There are two things that make a great restaurant, first and foremost, it has to have outstanding food Second, it needs to have an intriguing story. Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napolitana in New Haven has both. With a history stretching back almost 90 years, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria is a true American success story. Rising from a tiny pizza shop on a New Haven side street to international fame when the website The Daily Meal ranked Pepe’s clam pizza at the top of its list of 101 best pizzas in America, Frank Pepe’s has earned a special place in the hearts of Nutmeggers. And it’s not hard to taste why – the pizza’s crisp, deliciously charred crust and fresh, straightforward toppings is everything that pizza should be – there’s nothing fancy here…just good pie, the way it was meant to be.
I had the good fortune to join Frank Pepe’s grandson, Gary Bimonte, for a tasting of some of his legendary pizzas – the original “tomato pie,” that grandpa Frank sold to laborers from his push cart, the award-winning white clam pizza, and an all-American pepperoni cheese pizza. As I consider myself an aficionado of fine pizza, and deeply appreciate the inventive pizzas being dreamed up by our local chefs, there’s nothing (and I mean nothing) like a classic piping-hot-out-of-the-coal-fired-oven Pepe’s pie. The simplicity of fresh flavors of imported tomatoes set against the crispy, charred crust is perfection. So why mess with it?
Although Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria has opened multiple outposts throughout Connecticut (New Haven, West Hartford, Danbury, Mohegan Sun, Manchester, and Fairfield) and even into New York with a spot in Yonkers (look out, Brooklyn!), Bimonte stresses that it’s still a family-owned operation. Bimonte and his family replicate their grandfather’s old-world flavors by adhering to the original recipes. They taste-test countless samples of imported Italian tomatoes before finding a harvest that has just the right balance of acidity and sweetness for their signature sauce, and they still import Pecorino-Romano cheese and olive oil from the same artisanal producers as their grandfather did so many years before.
Quality, consistency, and attention to detail…that’s what keeps a restaurant on top…that and a really good legacy.
Visit The Original Frank Pepe’s website for locations in and around Fairfield County.