Jfood visits Colony Grill - Quite a Pie (long)
What is the attraction of Colony Grill in Stamford? What creates almost a cult-like fascination, while simultaneously evoking harsh criticism? Why do regulars protect their turf so dearly? And most importantly, what is a Hot Oil pie?
Colony has a pizza reputation that extends for decades. The walls are adorned with numerous Military and team photos from the 50’s and 60’s plus other local heroes. Twelve stools, six booths, four TVs and two video games occupy the room with a long and always occupied bar, while the second room contains ten booths and twelve additional seats around tables. The kitchen is in the back where you can see a stack of oven-ready pies, each awaiting the requested toppings. The bar offers four beers on tap plus other varieties in bottles housed in the refrigerator behind the bar.
Colony ONLY serves pizza. The dough and sauce are all made on premises. The toppings include pepperoni, sausage, meatball, onion, sweet peppers, mushrooms, cherry peppers, stinger peppers, hot oil, olives and anchovies
On my first visit I ordered a “Hot Oil, with Half Pepperoni and Half Meatball” and, on the subsequent visit, I chose a “Hot Oil, with Half Pepperoni and Half Sausage / Sweet Peppers.” Now it was up to the kitchen to prove its reputation and lineage.
The mysterious “Hot Oil” is oil infused with Jalapeño pepper (the “Stinger”), which is subsequently drizzled over the pie. To remind the patron, a Stinger takes a seat of honor as the centerpiece on the pie before baking. The pies are baked in sided, round pans; in which the dough, sauce and toppings are stretched to reach the edges of the pan. If they recede from the corners, the ovens give a slight burnt edge to that area of dough. The underside arrives with a golden brown tinge and is not charred like the blast-fired pies of New Haven. The sauce is a bit sweet with a nice consistency. The cheese is a thin layer and as it smolders in the oven, it bubbles and leaves “pock marks” across the pie. The requested toppings sit nestled on top of the cheese. The Hot Oil is then drizzled over the top and proceeds to slide through the slice-cracks; when the pie arrives in six pieces on a metal pizza-plate it is bathing in a small amount of the Hot Oil. You need plenty of napkins; they are not an option in eating a Colony pie.
As my pie cooled, I bravely tried a little piece of the Stinger. It was hot but not excruciating; nonetheless I removed the larger piece from the pie. I first sampled a slice of the pepperoni side and the pepperoni reminded me of my previous visits, flavorful with just a touch of heat and perfectly complemented the Hot Oil. The cheese needed to cool a bit before the flavors were developed, and the sauce was a bit sweet, without being overpowering. The dough was a feat. It was thin, and while it sat in a small pool of oil, it maintained its crispiness throughout the meal and remained a simple canvas to the flavors on top.
After a few bites, I thought there was something missing, so I grabbed a sip of water to clear my palate and thought about the flavors. Thinking…cheese, tomato, something was needed to enhance the flavors…salt. Although the pepperoni had a touch of salt, it did not intensify the flavors of the tomatoes and the cheese. Fortunately a salt-shaker was within reach, and a little sprinkle of salt increased the flavors of the sauce and the cheese to the desired levels. Overall the pepperoni side was a success; now onto the meatball side.
The first taste brought a single thought to my mind. Why didn’t I order the sausage? The meatballs (term loosely used) were unseasoned ground meat tossed on top of the cheese, absolutely flavorless and not suitable for pizza. After adding salt (to no avail), I finally decided to remove all of the meat. But there was a positive consequence. Many people frown on the plain pizza at Colony and here was my chance to sample a plain (Hot Oil only) pie. While the earlier addition of salt improved the flavors of this recreated pie, I can still only call this side fair.
The next visit brought a smile to my face when the half sausage/sweet pepper and half pepperoni combo arrived. I immediately added a touch of salt to the pepperoni and it was as good as my previous visit. But, I was here for the sausage and peppers. The sausage was flavorful with a touch of heat, nicely seasoned. (I later found out that it is actually sourced locally from across the street at De Yulio's Sausages.) The sweet peppers were equally flavorful and perfectly cooked, just crossing from crunchy to soft. These were both great additions to the Hot Oil and this combination was one I really enjoyed and I think others would as well.
