"At the bottom of the menu I saw an item that captured my attention: 'Fresh Clam Pizza, market price.'"
179 Union Avenue, West Haven CT 06516; 203-934-1949
Pizza style: New Haven-style pizza
Oven type: Gas-fired
Price: $27 for a medium fresh clam pie
I love fresh clam pizzas. Actually, I should say that I love the idea of a pizza made with freshly shucked clams, freshly grated Romano cheese, fresh garlic, maybe fresh Italian parsley, and a splash of olive oil. The reason almost every clam pie I've had in the last 15 years has fallen short of my considerable expectations is that all fresh clams are not created equal.
The clam pies I've had recently (say, the last five years) at various Frank Pepe's locations in Connecticut and Yonkers, New York, and at Lombardi's in New York City have been dominated by rubbery chunks of fresh clams that taste as if they had come out of one of those white plastic buckets of preshucked clams. These clams, serious eaters, are not a recipe for clam pizza nirvana.
But yesterday, out of nowhere, while driving back from Boston, I encountered the grand slam of clam pizzas, the best clam pie I've ever had, in a New Haven–area pizzeria that has never been mentioned in the same breadth as Pepe's on Wooster Street, where as far as anyone can discern, the clam pie made with freshly shucked clams was invented way back when by Frank Pepe himself. Where?
At Zuppardi's Apizza my new, no hassle, go-to spot for New Haven apizza. On Sunday afternoon only one other table was occupied when we wandered in around 1:45 p.m. Instead of ordering a pie to go. we sat at a table and actually looked at the laminated Zuppardi's menu.
I knew we had to have a sausage and mozzarella pie, because Zuppardi's house-made sausage is as good as pizzeria sausage gets. In the middle of the menu there was a listing for a whole clam pizza. Left unsaid on the menu is that these whole clams are undoubtedly canned. But then at the bottom of the menu I saw an item that definitely captured my attention: "Fresh Clam Pizza, market price."
Now if you've ever been to Zuppardi's, you know that it hardly qualifies as a fancy-pants, market-price kinda place. I called our server over: "Do you have fresh clams in the house," I asked.
"Yes, we do."
I immediately ordered a medium fresh clam pie with grated Romano and no mozzarella.
Then we waited. And we waited some more. And we kept waiting, for a good half hour.
What gives? We had the dining room to ourselves. I was just about to ask about the whereabouts of our pizzas when they arrived at the table.
The sausage pie was killer, as expected.
The fresh clam pie was even better. The clams were tender, briny, perfect, barely heated through, and their clam liqueur leaked or ran out in every direction. The crust was crunchy, thick enough. This was clam pie prepared by the clam-pizza gods. This was first ballot pizza hall of fame pizza.
Each slice was better than the last.
When we were sated, or should I say when we just couldn't eat any more, although we wanted to, I mentioned to one of the young guys behind the counter that the clam pie was amazing because it appeared to be made from freshly shucked clams.
His retort, "I hope it tastes like freshly shucked clams because that's exactly what was on the pizza. Why do you think it took so long for your clam pie to get to your table? We shucked every one of the clams after you ordered your clam pizza."
A-ha! Good things really do come to those who wait, and that especially applies to fresh clam pizza. Now you know. A great fresh clam pizza will never be fast food, even if there's nobody else in the joint when you order it.
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