A Hamburger Today
New Haven: Delicious Thin-Crust Pizza at Bar
254 Crown Street, New Haven CT 06510 (map); 203-495-1111; barnightclub.com
Pizza style: New Haven-style
Oven type: Gas
Notes: Full bar, house-brewed beer
Price: $12 for 18-inch "red" pie; $16 for a cheese, additional toppings start at $1, up to $12 (for fresh clams)
Bar, a pizzeria, brewpub, and nightclub, is located on a side street in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, directly across the street from the current location of Louis' Lunch, the supposed birthplace of the hamburger.
The pizzas at Bar are cooked in a beautiful custom-built brick gas-fired oven that achieves temperatures in the 900°F range. Since it operates on gas, the logs stacked atop the oven are mostly for show, though I was told that it was designed to burn wood as well, in the case of an "emergency."
According to the staff, the original pizza cook at Bar once worked at Sally's Apizza on Wooster Street, and at first glance, the pedigree is apparent: The pizzas are served over a sheet of parchment paper set into aluminum sheet trays, shaped into elongated circles to better fit the rectangular pan. There are differences, too, though—the pizzas are substantially thinner than other New Haven pies, and they are sliced into rectangles rather than the usual wedges (which, aside from the cornicione-heavy corner pieces it produces, strikes me as a more sensible way to divide an ovoid pie into evenly sized slices).
When I saw how thin the pizzas at Bar were, my heart sank a little. From the look of these slices, I was sure that they'd be crackery and crisp. I'm no fan of cracker-style pizza crusts, since they lack contrast between a crisp bottom crust and a moist, slightly doughy interior that I consider an essential component of the perfect pie. (This contrast is not merely a textural element—it has direct bearing on flavor as well, since the less-baked interior retains the dough's fermented character.)
Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. Somehow the pizza at Bar managed to retain a chewy, moist interior crumb, despite its dangerously thin crust. (Frankly, I'm still dumbfounded as to how they achieve this effect.) In practical terms, what this means is that it retains many of the characteristics of a great pizza crust, while being substantially lighter than most. In other words, you can eat a hell of a lot more of this pizza than you can most other types. Which is a good thing, because these were damned tasty pies.
The dough had a very similar flavor profile to that used at other New Haven places: complex, with a pleasant yeastiness, along with a mild, wheaty sweetness from the flour itself. The sauce was typical New Haven as well: tangy, mild, more savory than sweet, applied lightly to avoid sogging out the thin crust.
The pizza at Bar gets plenty of char, mostly on the underside, but also here and there along the edges of the pie. Thankfully, none of the pies we sampled were out-and-out burnt, which is a serious risk for such thin-crusted pizza.
The basic tomato pie served at Bar differs from those served at other New Haven places, in that it doesn't have the layer of grated Parmesan that is typical of "plain" pies here, and instead gets just a light dusting of dried oregano. As a result, though it wasn't bad, I found it somewhat lacking in depth.
The low-moisture mozzarella-topped pies were excellent, however. The quality of ingredients at Bar is high, and the toppings are applied sparingly, to avoid overloading the thin crust. The crumbled sausage we had on one combo pie was mild but flavorful and not at all greasy, and it paired nicely with vinegar-tinged, potent hot cherry peppers.
The half-mushroom-half-eggplant pie we had was also delicious. The mushrooms themselves, freshly sliced buttons, were unremarkable, but still added a nice earthiness to the basic cheese pie. Eggplant is often a crapshoot on pizza: it's usually either sodden with grease or—if baked rather than fried—too soft and structureless. These slightly sweet, tender morsels, however, were very lightly breaded and perfectly fried, without a hint of grease.
The best-known pizza at Bar is the mashed potato pie, which features a chunkily-mashed layer of cooked potatoes atop a thyme- and oregano-inflected, crushed garlic, and Parmesan white pie. Our server recommended getting it with bacon, so we ordered half bacon, half without. Having tried it both ways, I'd recommend heeding your server's advice: the salty curls of sliced bacon—crisp here, chewy there—provided a welcome contrast to the pizza's otherwise starchy, creamy heaviness. Most of us felt that, bacon or no, while the potato pizza was tasty, it wasn't half as satisfying (or anywhere near as light) as the other pies we ate.
All in all, the pizza at Bar was a hit. While Bar didn't best my favorite New Haven pizza joints, it has certainly earned a spot in our regular rotation.
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