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New Haven Pizza Tour

We are 8 mature NJ chowhounds who are drooling over an upcoming trip I am planning to New Haven for a whirlwind pizza tour. My fantasy is to arrive at 11:30 and hit 3-4 stops by 2:00.
Break for an hour or two at the Yale Museum and try to get in another 3-4 pizzerie on the way out of town!

What do you think? Doable? Does anyone have an opinion as to whether places will freak out over a group of 8 ordering one pie? We certainly would have beverages and would be way above average tippers. Or will we have to take out & eat in our van? It may also make sense to order 2 pies at each restaurant and just take home the leftovers.

Of course we also welcome any suggestions, especially outside the usual suspects and would be thrilled over any suggested itineraries.

Looks like our most likely date will be March 17!

Thanks for all your input.

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  1. Could be tricky...that's a lot to cover in a short period of time. I might suggest splitting up on Wooster Street. Half of you stand in line at Pepe's and the other half stand in line at Sally's. Then you have choices. You could each order one pie to stay and the other to go, swapping pies in the street afterwards. Or, if you're clever about it, you might order the pies, each eat one slice, and then, two at a time, swap tables...(maybe warn the waitstaff?). The problem is that neither Sally's nor Pepe's is open for lunch, and those are the places where you're most likely to lose a lot of time waiting on line...although maybe on St. Patrick's Day there won't be as many people eating pizza as there might be on other days.

    Besides Sally's, Pepe's, and Modern, what else is on your list?

    (Bring cash....Sally's doesn't take credit cards)

    2 Replies
    1. re: hungrykids

      actually...Pepes IS open for lunch.... I love their plain tomato pie best... from Sally's I love the veggie

      1. re: LenaInNE

        sorry...yes...Pepe's is open for lunch but The Spot is not.

    2. What are the 6-8 places you're thinking of hitting? I can only think of 5 max that might be interesting - Pepe's, Modern, Bar, Sally's, and Zinc, and of those I've only ever been to the first 3. If you go to Bar, be sure to get the mashed potato pizza with bacon; it's pretty fantastic. Pepe's and Modern are good but haven't really blown me away. Not sure what else would be worth the ride from NJ...

      3 Replies
      1. re: Emmmily

        Hadn't heard of Zinc before, Emmmily. Thanks. Sounds good. We're thinking of Pepe's, Sally's, Modern, & Bar. The Sausage pie at Zuppardi's looks amazing. Have you been there?

        1. re: grubberoo

          I haven't, but do let me know if it's good - I'm always happy to add another good pizza spot to my list, especially if it involves sausage.

        2. re: Emmmily

          I loveee kitchen Zinc's Pizza but Marco's pizza in Branford on route 1 is also amazing.....they have a great clam casino pizza ...as does BAR in New Haven.

        3. I'm not sure about other places just outside of New Haven, but Zuppardi's in West Haven (I hope I'm remembering the location correctly) is not that far out of the city, so that could be a stop on your way in or out. Make sure you double check on hours and acceptable payment on the places you are planning on visiting too. I think it sounds like it will be great...good luck and enjoy!

          PS...also be sure to try a clam pie from Pepe's if it's availiable!

          1. I think that the divide and conquer strategy is best. Waiting in line for a table for 8 at Pepe's, and even more so, Sally's, is going to be tough. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one table at Pepe's that would hold 8 adults, and that is the round one that sits by the cash register just as you enter the back room. Don't even know if Sally's has a table for 8 adults. In any event, after the waitstaff goes out of their way to find room for you, if you only order a single pie, they will be (justifiably) exasperated. Instead, go to both places as a four and a four and each order a pie there, sharing from table to table.

            And I agree with other posters. There really aren't 8 places try, and with the hours they keep, it would be tough to do. Here's my proposed itinerary:

            All 8 go to Pepe's for lunch and sit as a 4 and 4. If the table for 8 is open, take it, but I'd order more than one pie if you do. If you split the group, each table orders a pie, and you can swap pieces. If you get there when it opens, (11:30) you should be done there by 12:30. You can then head to Modern which is also open for lunch. You should be seated, served and done by 2:00-2:30. Again, be prepared to sit as a 4 and a 4, but sitting as an 8-top at lunch is not out of the question. If you are a glutton for punishment, you can squeeze in another place that serves continuously from luch through dinner, but frankly, I can't recommend one. Save your appetite, or what is left of it, for dinner.

