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Meriden, Connecticut: Little Rendezvous Pizza
The Little Rendezvous
256 Pratt Street, Meriden CT 06450 (map); 203-235-0110; thelittlevous.com; on Facebook
Pizza style: Connecticut-style
Oven type: Coal-oven
The skinny: When most outsiders (like me) talk Connecticut pizza, the usual names usually come up. The Little Rendezvous has been off the radar for too long, but this historic coal-oven pizzeria deserves a visit if you're in the area
Price: Large plain pie, $11.75; large mozzarella pie, $13.75; large house special, $18.75
See also: The United States of Pizza: Connecticut »
Connecticut has a lot to be proud of pizzawise. Even if you're a casual reader of Slice or know even a little bit about pizza history, you're probably already familiar with the New Haven pizzerias. I mean, Do I even have to name them? But a mere 20 miles away stands another historic Connecticut pizzeria that doesn't get much play—The Little Rendezvous.
As you know from reading Scott Wiener's column, coal ovens are a little bit rare and a lot bit neat. I've had the place on my to-try list for almost a year (thanks, JoJo603!). I was excited to finally make the trip there.
The Little Rendezvous looks like little more than a shack from the outside. This is either good or bad. Good, if, like me, you're the type of person who thinks some of the best food in the U.S. comes from quirky little establishments like this one. (Bad, if you're the kind of person I don't want to know.) It got the seal of approval from Girl Slice: "This is where we're eating? It's cuuuute."
The dining room at front was originally a market, way back in 1888. Out back of the market, in a separate building, was the coal oven.
In 1938, when the Verdolini family took over and turned the oven into the pizza-making monster it is today, they turned the market into a dining room and connected it to back building with a long hallway. With its slight incline, it almost feels like you're leavin' on a jet plane — a jet plane to ...
... pizza heaven.
In the back room is where the magic happens. It's there you'll find current owner Steven Chehotsky building pies on a lengthy pizza peel before placing them into the coal-burning oven.
Chethotsky is the seventh owner of the place, having bought it recently from Paul Bernier, who retired last month after 49 years in front of the oven. Longtime regulars have no need to worry. Chehotsky started working for Bernier at Little Rendezvous as a teen, left for 16 years to work at UPS, but came back recently to take the reins.
"I haven't changed a thing," he says.
Testament to that was the gentleman sitting in what he described as "the chef's table," a worn two-top whose bench gives its occupants a perfect view of the oven and the action surrounding it. For this man, Little Rendezvous was his Pizza Cognition Theory pizza. "I had my first pizza here when I was 6," he told me as I waited for my own first taste of Little Rendezvous.
Chehotsky must have kept the flame if this gentleman still comes in three times a week (Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays) and orders his regular pizza (above).
Speaking of which, you have a few crust options at the 'Vous. "Traditional" is probably what you're used to in New Haven/Connecticut-style pizza. It's about a quarter-inch thick, chewy, sturdy. There's also thin crust, which is more bar-pizza-like, and whole wheat and gluten-free.
If you can swing it, see if you can snag the "chef's table" when you visit. You'll get to watch the pies being made and get a good look at the fire-breathing oven (above).
One thing you'll have to remember if you're not from Connecticut is that a "plain pie" around these parts doesn't include mozzarella cheese. This is a departure from the concept of a "plain slice" or "plain pie" in NYC, where that means crust, sauce, cheese minus any toppings.
In Connecticut, you've got to specify that you want mozzarella on your pie (above, right).
The closest thing these pies reminded me of were Frank Pepe's. The traditional crust is thin but a bit thicker than typical NYC-style slices. Here's a hole-structure shot to give you an idea:
It's sturdy and stands up well to the many toppings of the house special (mozzarella, sausage, mushroom, and peppers). But it might be a bit too dense for some folks. It's great when it's hot, but it becomes very chewy when it cools. This is one pizza that really calls for a good reheat and should not be eaten cold.
The Little Rendezvous is right in the shadow of I-691. If you're in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop in and check it out. This type of Americana is becoming increasingly rare.