Monday, April 2, 2012

New Haven Pizza Wars - Abate's

I am spending the month of April living in the delightfully collegiate town of New Haven, CT, which means a few things:
   1.) I am soaking up so many Yale brain waves that my intellect has increased tenfold. I am sure to go back to my standard level of thought-processing the second I cross back into New York.
   2.) Due to archaic liquor sale laws, the state of Connecticut does not sell alcohol on Sundays. Therefore, I have to remember to purchase on Saturday all the alcohol I think I'll want to drink on Sunday. This is harder than it seems.
   3.) I will be writing about the phenomenon know as the New Haven Pizza Wars, because this is a blog about pie, and after a good mixed berry, there's nothing quite like a slice of pizza pie. That, and New Haven is decidedly not known for their dessert pies.

According to this Wikipedia article, the Neapolitan-style pizza found in New Haven is known locally as apizza. It is characterized by a thin, crispy crust that is topped with tomato sauce, oregano, and a sprinkle of romano cheese, and baked in a brick or high-temperature oven. Mozzarella is considered to be a topping (if you order a "plain" pizza, don't expect it to come covered in cheese). The apizza dates back to the early 1920's, when a man named Frank Pepe started serving "tomato pies" at his shop on Wooster Street. Many others followed suit, and to this day the area serves as New Haven's "Little Italy" and is dotted with gelaterias, delis, and pizzerias.

This afternoon, I found myself on Wooster St. after a failed attempt to walk to Ikea (after living in New York City, I'm alway shocked to discover just how much of the rest of the country is NOT pedestrian-friendly). Disappointed in my lack of Sweedish meatballs, I decided to find out what this apizza buzz was really about and stopped in the first place I saw.

Abate's seems at first to be the annoying younger brother of the apizza dynasty. Whereas the other big-time players all opened their doors in the 1920's-1930's, Abate's wasn't born until 1992 but nevertheless totes itself as one of the main contenders. Having eaten my first bite of apizza only a few hours ago, I cannot compare Abate's with the others (spoiler's entirely probable that I'll try as many New Haven pizzas as possible and then declare a winner at the end of my time here...), but I CAN say that I was incredibly surprised and impressed with what I ordered.

Mozzarella and mushroom apizza from Abate's

First of all, this was the closest I've come in all of New England to eating a pizza that tastes like my beloved Chicago-style-thin-crust. Only the very center of the pie had a limp crust (as opposed to New York-style slices that you can literally fold in half), the rest was crispy and crunchy, and actually had traces of the cornmeal that's spread on the counter before rolling the dough. The sauce was sweet and tangy. The mushrooms were fresh. The cheese, though minimal, was tasty.

What impressed me most, though, was the crust. Anyone can spread sauce and cheese on some baked bread and call it a pizza. Not everyone can make a homemade crust in which you can actually see the striations of dough and taste traces of the cornmeal that's spread on the counter before it's rolled. I am a fan of such crusts.

This pizza also was pretty moderately priced - with tax and tip, the 12" mozzarella + one topping pizza cost $12 - and I brought half of it home for dinner. I'm pretty excited to try all the other apizza places that New Haven has to offer; if they taste anything like Abate's, I will certainly not go hungry in this city.

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