            At 4:30, head back to Wooster Street. Go as a 4 and a 4 at the same time to The Spot and Sally's. (The Spot opens at 4:00 and Sally's at 5:00. Get in line at Sally's at 4:30 and you should get in at 5:00, and at 5:00 the other group should find no line at The Spot). While there, each group orders a pie to eat in and a small to go. Meet out on the sidewalk to swap take-out pies after you finish dining. Make sure you stagger your eat-in and take out orders as you want to pick up your take-out pie just as you are ready to leave. Better to have your group done and paid for, and waiting out on the sidewalk when the pie gets out of the oven than to have the pie ready too early. If you are going for a "once in a lifetime" smackdown, you want the pies hot, and not warm, sitiing in a box.

            When you finish your sidewalk picnic swap, head over to Bar at any time. It serves late, so no need to rush.

            That gets you 5 places in one day. Bring a cooler and some ice and prepare to take home plenty of leftovers.

            5 Replies
            1. re: FoodieJim

              Sounds like a heck of a plan. Is there time (or room) to hit Ernie's on Whalley Ave?

              1. re: FoodieJim

                Jim, sounds like a plan. Thanks for your input. We appreciate the thoughtfulness. Is The Spot different enough from Pepe's to warrant a stop? What are your feelings about Zinc, Ernie's & Zuppardi's?

                1. re: grubberoo

                  Ernie's is truthfully my old favorite, but I also grew up on it. IMO, they do have the best sauce on a pie, and their sausage is really good. Most people find there pizza cheesier and greasier than other New Haven spots. Their crust always comes out good and dark, and the ends thicker and crispier. They do use electric (or is it gas) ovens, so that is also very different from the "big 3" pizza spots.

                  Ernie's is really close to the Merritt, and I think it may be open for lunch (I couldn't find info on that though, sorry) so it would be a good first or last stop. Also, Dayton St. Pizza is right around the corner, the owner used to work for Modern.

                  1. re: solargarlic

                    Ernie's is only open for lunch on Fridays

                  2. re: grubberoo

                    As for The Spot, it is not different enough from a culinary standpoint, but since it sits on "the spot" of the original Pepe's, it has some history going for it. the reason I included it is because Sally's isn't open for lunch, and it would be hard to be seated as an 8 there. So I suggested that you break up the group. but if you want to take The Spot off the board, go as early as you can to Sally's and prepare to split into a 4 and 4. If you want to add another place to substitute in for The Spot, I would go with Zuppardi's.

                2. These guys started out with a bang and then fizzled.


                  Wonder what happened?

                  Stamford Pizza Tour site is revving it up outside Stamford, which is pretty cool for this area. They even hit a NH spot already as well.

                  1. Thanks so much for everyone's contributions. Looks like St. Patty's Day is out, due to a conflict, but a weekday this month is definite. I will absolutely post our experiences.

                      1. FWIW, Playboy put Modern on it's Top 10 pizza in the country list. Quote: "...maybe it’s because Modern nails the New Haven signature pie: white pizza with clams."

                        1. Although it's not pizza, for historic value you might want to stop by Louis Lunch for an original hamburger. While it might not be the best burger you've ever had it would break up the pizza tour. Rumor has it that Louis Lunch is the original hamburger. It's served on white bread and they don't offer ketchup.

                          1. Going to the The Spot and Pepe's is redundant. Go to one or the other. They are owned and operated by the same people and they use the same ingredients. Pizza tastes the same in each. They are literally the same restaurant.

                            Sally's is only open for dinner and they do take reservations. If you call between 1p-4p they occasionally answer the phones. Even with a reservation from the time you order until the time it gets to the table is a minimum of 45 minutes.

                            Also note that New Haven is not known for its customer service. So don't be taken aback by rude waiters. Sally's is cash only.

