A Pizza My Mind: The Game Changer
Editor's note: In honor of National Pizza Month (aka October), the Serious Eats editors, staff, and Slice writers will top off our regular content with their deepest thoughts on all things cheesy, saucy, and crusty.
Coming from the pizza poor part of the country known as Appalachia, most of my pizza discoveries came in my late adolescence and young adulthood when I was in school "up North." For the annual school bound treks up the East Coast, the 'rents manned the wheel, but our well-worn and earmarked copy of Jane and Michael Stearns Roadfood did the driving. The eating tours up the highway made the end of summer and return to school something to look forward to, and it was thanks to that roadside, mom and pop shop focused restaurant guide that I had most of my eye-opening food experiences. One of the most memorable, if you haven't guessed from the photo above, was a stop in New Haven.
Looking back through the 1992 edition of the book for clues to that first trip, all that is noted in the margin are some shorthand driving instructions and "great!" written in my mother's handwriting. So beyond knowing that we took a "L" on Olive and a "R" on Wooster, I have no more details on the lead up to Frank Pepe's. But there's no need for margin notes to remember what we ordered. It was, of course, the famous clam pie.
I'm sure my father balked at the idea of clams on pizza, but his case didn't stand a chance against what for me had most likely become gospel by the time I had read and re-read the passages enough times to commit to memory what we would order.
Only in the name of "pizza" did the pie resemble anything that any of us had had up to then. There was no sauce, no mozzarella, and the crust was thin and chewy with blisters and char. The smell of the chopped garlic on top made it to the table ahead of the misshapen pie. I remember the unusual look of the pizza making me question if this was an instance of being led astray. Was this a case of a skewed bias in favor of regional specialty that the Connecticut bred authors were raised to favor? But the first bite, redolent with oil and briny from the liquor of the clams erased all doubt. Romano and crumbled oregano made the simple pie just the right kind of savory. It was the pie that changed the way I looked at pizza. It was the one that made me think, if this exists, what else is out there?! What else have I yet to try? It was my game changer.
What was the pizza that changed it all for you?