Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
59 Federal Rd, Danbury, CT (map); 203-790-7373; www.pepespizzeria.com
Pizza Style: New Haven-style
Oven Type: Coal
The Skinny: It's Pepe's alright, but it's not quite the Wooster Street standard.
Price:Tomato pies range from $6.50 to 12.50 and white clam from $12.50 to $25.50
A slice of New Haven's Wooster Street arrived in Danbury, Connecticut last week in the form of a new outpost of Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana. They say the coal-fired oven was copied "brick-by-brick" from the original. So how do the pizzas stack up?
Before sitting down at the new Danbury branch, I instinctively ordered a white clam pie, only to be shut down by the waitress who told me the day's snowstorm had prevented the clam delivery that morning. As tempted as I was to walk out the door and drive my clam-seeking self to New Haven, I focused on the other white pie special on the menu: a white pizza with spinach, mushrooms, and gorgonzola. It's no clam pie, but it would do (on half a pizza, leaving the other half free for red sauce, sausage, and mozzarella.)
The uneven oblong shape of the large pizza and the pile of simple fresh ingredients kept my immediate and rapt attention. The sliced sausage on the red half had a vibrant pork flavor, and a healthy dose of mozzarella combined with Pepe's signature tangy tomato sauce.
The white spinach, mushroom, and gorgonzola half was served with mozzarella and a heck of a lot of garlic, oil with a nice blast of salt. The edges of the pie were nicely charred. Ingredients, shape/appearance and execution? Looks like the Pepe's we know and love.
Although things on top looked awfully like the charred coal-fired Pepe's pies in New Haven, the taste was where things began to diverge, noticeably where the crust was concerned. To oversimplify, the pie was just not dirty enough to be real Wooster Street pizza. Although the pizza looked charred on top and certainly had a nice greasy shellacked edge, a peek under the pie revealed very little char. The crust was a tad flat and there was a bit more gumminess to the dough. It also didn't burn my mouth on the first bite. A New Haven Pepe's pie comes out screaming hot, uniquely charred, with the cheese steaming. My hunch is that this pizza simply wasn't fired hot or long enough.
That said, this Danbury outpost is still new, and one can only expect that the dough rise and cooking time will improve with repetition. Pepe's Danbury pizza is reminiscent of the chewy, charred original, but it's good, as in "I'll-head-back-when-I'm-in-the-neighborhood" good, and not "let's-make-a-day-of-it" good.