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Best pizza to order at Sally's or Pepe's in New Haven?

Am hoping to try pizzas at Sally's and Frank Pepe's in New Haven at some point in the foreseeable future (have been to Modern Apizza and liked the experience very much).

Re Frank Pepe's, reports suggest two things:

-get the white clam pizza with bacon and garlic. Good choice? Is it safe to assume this means it has no tomatoes? If not, is it better to get tomatoes as well?

-go to The Spot to avoid lines. Same pizza either place. True?

Re Sally's, they sound like a truly horrible restaurant experience to get a good pie (maybe even worse than Di Fara in Brooklyn, which I've been to -- best pizza I've ever had, but otherwise poor experience). Am at present prepared to brave the hell anyway. Reports on Sally's suggest:

-getting there not on a weekend day and to be in line no later than 4:15 PM. Expect a long wait and to have "regulars" waltz in ahead of you. True?

-assuming this level of promptness, is it reasonable to guess that I'd be able to finish up in time to somehow catch a 9:30 PM train out of New Haven?

-suggestions on the type of pizza to order there seem all over the map. They apparently use canned clams, so this may not be the best choice. Which pizza is best to order here if I'm only going here once and likely never again? I'm especially keen to be ready ahead of time knowing what I want, as the folks working there are apparently very slow, unfriendly, and unhelpful to the point of nastiness.

Many thanks.

Modern Apizza
874 State St, New Haven, CT 06511

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  1. The clam pies are universally overhyped, so unless you like clams anyway, just order the toppings YOU want.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ratbuddy

      Disagree. The clam pie I had at Pepe's was heavenly. It tasted like the ocean. Fresh, salty clams and garlic. Yum.

      1. re: trufflehound

        The white clam pie at Pepe is great! A couple of years ago, I went to Pepe in the winter and ordered a white clam. The waitress said there were no clams because it was too cold to dig. She said the white shrimp was to die for. I tried it and I've been a superfan ever since. My go-to move is a large pepperoni and a large white shrimp.

        1. re: foodwallguy

          OMG, I agree with you wholemouthedly. I'd say wholeheartedly, but it's my mouth that really loves, loves, LOVES that white shrimp pizza at Pepe's!! The combo of the crisp, airy-yet-satisfyingly-crunchy crust, the pungent garlic and that unbelievably tender - no, VELVETY - shrimp make my tastebuds positively sing with joy. It's THAT good. I wanted the clams but they were out (it was late) so I went with the shrimp and have never even thought about the clams ever again. I can't order anything else there now. I'm hooked. And I want to know where they get those shrimp - or what they do to them to make them so heavenly!

    2. Note: I am biased, a Sally's person (been eating there more than 50 years) , who doesn't eat at Pepe's.
      My favorite is a traditional New Haven Pie with just sauce and grated Romano cheese.

      Also, this week is a oerfect time to visit Wooster Street for Apizza. Whenever Yale is on break the lines are shorter.

      2nd choice, bacon and onion. I prefer grated cheese only, but this is acceptable with light mozzarella.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bagelman01

        I've never eaten at Sally's, only pepe's (and modern which is the other typically included in the NH pizza trifecta) which I enjoy best when ordering a tomato pie with bacon and mozz. I personally think the tomato pie is their best. I also tend to avoid the large size pizzas to ensure a more even char on the crust. In fact, will often order 2 smalls over a medium or large etc.

      2. Being an outsider of New Haven, CT, I can offer you an unbiased opinion, rather than that from a local. I have been to both places, Sally's once and Pepe's on numerous occasions. Eating the pizza at either location, is far better than bringing them home....as neither reheats well. I'm less than 90 minutes away and by the time I get home, the quality has been diminished.

        With that said, I like the crust a hair better at Sally's....but the toppings not so much. I prefer any topping at Pepe better.....and absolutely I love their Clam Pie....and Clam, Bacon & Onion.

        Given the choice of Pepe or The Spot.....they are similar it's a toss up.... in the past, The Spot served their pizzas on a sheet pan....I cannot ever recall Pepe doing so the number of times I have been there. The difference is @ Pepe you get slices.....@ The Spot, the pizzas were always oblong and cut more so into strips.....that's my recollection.....but The Spot had not been open the last three years I was in New Haven on my travels, so I cannot say for sure if this is still true today. Given the choice of which place to go....I opt for whichever I did not have to wait....

