Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Sally's Apizza, New Haven CT

When people talk about the legendary pies of New Haven, it usually comes down to Sally's and Frank Pepe's - both located on Wooster Street. Not too long ago, I set out to visit both. I was en route to Boston from West Chester PA, and to my dismay I learned that Sally's is not open at lunchtime. Hence, Pepe's alone was my introduction to New Haven style "apizza" (which, incidentally, is also labeled "Tomato Pie" at Pepe's).

In between, I had a chance to sample the pies at Modern Apizza (review HERE). But Sally's remained important on my list of "pizzas I have to try."

Recently, I had occasion to spend part of a weekend in Hamden (home to the lovely campus of Quinnipiac University), which is not far from New Haven. That opened up the chance to hit Sally's for dinner on Saturday, and then another regional specialist on Sunday. That other target was Zuppardi's, in nearby North Haven - reviewed HERE.
Sally's, 237 Wooster Street

Pepe's and Sally's each have their staunch defenders, and also some critics. At Pepe's, I found a huge space that somehow retained its old-school charm even as it had expanded over the years. And world-class pie, good enough to be served in Chambersburg, Trenton. Full review is HERE.

We feared long lines at Sally's on a Saturday, but our good fortune took us there on Mother's Day weekend. My sense is that, on this holiday, folks want to take mom out for "fancy" food and hence pizza - even world class New Haven apizza -- does not suffice. So we showed up at 7:30 pm and were seated immediately!

Much like Pepe's, Sally's had that old-school charm that would make it right at home in Trenton. It looked liked it had changed little in 50 years, and that may be pretty accurate.

We examined the menu and decided that we wanted to try two pies, knowing full well we couldn't finish that much. But I had prepared for the apizza weekend by bringing a cooler with ice packs, so leftover pie (having some tonight as I write this) is never a bad thing.
Sally's makes huge apizzas

We were fascinated by the potato-topped pizza, and opted for a "small" version of that specialty pie featuring potato, onion, rosemary, and Parmesan (no red sauce). It hardly fit my perception of "traditional" but we rectified that by choosing a tomato pie with mozzarella and pepperoni for our "medium" pie.

The potato apizza

We were seated close to the kitchen, so I was able to see a lot of pies before they were served. We discovered that the large pies were HUGE. They were not quite round, but rather elongated to fill the enormous trays in which they are served. One accommodating couple allowed us to snap a pic of their two tremendous pies. They were able to eat all of one and about a quarter of the other.

Our "small" potato pie was medium-sized, and our "medium" pepperoni pie would be perfectly fine as the large pie in most places. Both had terrific eye appeal and we dug in.
Pepperoni apizza

Let's talk first about the traditional red pie. The crust is always the key feature, and this one was terrific. Thin but not cracker-like, with a beautiful char and that old-school flavor. It shared much in common with the New Haven pie at Pepe's. Even though the toppings were modest, the crust was not sufficiently rigid to support the sauce and cheese on the pepperoni pie. I'm not deducting any points for that, however.
Tip sag, but no flavor sag
The sauce was a deep red, surely tasty but largely a role player here. Sally's showed restraint with the traditional mozzarella cheese, in a good way so that all the elements were in harmony and balance. The pepperoni was generously applied, but was sliced thinly and had no remarkable quality. It was the gestalt mojo working here; much like Totonno's in Coney Island (reviewed HERE), this was a "the sum is greater than the parts" pie.  The sauce, cheese, and meat were all complements to that wonderful crust.


Just a magnificent crust, top and bottom


Under the hood

The potato pie? Even better! Lacking red sauce, it was lighter in weight and less wet, so the crust remained rigid underneath. The thinly sliced potatoes melded wonderfully with the Parmesan cheese, and the wispy onions brought a savory flavor and aroma. The rosemary was subtle, and the total effect was magical. I don't go for gimmicky pies, but this non-traditional entry succeeded at every level. Texture, flavor, harmony.

As we ate this destination pie, I began thinking about where Sally's would land in my pizza rankings.  Top Ten stuff, for sure. But the more great pie I discover, the more I see the futility in trying to rank it. This pie will ultimately be recorded as "best in class" with pies I find similar, such as Pepe's and Staten Island's Denino's (reviewed HERE). 
Fresh out of the oven

For the record, the crust gets a 9.5, the sauce an 8.5, the cheese a 7, pepperoni a 7. The potato/onion/Parmesan combo gets a 10! Brilliant stuff that surprised and delighted us.


Sally's Apizza on Urbanspoon

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