellets or ground sausage gravel used at lesser pie joints. The meatballs were highly seasoned and really gave a distinct flavor to the pie. The meatball pie was wonderful, especially with the onions, but overall I preferred the sausage pie. Not surprisingly, FEEP Jr. like the meatball pie better.
Feep Jr. says nomnomnom
We managed to eat exactly half of each pie, which was really quite a lot! These were big pies for $16 (one topping) and $18 (two toppings). We gladly took one whole pie with us.

I have since had the chance to eat one re-heated at home. It solved the wet-center issue, but the crust lost something; its delicacy was obscured. Still very nice, but it didn't hold up like leftovers from DeLorenzo's (Hudson St. in Trenton, reviewed HERE) or Frank Pepe's.
Underside of the crust;cool Muppet nail polish
Rating time! The crust gets an 8, the toppings get a 9, the sauce is an 8 and the cheese is a 7. All told, this pie earns an 8. This is great pizza, this is destination pie, but it is one tier down from my personal giants that include DeLorenzo's, DiFara, and Denino's.

Modern Apizza on Urbanspoon

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