Colony Grill serves a very good pie. I thought the sauce and cheese were good, but not great, but I really enjoyed the pepperoni and the sausage/sweet pepper toppings. What differentiates the Colony pie from others are their dough and Hot Oil. The dough is unique with a consistency between cracker and chewy and is served without any end crusts, while the Hot Oil heightens the flavor of all of the toppings. Other pizza parlors might duplicate a hot pepper infused oil, but I am not convinced other places could replicate the Colony dough to remain crisp while sitting in a pool of oil. We are very fortunate in Fairfield County, and throughout Connecticut, with our pizza choices, each with a loyal and vocal following. Pizza is a passion and pizza opinions lead to rumbles under I-95, so I did not compare Colony to any other pizza in Stamford or in the surrounding towns. I suggest that people visit Colony Grill with an open mind and sample a unique style of pie, one that adds to the amazing pizza landscape of Connecticut.
Thank you, jfood, for that thorough post. Makes me wish you hadn't abandoned your early efforts as a blogger.... Having read your posts here on the soon-to-be-demolished-tri-state board as well as your posts about Minneapolis-St. Paul before my trip last summer, I've been wishing I could just RSS you and follow anything you say about any food...
My s.o. is a BIG jalapeno/hot food fan....maybe a trip to Colony is in our near future...
Sitting at the bar, sipping a Sam Adams, eating a hot oil with pepperoni while reading the FT is one fine way to spend the lunch hour. Keep the napkin dispenser in front of you.
Is it pizza? I'll leave that for others to debate. Is it addictive? Absolutely,
Edited to add: Bring cash. Parking can be a pain. Also, the Colony is where every softball team in Stamford, and there are lots, head to after the game.
Not too hot. I've been eating the pie for years, stingers and all. It's "different" your first trip, interesting on your second visit. By the third visit you're a regular, addicted to the hot oil and allowed to laugh at rooks who ask for the menu.
The place has a measure of character. I like that. Still, like anything worthwhile, it takes time.
Give it a few shots and let us know what you think.
re: steve h.
I would agree about the salt but I guess it's easier to add salt than remove it for those who don't want it.
Never having tried it till just a few months back, I think that Colony is a fabulous value. It's clean, the service is friendly and efficient, they do their one thing and do it well. My son and I had a hot oil pie, a beer for me, a coke for him and it was less than $20.
I know I'll piss some people off but after 23 years here I still think that in many ways Stamford is a town with simple and unsophisticated tastes. We are now lucky to have places such as Napa and good ethnic food but I've seen so many good places that really tried and failed.
For better or worse, Colony is a Stamford classic. Compared to the numerous mediocre and overpriced places here, I for one am glad to have them.
In the frenzy that can be modern Stamford, it's a pleasure to go to a shop that has some history. For me, Colony delivers on the promise: no smiling waitrons, no uniforms, no credit cards. Your son will soon be going there after his baseball/softball/whatever team wins a game.
Resistance is futile.
re: steve h.
I have been to both locations many times. While I do accept the possibility that you are a supertaster able to perceive minue nuances of flavor that I am not....And in addition that this extraordinary ability of yours is informing your opinion...
Short of that though, I heartily disagree with your assertion that Stamford is better than Fairfield.
I have gotten pies at Fairfield I thought were better than the Stamford ones.
At the very least Fairfield is their equal, with more/safer parking cleaner facilities (obviously) and super-nice people, especially the tall dark haired guy who often is at the take-out area.
And IF Stamford IS better, and this is a debate we can have, (I presume you are asserting that generations of grit, dirt and sweat, not to mention puked-up beers, gunsfights and whatever the hell else has happened in Stamford over the past hundred years add to the flavor:) I would assert that Farifield is, statistically, within a percentage point or two one way or the other.
Not having to drive to Stamford and home again = priceless:)
And of course, the girls are much prettier in Fairfield:)
But hey...let me ask you...What do you prefer about the Stamford location?