Dear Slice: 'Heading to NYC, and Pepe's in New Haven'
Clicking in to the Slice inbox today, we've got a message from longtime reader TJ, who wrote to Slice in early September asking, "If I could only eat at one NYC pizzeria besides Di Fara, what should it be?" I opened that one up to discussion here, and it looks like TJ's taken all our advice into consideration and has his pick—Patsy's East Harlem. But he mentioned New Haven pizza, and I've got some thoughts on that. Feel free to chime in once again, folks. --The Mgmt.
I am taking your recommendation—Patsy's in Harlem—as the second pizza visit aside from Di Fara (worried about Dom retiring before I get a slice, so this was the only absolute MUST STOP for me).
Other stops—Katz's, Yonah Schimmel, Peter Luger, White Manna Hackensack, Rutt's Hut, Ess-a-Bagel, Papaya King. (Would have included a stop at Shake Shack if they were not closed for the season.) And some random street noshing, whatever looks good, maybe a random slice here and there.
One of the days we head out to New Haven for Pepe's.
Really, looking forward to this, and thanks for your piece on SliceNY.
Two minor corrections ...
Shake Shack is actually open year-round now! And if it's too cold or crappy out for you at Madison Square Park, you can do the Upper West Side location. (http://www.shakeshacknyc.com/)
If you're bothering to go all the way to New Haven, GO TO SALLY'S. Ed Levine and I just did a small fact-finding mission in NH this weekend. Went to Modern Apizza (plain pie and sausage/mozzarella/mushroom pie), Frank Pepe's (sausage/mozzarella pie and clam pie), and Sally's Apizza (plain pie, tomato slice/mozzarella pie, and sausage/mozzarella pie).
Sally's had BY FAR the superior pizzas of the three. And I'd probably do Modern before Pepe's, though Modern and Pepe's have strikingly different pies. Modern's has less rise and is admittedly limp, but it has more flavor and its crust is not WAY TOO TOUGH. (Also, the clam pie at Pepe's was bested—shockingly—by a recent clam pie Ed and I tried at Lombardi's in Manhattan.)
If you can only hit one, do Sally's. Get there at 4:30 p.m. (it opens at 5 p.m.) so you'll be sure to get in the first seating. If you do that, and even if you're first in line, you will likely see lucky bastards skip the line who have the private reservation phone number. It sucks, but don't despair. Bring a book, magazine, or crossword puzzle—something to keep you occupied. Once you get a seat at Sally's, you still have a long wait. They've got horrible service but great pizza. So much more character and better pizza than Pepe's.
I have to admit, I was one of the lucky stiffs who got in on a reservation on Saturday night. Ed has the private line number. The difference in service was NIGHT AND DAY from when I visited in 2004 and had THE WORST SERVICE OF ANY RESTAURANT I'D EVER BEEN TO IN MY LIFE (first seating, but waited 25 to 30 minutes before they even took our DRINK ORDERS and then waited 40 more minutes for pizza order—but even then, I had to admit that Sally's had the better pizza).
This time around, we showed up at 6:25 p.m. for our 6:30 reservation, had to wait a little bit (at least it was inside, out of the rain, watching them work) for a table to clear—no biggie, since the management can't really control how long people are taking to leave. We got our table by 6:45 p.m. and had our pizzas by 7:25 p.m.
That said, we did notice that by the time we left Sally's at 8:35 p.m., there was only one couple in line waiting outside. So if you want to go late, you'd probably have a better experience with the lines, etc. (It's open till 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Sunday till 10 p.m.)
The whole experience reminded me of Ruth Reichl's (in)famous 1993 review of Le Cirque for the New York Times, in which she went first in disguise as a civilian and got craptastic treatment and then, later, allowed herself to be recognized and got the royal treatment (even skipping ahead of Spain's King Juan Carlos I, who had to wait at the bar).
Under the aegis of Ed Levine, our party of four had a fantastic night at Sally's. We got to talk to Flo Consiglio, the establishment's matron and bookkeeper and the wife of the late founder, Salvatore "Sally" Consiglio. She personally took our order while we waited for a table and gave us some good-natured ribbing:
Ms. Consiglio: "Do you know what you want to drink?"
"Birch beer," I said, having had it at Modern earlier and assuming it was a staple on New Haven menus.
"You may want to drink birch beer," Ms. Consiglio responded, "but you can have Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, root beer, orange, ginger ale, club soda, or beer."
As "Girl Slice," who was along for the trip, pointed out, "That was like when your English teacher said, 'I don't know, can you go to the bathroom? You may go to the bathroom, if you can.'"
Sitting there in the homey dining room, which looks like it hasn't been changed since the late '70s (probably not since the last time the oven was refurbished, which, according to Ms. Consiglio, was "about 30 years ago"), I think I began to understand the whole New England gruffness. You hear about the old-timers in Maine being infamously hostile to newcomers—where "newcomer" might be construed as someone whose family has only lived there three generations. My parents have always said that when we lived near Boston, the people there were highly insular (I was too young to remember). And I've read plenty of incidental remarks in literature, newspapers, and magazines about reserved New Englanders who are slow to accept n00bs into their lives but are generous and kindhearted when they finally do (even if it does takes generations).
If that's the case, I can see why Sally's Apizza—apart from the pizza, which is excellent—is so beloved by native New Havenites. If you're a visitor, though, like I said, be prepared. The next table up from us had brought along playing cards (they knew the drill; it was 20 minutes before the waiter acknowledged them, "You haven't ordered yet, have you?").
Anyway, one big thing to know about New Haven pizza ... "plain" means tomato sauce and grated aged cheese. NO MOZZARELLA. If you want mozz on a pie, you have to order it.
If you take my advice, TJ, and visit Sally's instead of Pepe's, I don't know if I'm sending you into a night of pizza bliss or a roundabout of pizza frustration. Do let me know what happens, though.
Hasta la pizza,