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Daily Slice: Papa's Pizza, Milford, Connecticut
Daily Slice gives a quick snapshot each weekday of a different slice or pie that the folks at the Serious Eats empire have enjoyed lately.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, and grew up in the greater New Haven area. I cut my teeth (and occasionally the roof of my mouth) on the thin, blistered pies of Southern Connecticut. Exploration eventually lead this enthusiast away from the Holy Trinity (Sally's, Pepe's, Modern), and in to the arms of smaller, off-the-beaten-path gems like Papa's. The times I've sat down to enjoy a pizza from Papa's, I've been rewarded with the flavors and textures of New Haven without the headache or attitude. For someone who has become accustomed to the laid back, stress-free Northwest vibe, it was the perfect prescription for an East Coast pizza vacation experience.
A medium mozzarella ($12.50, 16") was the way to go, since my Papa's base line had not been established in some time. I did remember that the smaller pies tend to get soupy, so I bumped up from personal (12") to medium. Visually, the pie was a show-stopper. Dark bubbles of all size emerged from the crust, bright spots of tomato were bursting from beneath the slice cuts, and the cheese was evenly browned. The flavors were also dynamic and nostalgic; sweet and salty tomatoes met a basic, chewy cheese blend on top of brick oven-charred bread and created that New Haven flavor. It's as if every element of the pizza was infused with a smoky, fruit-tinged essence. Despite Papa's lack of coal and attitude, this pie managed to achieve a touch of regional greatness.
The one complaint I'd imagine people would have is: "too thick". The crust is not akin to the wispy wafer you find at Sally's or Bar, and in fact, it probably has a millimeter or two on Pepe's. Regardless, I found the beefier bottom to be a fine complement to the paper-thin, carbon-laced charred bubbles present on the surface. The cornicone was less sour than I've become accustomed to out West, and instead replicated the flavors of a crusty, salty loaf of Italian bread. Does it taste awesome? Yes, especially if you like that intense, next-level char.
If you're traveling up I-95 through Milford, take the detour. Just be aware there are no tables at Papa's, except for the abused picnic table out front, so you'll most likely be taking your pie to go. I would recommend grabbing a couple bottles of Foxon Park soda, driving a half mile down Naugatuck Avenue to the beach, and eating your pie on the hood of your car. Just beware of seagulls and invasive sand crystals.