        I've mentioned this before about Sally's. Although I was the second on line, waiting for over an hour, and after taking a seat in a booth.....for arguments sake, let's say Sally's had 15-20 tables inside.....I was the last to have my order taken 45 minutes later......so for me.....been there, done that......there's zero chance of *Shame on Me* happening for a return trip.

        With reference about the clams......I've only seen fresh chopped clams @ Pepe. Whether they schuck them in site, or purchase them fresh chopped....I do not know the answer.....but I have never gotten a canned clam from Pepe. I've seen video's on television programs where they actually do schuck clams in the morning and they claim to do it on a daily basis.....I have no reason to doubt them. This goes for the Wooster locations

        1 Reply
        1. re: fourunder

          The vendor from whom I buy shellfish claims to sell clams to Pepe's, so I'd guess they're pretty fresh.

        2. I find the only Pepe's pie that is great is the white clam. The initial thought of it wasn't very appealing to me, but once I had it, I found it to be their best pie.

          Generally, I find Pepe's to be very inconsistent and for you to get their best effort might take a couple visits. However, I don't frequent Pepe's much anymore once they turned it into essentially a Pizza Hut franchise. You call up to order and get a phone tree to wade through. You spot billboards on the highway, etc. Different locations are popping up everywhere. From a personal standpoint, I think Pepe's has lost its soul. But that is all besides the point. Their white clam is a great pizza, and the others I find to be good but not anything magical. In the summer, their summer special is also good.

          Whereas different people always seem to be in the back making pies at Pepes, Sallys has the same family members making pies every night. This leads to more consistency than Pepes. Their plain pie with grated cheese is probably their signature in my mind. However, whereas I find Pepes to be more of a one-trick pony, I think Sallys has better pies across the board. I personally enjoy their mushroom pizza.

          With all this noted, either place you go will serve you a tasty pizza, and really the preferences come down to what you like, obviously. However, I would take a flyer on the white clam at Pepes and the plain at Sallys. But, if I were you, I'd get 2 pies at each place. 1 recommended here, and 1 of your own choosing. Maybe something that you'd normally get so you can compare it to your neighborhood favourite.

          As for Pepes vs Spot - yes, pretty much the same thing. In fact, when Pepes is busy, and you call for take-out (and wade through that phone tree "press 1 for this, press 2 for that"), they will often have you pick it up at the Spot. However, if you are going once to check it out - I think the atmosphere is indeed better at Pepes. If waiting/patience is an issue, and you don't care about the atmosphere at all, then by all means go to the Spot (which is the original location - but doesn't have the feel to it that Pepes has next door) or, really, with the way Pepes has opened locations up all over, you can just as well go to any of those too.

          On your other questions: A white pie means no sauce. If you want to add sauce, it becomes a red pie. Sauce definitely alters the flavour - and I would recommend the white clam rather than red. Also, I would recommend not getting mozzeralla on it.

          Sallys is not a horrible restaurant experience. What makes it horrible is when people aren't properly understanding on how the establishment operates. It is a tightly-knit family run business. They made a decision to give an unlisted phone number to certain people (friends, family, etc.) so that those people (who they most value, have connections with, etc.) can make reservations. Thus, certain people can reserve tables without having to wait in line. Now, the "regular" customer can take this one of two ways. You can either decide that you don't like their policy and not go there, or you can accept that this is how the business is run and deal with it. If you look at it from their perspective, it really, in my opinion, isn't that big of an evil. They want to see their friends & family. The horrible experiences usually come from people not liking the policy, or not knowing their policy, but deciding to stand in line anyways. They become very impatient, get bad attitudes, and let that ruin their whole time. Don't expect to be treated like some VIP star. Way too many primadonnas running around the northeast - this is a good reality check.

          I have never had an awful experience there and have never found anyone at Sallys to be unfriendly or unhelpful. It is all about frame of mind. If you are waiting in line and have a positive attitude, you will be fine. If you are waiting in line and getting pissed off about open tables and people waltzing in - I'd advise you not to even make an attempt. Go in with a bad attitude, be impatient, be ultra-sensitive and you will have a terrible time. Sallys has a soul to it - and if you don't like their methods - they don't mind if you go elsewhere. At the end of it all, I find the Sallys experience & pies to be better than Pepes. I feel like Sallys has a love for their pizzas. Pepes I feel to be a vapid business enterprise which, even so, turns out good pizza. Both are great spots to try - don't let anything persuade you otherwise.

