What better way to compare Frank Pepe's head-to-head than with its famous white clam pie? Frank Pepe himself is said to have invented it, when he starting buying and serving clams on the half shell in the pizzeria. Eventually he started chopping them up and putting them on this sauceless pizza, which gets additional flavor from lots of garlic. (Size differences may be attributed to the fact that Pepe's cuts its often oblong pies into not-always-even pieces.)
Pepe's Yonkers Clam Pie In Situ
We ended up ordering the same pizzas (more or less) at both the Yonkers branch and the New Haven original—a white clam pie (left) and a tomato pie with mozzarella with half sausage (coming up in next slide).
Yonkers Pepe's Tomato Pie with Mozz (and Half Sausage)
Remember, at Pepe's a "plain" pie does not include mozzarella like it does in NYC. You have to specify mozzarella if you want it. We did. We also ordered sausage on one half. While the white clam pie was cooked perfectly, the stick man burned the sausage half of this pie.
Yonkers Pepe's Oven Area
Just like in New Haven, the oven at Yonkers takes center stage. Or should I say ovens? Yonkers Pepe's has two coal-fired ovens, both going at the same time. They look almost identical to the one in New Haven, and they even cast the iron fire door from a mold of the original. If you look closely, you can even see how the pizza peels rest on ceiling-mounted hooks.
See what I mean about being almost identical? Except for maybe 90 years' worth of patina at New Haven Pepe's. While we were at Yonkers, we watched them vacuuming the oven (not shown here). When I looked at my photo archives, I noticed that had I captured that same task at the original Pepe's in this 2004 photo.
Yonkers Pepe's Underside
Of course I can't say with any authority that consistency is an issue at Yonkers Pepe's, but there was a vast difference between the crusts of our white clam pie (cooked perfectly) and our tomato pie (burnt on the sausage half, as seen here).
New Haven Pies
Later that day in New Haven, we ordered a tomato pie with mozzarella (but skipped the sausage) and a white clam pie. These pizzas were noticeably thinner than at the Yonkers branch (as you will see in upcoming photos) and were also cooked perfectly.
Tomato Pie Hole Structure Comparison
Top to bottom you've got Yonkers and New Haven. Flavorwise, the pizzas were all remarkably consistent (if you tasted from the non-burnt mozzarella half of the Yonkers tomato pie). The Yonkers location, however, had a slightly more airy crust and a crisper, less chewy texture.
I figured this was just the post to break out my dusty old digital calipers.
Yonkers: 9.31 mm
New Haven: 5.98 mm
Clam Slices, Crust-to-Crust
As I said, the white clam pies at both locations were cooked perfectly. I bet you wouldn't be able to tell them apart if I hadn't have labeled them.
White Clam Pie Hole-Structure Comparison
Much the same as the tomato pie with mozz, except that the white clam at Yonkers was even more puffy than that at New Haven.
The calipers got more use for this post than they have in at least a year.
Yonkers: 12.08 mm
New Haven: 7.32 mm
And before you ask, I did remove the cheese from the equation on this and the previous caliper-enhanced photos.
A Probably Redundant Shot
But this one zooms in on the clams and garlic. Seriously: You would think these were the same pie.
Here are the slice bottoms side by side. Not a huge difference. Overall, I'd say that the Yonkers location is a pretty dead-on re-creation of the New Haven place. Connecticut expats (or Yale alumni) in the Westchester area need not make the 1.5-hour journey north.