A picture of homemade New Haven pizza

New Haven Style Pizza – Characteristics, History, and General Preparation

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What is New Haven style pizza, what are its defining characteristics and historical background, what can you expect when eating it, and how is it generally prepared? This post will provide you with all the details about New Haven style pizza

General Background and Characteristics

The New Haven pizza originates from the city of New Haven, Connecticut. It is commonly known as “Apizza” (pronounced: Ah-beets), in reference to the dialect of Neapolitan immigrants who pronounced the word that way. This linguistic detail is now a significant part of the city’s cultural heritage. Some argue that the people of New Haven have a passion for their pizza that rivals only that of Naples.

Widely considered the best pizza in the world by pizza enthusiasts from the United States and beyond, New Haven pizza is a must-try. If you haven’t tried it yet – I highly recommend adding it to your to-do list.The New Haven pizza is renowned for its thin, crispy crust and high-quality, yet simple ingredients and toppings. However, what truly sets Apizza apart and gives it its unique appeal is the fact that it is baked in a coal oven, which is a rarity in today’s pizza-making scene. Unlike other types of ovens, the coal oven generates a dry heat and creates a moisture-free environment, resulting in a remarkably crispy crust, even with a relatively short baking time of about 5 minutes.

The New Haven pizza is known for its well-done doneness and is characterized by its flat crust and charred bottom. It is typically large, never perfectly circular, and sliced into small pieces (usually 16 slices or more, depending on the pizza’s size). Unlike the New York Slice, which is sold by the slice, the New Haven pizza is only available as a whole pizza for dine-in or delivery.

Interestingly (or ironically), there are three pizzerias on the same block in New Haven that are widely regarded as the best places to get a New Haven pizza: Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern Apizza. In recent years, the popularity of New Haven pizza has expanded beyond the city, with over 30 pizzerias now serving it across the US. However, it is important to note that not all of them use a coal oven to bake the pizza, and this distinction is crucial.

Roots and History of New Haven Pizza

The New Haven pizza originated from Neapolitan immigrants who arrived in New Haven and started pizzerias. Their aim was to introduce the food they were familiar with from their home country, while also adjusting it to local ingredients and equipment. Interestingly, the initial pizza establishments in New Haven were actually bakeries, with Francesco Scalzo’s and Ignazio Camposano’s bakeries being the first two to be established, dating back to around 1915.

About ten years later, in 1925, the first pizza establishment opened in New Haven: Pizzeria Napoletana by Frank Pepe (pronounced: Pep-e), who was also an immigrant from Naples. Pepe is considered one of the pioneers of New Haven Pizza and played a crucial role in the “Americanization” of pizza. He was among the first to increase the seating capacity of his pizzeria, making it more inviting to non-Italian Americans (At that time, pizza was primarily enjoyed by Italians).Historically, Pepe is credited as the first person to use a pizza box – the same delivery box that is now closely associated with the pizza we know today. Some claim that Pepe, along with Ignacio Composano (who later founded the famous Modern Apizza), is also responsible for one of the more “interesting” topping combinations known mainly in the context of New Haven pizza – the white clam pizza.

Today, Pepe’s Pizzeria, commonly known as “Pepe’s,” along with Modern Apizza and Sally’s, represents the face of New Haven pizza. It consistently ranks among the top pizza places in the USA and has held the first-place position almost continuously in recent years, with Sally’s and Modern Apizza also ranking highly. This speaks to the outstanding quality of New Haven pizza.

Eating Characteristics of New Haven Pizza

Similar to the Neapolitan pizza, the focus here is on the quality of the ingredients. The mozzarella (whole milk low moisture), or as New Have residents call it: ‘Mootz’, is paired with the finest canned tomatoes, lightly seasoned, and generously topped with ‘Romano’ cheese (pecorino) to enhance the flavor. The unique taste and texture of New Haven pizza are achieved by baking it in a coal oven, resulting in a crispy bite that is unmatched by any other style of pizza.

And, of course, at the end of the meal, it is customary to wash your hands, which may have turned black from the remnants of the oven floor sticking to the bottom of the pizza (this discoloration is not caused by coal, as the coal does not come into contact with the area where the pizzas are baked).

Preparation of New Haven Pizza

Unfortunately, recreating an authentic New Haven pizza in a home environment is nearly impossible due to the need for a coal oven. If you still want to give it a try, the dough recipe and making process are similar to that of a standard New York-style pizza. To “simulate” the New Haven experience when baking at home, the best approach is to bake the pizza at the highest possible temperature until it is almost well-done.

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