          Are you doing this in the same day? You can show up to Pepes first, and then go over to Sallys at 415p and hang outside. If you go to Sallys first, and then Pepes, timing could be an issue because you can't predict lines at either place. I've seen long lines on night I wouldn't expect, and no lines on Fridays at certain times.

          If you are only doing one per visit, then your timetable is very reasonable.

          Also - as for the above comments - I agree. Eat-in, don't take out unless you will be eating them on the curb.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jestner

            "Eat-in, don't take out unless you will be eating them on the curb."

            Agree. Never met a pizza that traveled. Last attempt was a Tarry Lodge clam I brought back to the office for the troops. Might was well have been from DIJOURNO!

            Try crisping the steamed, soggy crust on a stone and you dry out the sauce.

            Takeout is to Pizza as Youtube is to 70 mm film.

          2. Judge the pies on their own merit, either sauce and grated cheese, or mozzarella....This is the true test of good apizza. Any clown (puck, cpk, pizza slut) can hide a mediocre crust, sauce, cheese and preparation under a bevy of bling. A real pie stands on it's own.

            1. Love Pepe's white clam, sausage with mozz, and plain tomato pie with garlic. Ignore ratbuddy.

              2 Replies
              1. re: howaboutthat

                Tomato, mozz and garlic, cooked well-done= heaven.

                1. re: howaboutthat

                  Let me try playing it your way.

                  Love any pizza with pepperoni or sausage and mushroom. Hate clams. Ignore howaboutthat.

                2. A simple phone call confirmed that Pepe's uses ONLY FRESH SHUCKED CLAMS on it's pies, and nice big chunks. I wouldn't want an unfair rumor about canned clams to grow legs.
                  And at $25.50 for a large, they should be fresh....

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Veggo

                    As a transplanted Rhode Islander, I'm proud that Pepe's uses RI littlenecks. True, they sometimes run out, which is a major bummer, because I truly believe that their white clam pie is one of the culinary wonders of the universe.

                    As for reheating, while day-old pizza may not be as great as fresh out of the oven, I've found that reaheating Pepe's for about 10 min. at 350 still yields a delicious meal which I'll take any day over a fresh pie from just about anywhere else.

                  2. What anyone wants on their pizza is pretty much up to what you like, I always get a clam and usually a sausage or pepperoni.

                    I don't know about canned clams. They were fresh whenever I've been...and from a well known supplier.


                    1. Pepes white with clam AND bacon - just clam is good, but add the bacon & you get amazing. the garlic is included with this pie, no need to specifically request. DO NOT do take out, doesn't travel well. If stuck in line, take turns among your group going next door to Libbys for cannoli & an espresso if cold out, get the gelato or ice in a push cup when it's hot.

                      1. Sally's generally has a better crust, and I prefer the white pies there. It can be a bit rough around the edges in terms of service, but if you play along it can be a lot of fun. It's definitely not the place to go if you like obsequious service.

                        Pepe's is good pizza, but in my opinion it went downhill at about the same time it expanded outside of New Haven. (The crusts have gotten thicker and they no longer cut the pies in the same charmingly haphazard way.)

                        I'd say Modern is the best of the "big three" in terms of consistency. You should also try some of the lesser-known locations in the 'burbs, such as Zuppardi's in West Haven and Tolli's in East Haven.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: eddie964

                          I'd have to disagree with notion that things have gone downhill since the expansion. Expanding to other locations did not change the age of the 100 year old oven, nor did it change the recipe of the dough, or how they make it (in house). It would be different if each location were now getting ingredients from a corporate supplier a la Pizza Hut. But things in New Haven are completely independent of the other locations, and Gary is still there running the show. I have not noticed any decline. I agree that Pepe's can be inconsistent, because when you cook in an oven heated to almost 800 degrees, 15 seconds in the oven on either side of "perfect" can make a difference. But I have not found any less "perfection"in the past 5 years. Just the same degree of inconsistency, running from "perfect" to "almost perfect."

