A Review of Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napolentana
(Pepe's Pizza)

Exclusive review for pizzatherapy.com
by Rob Esposito

Frank Pepeís Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT
 
Iím writing from the road, on my laptop, on the go, on extreme vacation (no schedules, no media, rarely a clock, no return date inside of mid-August) so this will be short. But I had to tell you...
 
My taste buds are smiling. No, theyíre belly-laughing with glee! Mark and Lou Esposito, Rick Thornley, Eric Nielsen, and I drove from Quaker Hill to New Havenís Little Italy where I enjoyed my first Pepeís pizza.
 
 

Of course Iíve been hearing about it for years, even in Washington D.C., where I live. I met one of the owners of Two Amys, a hot Neapolitan pizzeria making a name for itself there. Turns out heís from Connecticut and knows Pepeís well. (He also mentioned Sallyís Pizzeria, just down the street from Pepeís, as one of his inspirations.) At Frank Pepeís Pizzeria, as at Two Amys, by dinner hour thereís a line down the block waiting to get in.

Rick Thornly blew into town from Maine, and it turns out that a Pepeís run is de rigueur for him. Finally my chance. 
 

The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
Frank Pepe's

 

 

 
So how was it? In a word: Outstanding! Maybe itís the super-hot coal-fired oven, the fine, fresh pizza flour, the fresh toppings, or the bright seasonings, artfully tossed on these homey pies. Most assuredly, itís all of the above plus the old-fashioned early-to-mid-century ambience of the rooms, the booths, the friendly staff and jovial clienteleóthe whole neighborhood. It was and is an experience. 
 
Situated in the center of Little Italy, the neighborhood is as much a social/residential as it is a culinary heart of New Haven. Wooster Street, where Pepeís is located, is lined with brick buildings from the 1800s. Itís a street where people live, hang out, mingle, converse. Itís alive with Neapolitan conviviality. Friends and strangers alike chat amicably in and around the half-dozen Italian eateries, cafes, stores, and social clubs, enjoying the balmy July evening.  
 
But really, and most essentially, itís about the pie. Pepeís does pizza. Period.  And the toppings are authentically Italian with a distinct Neapolitan sensibility: generous, down to Earth, full of life. And real! The crust is thin and light, but sturdy enough to embrace your wildest toppings fantasy. The extremely high oven temperature renders a crisp, delicate crust that snaps when you bite into it, then melts in your mouth.  
 
We opened with Markís perennial starter, the clam pizza. Guess what? The clams are FRESH. And bountiful. Scrumptious, a white pie with a hint of garlic and a dash of Italian herbs. The hot oven allowed the clams to crisp ever-so-slightly, while remaining succulent within. Thereís an art to cooking this white pie to perfection, a little burnt around the edges, while protecting the delicate clam.
 
We ordered the second pie, round-robin, each of my intrepid companions adding a request. We ended up with a large sausage-mushroom-onion-bacon-spinach pizza that dazzled. So much so that Rick jumped up and snapped a few photos. Heíll send them along soon. Again, the ingredients were fresh and authentic, the pomodoro sauce held it all together masterfullyóeach mouthful was an adventure. Why was my stomach so small when Pepeís  made my taste buds so grand! It left us sated and happy, yet wanting more!
 
The solution was simple, thanks to Rick and Eric. We ordered two to go. Then we drove the 45 minutes up I-95 full of good cheer. Drive 45 minutes for a pizza? You bet. Iíll be back for ďold reliableĒ (as emblazoned on the take-out box under a likeness of Frank Pepe proudly holding a pie). Old reliable is right, given the rep the place has enjoyed for years. I know Al has praised this place before on Pizza Therapy. I concur. Itís now at the top of my list.
 
~ Rob Esposito
Washington D.C.

 

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Gary Bimonte, grandson of Frank Pepe reveals the true story,
"the birth of Pepe's clam pie".

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