dynamic duo Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana were the two stops Slice made during the Pizza Club road trip to New Haven, Conn., on Saturday. Plenty of pizza was ordered from both venerable establishments. Above left is a large mozzarella pie from Sally's; above right, a large mozzarella pie (background) and a large white-clam pie (foreground) from Pepe's. Both pizzerias are so popular that lines form down the block, as can be seen below (Sally's left, Pepe's right).
On line by 4:40 p.m., we waited until a few minutes after 5. That's when someone flipped the lock, opened the door, and asked, "Anyone with reservations? Come on." So there is a secret reservation system. Slice had heard from Ed Levine when we ran into him at Totonno's that there were special times you could call to get reservations, and this confirmed it. A party of 10 jumped ahead by virtue of its reservations, but since we were the second party in line, we were among the first seating of the day.
What greeted us was a charmingly rec-roomish wood-paneled dining area. With its gilt-frame photos, big comfy vinyl booths, and 1960s light fixtures, it looked like the neighborhood pub your gramps took you to when he had to watch you for the day but still wanted a beer with his buddies (think Archie Bunker's Place, or just take a gander at the photo at left). Some folks in our party felt the decor left something to be desired; this reporter felt right at home. But we weren't there for the atmospherewe were there for the pizza, and after about 10 minutes, our waiter came over to apprise us of the daily specials and take our order.
Still stuffed from the fare at Pepe's, we figured we'd go for three medium pies: one with mozzarella (or, "mootz"), one white clam, and one from the specials menutopped with thinly sliced potato and onion. Our waiter seemed disappointed with the order, advising us that one medium would feed two people at most and that we had a party of 10. "We've eaten a lot today. I think we'll be fine with the three mediums to start. We'll order more if we're still hungry."
Uh uh. Big no. We were told that the lag time between ordering and receiving was such that it wouldn't be prudent to employ this strategy. After a little more back and forth with the waiter on how much pizza would feed how many people, we stuck to our gunsand with our original order. To that we added a round of beers for half the table, an assortment of sodas, and water all around.
I don't know if it was at this point that our waiter deemed us less than human, but we might as well get this out of the way: If it's good service you want, you should not sally forth to Sally's Apizza. From this point on, we might as well have been dead to the staff at this place. Pizza persona non grata. Public-pizza enemies Nos. 1 through 10. You get the picture.
It was hot as the devil in the front of the dining room (you can see how sapped the gang was at right), and it took about fifteen minutes before the drinks arrived. One pitcher of water for ten folks and only eight glasses. Numerous requests for additional glasses were met with complete stonewalling at best and silent contempt at worstall while the table of what appeared to locals behind us had no trouble getting many rounds of orange sodas. At one point, one of our normally mild-mannered pizza club members grumbled, "This goddam pizza better be f**kin' good, 'cause this goddam service f**kin' sucks."
Did I mention it was hot in there? The weird thing was that when you ventured to the curiously secure bathrooms, it was icy cold near the oven. (They must use the majority of the aircon power to keep the kitchen staff comfortable at the expense of the patrons.)
But enough grumbling. The pizza was sublime. The mozz pie (above) was consistently thin and crisp and gained an interesting texture from a scattering of cornmeal on the bottom. We imagine Sally's uses the cornmeal to keep the pie from sticking to the peel as they slide it into the oven. Absent were the puffy doughy regions that were evident at Pepe's. A member of our group said he thought that Pepe's was great New Haven pizza, but that this pie was like "gourmet New Haven pizzaa notch above." As at Pepe's, it seemed the oil had again separated from the cheese and had helped almost "fry" it on top, turning it golden-brownish orange (above and right).
The clam pie, too, was good, but consensus was that Pepe's, with its whole clams, was better. And the potato-and-onion pie was deliciouscrisp on the bottom (crust) and top (thinly sliced potato) and spiked with rosemary and oregano.
After eating, we were eager to leave. It was just too hot, we were too stuffed, and we were tired from digesting the copious amount of clams, cheese, and crust in our stomachs. Again, it was next to impossible to get the waiter's attention. We eventually had to get up and grab someone to come bring us the check, but not after we considered trying the old dine and dash. I mean, heck, they weren't paying attention to us anyway, so why not? But we at Slice are upstanding citizens, and we settled up what we owed and left without incident.
It was at that point that the Cat Price guys came by, camera in hand, to get our thoughts on the experience. In a nutshell: Pepe's for clam pies, Sally's for mozz; Pepe's for friendly welcoming service, Sally's if you want to feel like a Republican delegate in New York City for the GOP convention (or a New Yorkpizza advocate in New Haven).
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