                            I'd say hit Pepe's (white clam pie is their specialty), Bar (white mashed potato pizza with bacon and onion is their specialty) and Modern during the 11-3 area. Get a reservation for Sally's (I think their regular mozz pizza is their specialty) for dinner and maybe hit up Zuppardi's for a sausage pizza on your way home. If you can fit it in on your way home, grab a late night pizza in Stamford at The Colony Grill (I think they are open until 11 or 12). Try a hot oil pizza, or one with stingers on it. The hot oil and/or stingers are best paired with sausage. Even their regular cheese pizza is great. Also their pizzas are small, you'll need to order more than 1 for 8 people.

                            Happy Eating :)

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Aglaia

                              This sounds like very good advice.
                              I wonder if you have the "special" phone number I have heard of or can Joe Smuck really make a reservation by calling their listed numbers? I found two numbers: (203) 787-3466 and (203) 624-5271‎. I haven't tried either yet. Which do you use and have you actually made a reservation by phone?

                              1. re: Aglaia

                                I tried emailing Sally's a week ago (through their website), to see if reservations were possible for a group of six. I quote:
                                "Can you tell me how many you can normally seat together or at one table or booth? I would like to make reservations for six. Is that possible?
                                What number do I call and when is the best time to call? When is your least busy or least crowded time during the week?"
                                They have yet to reply.

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  Don't hold your breath. Customer service has never been Sally's strong point.

                              2. Your feedback has been amazingly helpful. One last question: What is Monday like for New Haven pizza?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: grubberoo

                                  if you mean tomorrow (3/22), it's going to rain all day....not the best choice for standing on line (although maybe the lines will be shorter????)

                                  been living out of nh too many years to answer you in general about mondays

                                  1. re: grubberoo

                                    Mondays are tough as some of the places you want to try may be closed (I hope with your traveling distance you are planning to call ahead anyway). Other than that, if you avoid going Thurs-Sat you will also avoid the longest of lines...actually, a good reason to brave the rain!

                                  2. Here's my 2 cents...I've lived here all my life and yes, Pepe's, Sally's and Modern are all good (Modern can be a little too sooty for me sometimes). That being said, if you have time go just a little east over the Q bridge into East Haven to Tolli's Apizza on Main Street in East Haven...(about a 5 minute drive from Wooster Street) especially if you want good sausage pizza and my favorite the bacon....other specialties include white clam casino and escarole and bean pies. I'd take a Tolli's pie over the other places any day. They have a website if you need directions...give us a report when you return. Mangia!

                                    Tolli's Apizza & Restaurant
                                    410 Main St, East Haven, CT 06512

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MaureeninCT

                                      Here's my 2 cents, for what it's worth. I'm aware that there will never be agreement on Sally's vs Pepe's, so it's just my opinion.
                                      Was alway's a Sally's fan, having never been to Pepe's, just an instinct. I swear by the holy grail of Sally's after finally making it to Pepe's yesterday. Now, their pie is very good, but not worth the wait. My wife and I agreed, it's very good NEIGHBORHOOD pizza, if your neighborhood happens to be NYC. The main (only) reason we wound up there was that they were open in the early PM, and we had a schedule to stick to. I am a big fan of atmosphere, ie DiFara's, and Pepe's has become too clean for my taste. I like the rusticness of Sally's, but I believe their product is far superior. Better blistered crust, THINNER dough, and travels well. Good call on the clear Birch Beer, tho.
                                      I am officially a Sally's fan for life, and will arrange my schedule to accomodate their late PM opening.

                                    2. My brother, grubberoo, tried to recruit me and my kids to join them for the N.H.P.T. The trip got scheduled and postponed several times since his original post, weather, work conflicts, etc. Unfortunately, my brother died suddenly and unexpectedly, he never got to New Haven. He was was a food person and taught me and my kids to be also. He used Chowhound all over the US and all over the world. He claims to have found and taken us to the 20 best, reasonably priced places in Paris. That was my into to Chowhound. He introduced C.H to hundreds. On the way home I stopped to visit friends in Hartford.. We brought home a pie from Harry's, probably in West Hartford. I'm a Jersey pizza snob, long time in MN. My friends told me that it was New Haven style za, it was fabulous, one of the best I've ever had. So my CH friends, if you've been delaying that latest chow quest...........

