Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana - Fairfield, CT

Greetings from New York! The Hackknife family has been getting settled in our new Westchester County home for the past couple of weeks - the Chuckwagon has been unpacked, WiFi is enabled, and I am anxious to dine/dish about the nearby grub. There's one facet of living in this area that's already surprised me - you sure don't have to go far (Manhattan? What's that?) to find good food. Just within our own modest town of Mamaroneck, hungry folks can chow down on Italian, Indian, French, Japanese, Greek, Turkish, Mexican, Chinese, and something that appears to be Middle Eastern fusion (we'll have to explore that one later).

 If you're willing to headed further afield towards the Hudson River or into nearby Connecticut, you'll be rewarded with even more diversity and regional-specific oddities; in fact, the first idea I had for a Hackknife Northeast posting came back in June when we were looking at properties. On our last day before flying back to Florida, we decided to drag the kids on a little road trip into Connecticut. In case you've never been, this is what much of it looks like:

I can see why the British were reluctant to give this territory up to the rebels - if I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was in York or Exeter or some other part of the bucolic English countryside. Luckily, the eating is much better here, as evidenced by the fact that you can get world-class pizza just a few towns over the border.

Frank Pepe was an Italian immigrant from Naples who established what is now known as the New Haven style of pizza in America; that is, dough fired in a coke or coal bread oven, resulting in a charred and chewy thin crust (this style has since been imitated by many others, including Piece in Chicago). The original location of Frank Pepe's opened in 1925 in New Haven; they have since spread out into 9 total locations around Connecticut and New York.  We stopped into the Fairfield pizzeria to try out his most well-known creations: the white clam pie and the original tomato pie.

Every Frank Pepe pizzeria has a coal-fired oven with a door that's cast from the original in New Haven (legend has it that this contributes to the pizza's high quality).  The one in Fairfield is directly behind the counter, complete with 10-foot long peel to facilitate entry and removal of the pies from the oven.

Although now most well-known for the white clam pie (topped with fresh little neck clams, oregano, grated cheese, olive oil, and tons of garlic), this version didn't come into being until the 1960s.  Whatever toppings you choose, we discovered it's wise to wash it down with a Foxon Park Soda (another longtime Connecticut institution).

The ovens can only accommodate a limited number of pizzas so as not to lower the baking temperature too much; therefore, they require a little extra time to cook (best to get there early on a weekend - we arrived around 11 am and encountered a line out the door when we left).  When ready to serve, the pies arrive at the table on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and are plopped down on a collapsible stand (that is, if you've already taken up most of the room on your table with another pizza tray like we had).

The progeny poignantly declined to try the clam pie, which was briny and potent with all that garlic and oil.  My past experience with most clams is that they're a bit on the toothsome side and these were no exception; all in all, while we enjoyed the white clam pizza, I'd have to say it's something of an acquired taste for newbies like ourselves.

The original tomato pie (topped with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil, plus some optional bacon on half for good measure) on the other hand was absolute dynamite, lending credence to those out there who claim that Frank Pepe's pizzas are among the best in the country.  I'd have no quibble with that assertion if one of these charred-and-sauced dreamboats were periodically delivered to me; regardless, after visiting a single Northeastern pizzeria, it's easy to see that we're definitely not in Florida (where Papa John's makes the top 10 list) anymore....

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