                              1. re: FoodieJim

                                Right said Jim. The only imperfection I can think of related to the Pepe expansion is to my waistline. I used to have to travel an hour to New Haven to overstuff myself with a pepperoni pie and a white shrimp pie, but now with the Manchester Pepe, I can get fat in 25 minutes!

                                1. re: FoodieJim

                                  I still very much enjoy Pepe's pies. But back in the day I used to take out-of-towners there and, no matter how much I prepared them, someone would inevitably complain that the crust was too thin and burnt. That, of course, was exactly how it was supposed to be -- similar to what you get at Sally's now.

                                  These days, I've noticed that Pepe's crusts are puffier, with fewer charred spots. I don't think they're quite as tasty, either. So I have to wonder whether, as they set their horizons higher, they made concessions to popular notions about how pizza should look.

                                  (Another thing I miss is the idiosyncratic way they cut their pies back in the day. Sometimes you'd get a wedge stranded in the interior of the pizza, isolated from crust. You'd wonder what to do with it and ... well, hell -- eat it!)

                                  1. re: eddie964

                                    I guess it all depends on who is doing the cutting. I still get plenty of idiosyncratic pieces, both in NH and Manchester.

                                    1. re: eddie964

                                      Totally agree here. Pepe's crust is on average thicker than it used to be and lacks charring like it used to have. I noticed their pies getting thicker a couple years back - but the last couple I have gotten would be what I'd expect if I had instructed them to "lightly bake" it...

                                      I'm not sure I notice anything different with the cutting though...

                                      1. re: Jestner

                                        Once again, I think there is a lot of overthinking in this thread. As a life long New Havener, and one who has enjoyed pizza in all of the "famous" places, I will repeat what I have written in other discussions New Haven pizza: The fact is, what you get at any "decent" pizza place in or around New Haven is probably better than 90% of what the rest of the country gets. Sally's - best red pies and crust. Pepe's - white clam pies to die for - better than any I have had elsewhere (and just clams, garlic, oil, and a little grated cheese - nix the bacon and mozz!). This being acknowledged, we seldom go to either of these places (or to Modern) because waiting up to two hours for pizza just seems ludicrous. For us, it's usually Amato's or Bar (not without waits as well!). I have eaten at Tolli's in East Haven and their pies are also far better than elsewhere.

                                        1. re: lsnhc

                                          Not to hijack but yes, I'd like to learn more about the smaller new haven pie joints that fly under the radar that don't get any coverage on here. That's what chowhound is all about. Not another frickn thread on sallys vs. pepes...search can be your friend...just my 2 cents...:)

                                2. How late are these places open weekenights? I expect to go through New Haven around 9 or 10 on Thursay and would like to try one.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: bklynbiker

                                    They have posted hours on their websites -

                                    http://sallysapizza.com/default.aspx (Tue-Sat 'til 10:30
                                    )http://www.pepespizzeria.com/directio... (Wed-Sat 'til 10


                                    Someone who knows them better can probably tell you how closely they keep to the posted hours.

                                    1. re: bklynbiker

                                      Modern has slightly later hours, depending on the day of the week: http://www.modernapizza.com/hours.html

                                    2. Answer: One topping: sausage

                                      Case closed. Only weird out-of-staters get the works on their pizzas because they're so used to eating inferior pizza they often need to drown their pizza's shortcomings in toppings. No need to do that with any of the pizza places on Wooster Street (or New Haven for that matter). Get a plain cheese, if you don't like sausage.

                                      Next Question?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Joey_Z

                                        Yesterday on our way back from NYC to Boston stopped and ordered a large Pepperoni pizza to go from Pepe's and was extremely disappointed. I have not tried Sally's but my pizzas from Modern have been much better than this. The pizza was very overcooked and I am not talking the charred crust as I love charred crust, I'm talking the top of the pie, the cheese, the pepperoni, etc. and the pizza dough crust was too thick and doughy because although the pizza was clearly overcooked, there were parts of the center of the dough that still seemed undercooked and too doughy. Unfortunately it was only 2 pm when we passed through New Haven and on Sundays Modern opens at 3 and Sally's opens at 5 so we had no choice. I understand that we should have stuck with the clam pizza but my wife does not eat clams so that was not an option. After yesterday's pizza at Pepe's, I do not think I will return.