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: stymie

                                        i am sorry for your loss

                                        it sounded like a great idea...after reading the thread...

                                        1. re: stymie

                                          Omigosh! I'm so sorry about your brother and that he never got to New Haven to experience the great pizza for himself. :-( I've only been to Pepe's (and am thrilled they opened one near us in Danbury), but would love to try Sally's, Modern and Bar ASAP. I shall not put it off any longer. Maybe one day next week...

                                          RIP grubberoo!

                                        2. Grubberoo was the original poster of this thread. As I mentioned above he had been hoping to execute the plan that you chowhounders had helped to formulate, but he died suddenly and unexpectedly before it happened. The family gathered on the first anniversary of his death remember him, to have some wonderful food (one of his true life’s passions, and most importantly to be together. Two days later, today, four of us (wife, sister-in-law and spouse, and brother) made the trek to New Haven. We were planning to follow the plan to the letter but some vital work matters delayed our departure. We arrived in NH around 3pm. We turned the corner onto Wooster and spotted the Sally sign. I got goose-bumps when I saw it. Since it was a few hours until their 5pm opening we went a few blocks up the road to Pepe’s. Off-time, immediate seating, quick order and the pie arrived in five minutes. It looked amazing and tasted even better. The sauce was fabulous, and for me, it made the pie, that and the fact that the proportions were perfect (sauce:cheese:crust), shape was a wonderfully rustic ovally shape, large pie, mozzerela and half sausage. Our consensus was that the plain half was better. So perfect that the sausage was almost a distraction. With great restraint we saved a few slices to bring home, but much more importantly it was a matter of appetite preservation. We were unanimously ecstatic. There was a bit of a debate about trying the clam pizza, but the majority were hunting just the red sauce and moz. We all loved the place, the décor, the vibe. From Pepe’s went directly to the Modern. I like Sinatra a lot, but the music was a little too loud. The hangover effect of loving Pepe’s so much influenced the immediate impression of the Modern. Not nearly as special. Ordered just a medium, plain (just sauce and cheese). Pie came quickly, and first sight and first bite put it in second place. Too salty, too greasy, and too much cheese, nowhere near the balance of Pepe’s. No restraint was needed to “save” part of the pie. The most common sentiment was “if we had this at home we’d get it all the time, but if we came back to NH we probably would not return to the Modern. At this point I will make my disclaimer: all 4 of us grew up on North Jersey pizza, and we don’t even agree on what’s best here. It is all a matter of personal taste, and I am not declaring Pepe’s the best, just the one that we liked best of the three spots we visited. Last stop was back to Sally’s. Got there before the dinner rush. We waited a long time for our pie after we ordered. That dampened our enthusiasm a bit. Pie came out, looked great. One of the group felt it was equal to Pepe’s, two thought it a notch below and one was a little disappointed. We agreed that this was not a valid test and that if/when we do it again we should stop at Sally’s first, when appetite is sharpest. One in out group was so disappointed in the overall décor and service, that she might be reluctant to return in spite of loving the pizza. One note, the waiter strongly cautioned us to wait a full 2 minutes before eating. By the time we were into the last third, it had cooled off to the point that the “wow” factor really fizzled. I would cautiously start eating it much quicker. One of the group really felt the balance wasn’t there that Pepe’s had, not enough cheese. We all agreed that we preferred the sausage at Sally’s. We wimped out and called off plans to hit one last spot. We all concurred that Grubberoo, our beloved John, would have loved the trip, we’re pretty sure he would’ve voted Pepe’s #1, unless he had to cast the final vote, in which case he may have been obligated to voice a contrarian opinion (and there would’ve been several more spots visited and discussed.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: stymie

                                            Great story and sorry for the loss. What a great way to pay homage to your friend.

                                            Modern has been weird lately. I used to love it, but have noticed it being a lot more salty lately. I think it's the cheese. I wonder if something changed. I never preferred it over Pepe's/Sally's, just thought it was different and in the same category of goodness. But last few times left me underwhelmed and I haven't been back in a while. Not sure.

