There are not too many ways to get from the Hamptons on the east end of Long Island to Upstate New York and of those ways, none are easy. One could drive across Long Island and pass through NYC or one can take the ferry across the L.I. Sound and go through Connecticut. The latter is a bit longer and more expensive, but it is much more relaxed and avoids mid-day, mid-week NYC traffic. It also allowed for a visit to what is arguably the finest pizzeria in the United States – Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napolitana in New Haven.
Being a Dartmouth grad, I am not typically partial to New Haven, but I must give credit, where credit is due. It had been a while since I was last at Pepe's and it's nearby rival Sally's Apizza, but I need not have worried. We arrived around 12:30PM having taken the Port Jefferson to Bridgeport ferry. The line was short by Pepe's standards, however, it got a bit longer after us, more typical of what I remember. After a short wait, we were led to a spacious table in the side room. Though I knew that I wanted their classic white clam pizza, there were too many other enticing alternatives to leave it at that. Though there were only three of us, we ordered four small pizzas: a clam, a fresh tomato, a chicken and mushroom and an original tomato pie.
After what seemed a long wait due to our hunger and anticipation, our four pies finally arrived. I'm glad that we ordered smalls, as we had a lot of pizza in front of us. They were, however, well worth the wait. Each pie was hot, arriving directly from the oven other than a brief stop for slicing. The pies were well charred and sufficiently crisp. I can't understand how people around us would leave their crusts on their plates once they made it through the filling. The crust, other than a few burnt edges was crisp, flavorful and rivaling the finest bread.
The clam pie was exactly what I was hoping for, bursting with juicy clam and garlic flavors. This is no wimpy, tasteless pizza. It possessed just the right amount of clams to provide taste and texture without adding too much moisture. I could eat this anytime.
My son wanted the chicken pizza, not something I would typically order, but it worked quite well. In addition to the chicken, we asked for mushrooms, after finding out that they use fresh mushrooms for their pizzas.
The original tomato pie is a classic for a reason. Though one can get it with mozzarella, I suggest, at this pizzeria at least, to have it in its pure, original incarnation. The sauce is simply wonderful, with the charred pizza crust, the perfect vehicle for it. This is a pie not to linger over, however, as the high moisture content quickly degrades the thin crust.
The fresh tomato pie comes with mozzarella, garlic and basil. It is as much the essence of summer as a pizza can be. I was particularly impressed with the wonderful fresh tomato flavor given that this has not been a summer kind to tomatoes or their fans.
We ate about half the pizza we ordered and packaged the rest to bring home. While the leftovers were not quite up to the fresh pies since the crusts had wilted, they responded quite nicely in a 450ºF convection toaster oven for 5 minutes.
At Pepe's the pizzas are so good, it is almost enough to make me sing "Boola Boola!"