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Jan 1, 2008 05:31 PM

NH Pizza: A Pepe's fan tries Modern

I am not an expert in New Haven pizza. My pizza credentials are rooted in Long Island and NYC styles (two very different but both very satisfying interpretations).

A couple of years ago I had my first chance to swing through New Haven and tried Pepe's (Wooster St) based on its strong reputation. We ordered the pepperoni pie. The experience was astounding. Absolutely incredible, despite the very long wait outdoors in cold December drizzle.

More than a year passed before our next opportunity to get to New Haven. We hit Pepe's (Wooster) again, this time at an off hour (3:30PM) with only a short wait. Again ordered the pepperoni. And again, absolute pizza nirvana.

Last week, our third chance to visit New Haven came up. But we decided to try Modern after reading comments by its vocal supporters. It also helped that we were on a tight schedule for lunch, Modern opened 30 minutes earlier, and word was that we wouldn't need to wait. All true.

There is no doubt that Modern is more accessible and "comfortable" than Pepe's original location. Service was quick and friendly, although Modern does share Pepe's affinity for thimble-sized drinking glasses -- order the pitcher!

Our pepperoni pizza arrived quickly. This being only our second New Haven pizza (apizza!) parlor, we could immediately see the local DNA -- the scorched crust (yum), the amorphous shape, the serving pan. Our mouths began to water again.

Make no mistake, Modern's pizza was very good. But -- and there is a but...

It just didn't have "IT". The X factor. The intangible flavor formula. There was nothing obviously wrong with Modern's pie. All the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be in place, but it just didn't elevate into that transcendent realm. Being "merely" very good is nothing to be ashamed of -- in plenty of cities, Modern's pie could easily be the best 'za in town.

But against our experience with Pepe's, Modern just wasn't quite there. The perfume of Pepe's crust. The saltiness of Pepe's cheese. The intensity of Pepe's chunky pepperoni (Modern's was the more usual slices). Pepe's is divine -- Modern was "just" very good.

Looks like we'll be waiting in line again the next time we visit New Haven!

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  1. Also try Sally's. There is a definite us versus them in NH pizza. Jfood is a Sally's person. The only Pepe's he has tried was the FFD location and he was severely disappointed. He may give Pepes NH a try but it is sooooo hard when he gets to Wooster not to go to Sally since he has been a fan for 25 years.

    Thanks for the report from an Lon-Geye-Lander. :-))

    1. love modern, but agree that the pepperoni pie at pepes is better (i get it with just grated cheese) . . but for combos (multiple toppings) modern does a much better job, and it should be noted that they have a "full" pizzaria menu (salads, apps, grinders, pastas, etc.)

      1. thebordella, where is Modern? I know Sally's Apizza, but I can't picture where Modern is. For a minute, I almost thought you meant Modern in New Rochelle, which is from hunger.

        Have you tried Pepe's in Fairfield? I still haven't. Also, Racanelli's in Rye Ridge's Neapolitan pizza is surprisingly good.

        1. I am in total agreement with you on the Pepe's v. Modern issue. I ate at Pepe's on my way up to Maine this summer and was stunned at how good it was. The clam pie was indescribable, the tomato and mozz was terrific, we did one large with a half of each. A few days later on our return trip through New Haven we tried Modern. The pizza was very good, better then most places and as you aptly put it, would probably be the best pie in most places, but not nearly as good as Pepe's. In the last ten days I have eaten again at Pepe's as well as Di Fara, Patsy's (east harlem location) and Una Pizza Napolitano. The clam pie from Pepe's might have been the single best bite from any of the aforementioned places with DiFara being the best tomato/ mozz slice. I can't wait for the next excuse to drive up 95.