                                            Sally's is my favorite, but the service is really, really slow usually. But I've had some of the best pizza of my life there. It could be you had some off pizzas there if the proportions weren't right. But this is all very subjective. The decor is OLD, the place is ancient and the people that run it are up there. They're pretty old school and don't seem to care about a modern decor at all. Crusty is a good word, for both the decor and the amazing thin crust!

                                            Definitely try BAR next time. Underrated compared to the others. I personally love it and put it up with the best out there. Their plain pizza is amazing with any toppings, and the mashed potato and bacon pizza is really well done. They have a nice crispy thin crust.

                                            Interestingly enough, all 4 have brick ovens (necessary!), but Sally's and Pepe's are coal, BAR is wood, and Modern is gas.

                                            Kitchen Zinc is good too, really good. But it's not really traditional like the other places. it's more "gourmet pizza" like you find now at a lot of high-end spots in NYC and other cities. It's not New Haven style pizza, it just happens to be really good.

                                            1. re: Stylo

                                              I have a kid at Yale so lurk this board to find good recs on places to eat; we've been to Modern and Pepe's and liked both (the attitude I sense at Sally's turns me off from trying it). Anyway, I've been reluctant to even consider BAR because, well, it's a nightclub, right? And we'd be going with a 16 year old and a 19 year old. Do they even let "youngsters" in?

                                              1. re: DGresh

                                                I believe they'll let "underage" people in if they're with a legal guardian, outside of club hours. Before 10PMish Thurs-Sun and Mon-Wed all night there's no club going on. The club is in a completely different area/room than where you eat. Your best bet is to go a little earlier. It's fantastic pizza.

                                                I don't think Sally's necessarily has attitude, at least not that I've experienced. It's just slow and the waitstaff tends to be a little older and not particularly efficient. Lacking in customer service skills, but I wouldn't call it rude. They do have the best pizza in the world IMHO.

                                              2. re: Stylo

                                                BAR is not wood fired. The wood is just for show.

                                                And they're a restaurant first (during daytime hours) so people of all ages can eat there. It's my two kids (ages 7 and 9) favorite pizza in New Haven.

                                              3. re: stymie

                                                Thanks so much for reporting back. I am sorry for your loss. Your anniversary tribute to your brother sounds spectacular. New Haven is worse off for never having the pleasure of his company.

                                              4. A great thread. I was so so sad to read grubberomissed the big NHPT and what a tribut to read about hte group going and enjoying the fruits of his research.

                                                We too have a student at Yale--and i grew up eating great pizza in northern NJ...
                                                Several years ago our family lived in Italy for a year. We have also spent numerous vacations there.
                                                So planning over the Easter weekend to visit said Yalie and go for pizza

                                                How early on a Saturday do we have to be in line at Pepe's?

                                                Has anyone done takeout and does that work well--meaning do take out back to the hotel to hang out and watch a movie....Do their pies travel well?

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: fogfog

                                                  The time we went to Pepe's we went for lunch and got there right at opening time; that worked fine. Haven't tried the dinner thing yet. Do they actually close mid-afternoon? I know Sally's is only open for dinner, which is part of why we've avoided it.

                                                  1. re: fogfog

                                                    There's a (Saturday) farmers' market around the corner, and we park by Pepe's to go there. In the fall, the line starts to form about 11am (I think they open at 11:30); as the school year goes on, it calms down quite a bit. (Which is not to say there's *always* a line, just often.) On a Homecoming Weekend, I've seen the line forming as early as 10:30- ish.

                                                    1. re: fogfog

                                                      Foggog, personally I feel the pies would lose a great deal in traveling. One regret for our visit to Sallys, the waiter was adamant in telling us to wait 5 minutes before eating. I think it would've been much better had we risked burning our lips. Thanks to your and all for your kind words!

                                                      1. re: fogfog

                                                        Just like there is wok hay for stir fried Chinese, there is "oven hay" for pizza. Any pizza is going to suffer a bit during travel.

                                                        That said, Pepe's pies can stand a little bit of travel, IMO. It's not so thin (like Bar, or Coalhouse in Stamford) that the pies really cool off once you step outside. Also, at take out I've always been asked whether I want the pies sliced. For best transport, I would hold off on the slicing, especially for more "liquid-y" pies like the white clam.

                                                        Still, I would try to eat on site for the full experience and best pies.