Pizza With A Side Of Guilt

Pepe’s versus Sally’s is like Mets versus Yankees, Jets versus Giants, Geno’s versus Pat’s, Coke versus Pepsi. Either choice is good, but lovers of one don’t stray to the other. Sacrelege!

For over 25 years when I’ve had pizza on Wooster Street I’ve gone to Sally’s. I have been loyal. Last night I cheated! Last night Helaine and I along with our friends Bob and Karen went to Pepe’s.

If you’re not from New Haven this elevation of pizza joints might not make sense. Pepe’s versus Sally’s is like Mets versus Yankees, Jets versus Giants, Geno’s versus Pat’s, Coke versus Pepsi. Either choice is good, but lovers of one don’t stray to the other. Sacrelege!

Last night’s gastronomic straying started when I met Sue, a friend of Sonia Baghdady’s and a waitress at Pepe’s. It was Sue’s encouragement that brought us a few blocks farther down Wooster.

Helaine and I drove into New Haven planning on meeting our dinner partners at 7:30 PM. I got a text message a few minutes later and a link to a Glympse tracking map.

Because I’m Bob’s friend I didn’t include the documentary proof he was doing 80 mph on I-95 as he buzzed through Branford. This shot getting on the “Q” Bridge had him down to 62 mph and still more than 10 minutes away.

Luckily time wasn’t of the essence. We walked into Pepe’s chilly and hungry.

As ponytailed Billy took our order Sue changed from waitress to docent! She recounted with pride the story of Frank Pepe, how he went from immigrant baker to pizza evangelist.

The story was good, but I know the real secret to Pepe and Sally’s success: the oven!

A Wooster Street pizza is cooked in a 650 degree coal fired brick oven. This combination of coal and brick keeps the oven’s temperature hot and nearly constant. A pizza oven doesn’t turn on-and-off like your oven at home. In fact these pizza ovens are never turned off. They are fired and hot 24/7!

Each year for a week Sally’s and Pepe’s both shut down. I thought it was because of vacation, but Sue said it was for maintenance on the ovens. They take three days to cool down and another three to get back to temperature!

How was the pizza? How sweet is heaven? Amazing. The crust is thin. The sauce tasty without overpowering the toppings. We had one pie red and the other white.

After dinner I spent some time walking back into the kitchen and saying hello to everyone. As with much of Wooster Street Pepe’s is a family business. More importantly it’s run like a family business. Much of the waitstaff have been carrying hot pies to customers for decades.

I still felt guilty about the whole thing, but pizza is the universal guilt solvent.

3 thoughts on “Pizza With A Side Of Guilt”

  1. I was at BAR Pizza and Brewery on Crown St. last night. The beautiful old building, the delicious beer brewed on site, and the pizza also fired in a brick oven make this my favorite pizza place to go to when I come home.

  2. I end up at Modern more often b/c it’s within walking distance of my house, but when I do go down to Wooster Street I always go to Pepe’s. It’s no contest, as far as I’m concerned. (Though I confess I prefer Modern’s white clam. Pepe’s wins every other variety.)

    If you go to Pepe’s anywhere but on Wooster Street, you’re not getting the real thing. It’ll be many years before the ovens in Fairfield, Mohegan Sun etc. are baking at the level the oven is at the original Pepe’s.

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