Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana - New Haven

Frank Pepe's: A Bucket List Item, A Massive Letdown, and A Legendary  Euphoric Experience!

The legendary White Clam Pizza from Frank Pepe's in New Haven, CT.
A visit to New Haven, Connecticut has been on my pizza bucket list for years and specifically I wanted to try the legendary Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Naploletana in town.  I've seen many TV shows and YouTube videos highlighting the historical pizzeria founded in the 1920's which all heightened my desire to make the trek there.  Finally, the opportunity arose where the first family of NEPA went on a vacation in New Haven and part of which was a pizza tour lead by Taste of New Haven.  The tour was to take place on the 2nd day of our vacation, but we worked up quite an appetite at IT Adventure the world's largest indoor ropes course so we decided to find a bite to eat late night.  It was about 9:30 in the evening when we decided to head to the "Little Italy" section of New Haven where many of the pizzerias are concentrated.  I wanted to get the lay of the land because I didn't know what to expect from the tour and thought it would be good to be a little more prepared for my videos, articles, and really just catch the vibe of the town in case I didn't get it on the pizza tour which I've never done before.

Despite being scheduled to eat at Frank Pepe's in only about 12 hours, we decided to give it a try so that we could be guaranteed an authentic experience, which I later found out was totally unnecessary because the tour provided the most authentic and immersive pizza experience imaginable.  More on that later!  Anyway, I traveled all this way to try both the fabled white clam pizza as well as a more traditional mozzarella Apizza (ah-beetz).  After about a half hour wait at 10:00 at night, we were seated and placed our order and took in the history.  Just a word on the lines in New Haven - you can't call ahead or put your name in and lines are generally on the honor system and self-policed.  Our 30 minute wait was much shorter than the 4 hour wait I heard mentioned at Sally's Apizza near dinner time the next day.

The original tomato pie with mozzarella from Frank Pepe's in New Haven.
Our pizza was ready very quickly and before us in all of its splendor.  There was a ton of anticipation built up and each of us grabbed a slice of the mozzarella pizza and raised it to try.  The three of us took a bite at the same time and immediately looked at each other with bewilderment.  The pizza was as tough as nails, leathery, and nearly impossible to eat.  I generally love charring, but this was like a burned piece of cardboard and I wondered if I had waited this long and traveled this far to have one of the worst pizza crusts I've had in years.  I texted a friend who has eaten there a lot, and he mentioned there are some consistency issues here with the mozzarella pizza so I tossed the slice aside and discounted it as likely just a bad pizza.  After having our hopes and dreams temporarily crushed, I reached for the white clam pizza with newly reset expectations.

White Clam Pizza at Frank Pepe's.
I took my first bite of the white clam and that small bite caused an adrenaline rush that reminded me why we were here.  The flavor of this pizza was simple, yet remarkable with freshly shucked chopped clams, garlic, oil and grated cheese.  The charred white clam crust was much thinner and vastly more tender than the mozzarella pizza's crust that we had tossed aside.  I can truly say that I've never had a clam in any form or dish as tender as these clams.  There was so much flavor, so much texture, and so much to experience in every bite.  I was on sensory overload, and it was in that moment that I knew I was in the presence of something special.  I understood with that one bite why people wait on line for hours to get their fix.  I slept well that night knowing I was going to return to get another slice of this incredible pizza!

A look under the crust which is cooked in a coal fired oven.
Day 2 was finally here and we met up with our tour guide, Colin, from Taste of New Haven.  We learned that we would be visiting 4 pizzerias: Frank Pepe's, Sally's Apizza, BAR, and Modern Apizza.  At each pizzeria we would be trying 3 different pizzas: a mozzarella, a grated cheese (no cheese), and a specialty pizza.  At Frank Pepe's, this meant that I was going to have the opportunity to try the mozzarella and white clam pizzas again.  Colin presented our group with the three pizzas (and a couple pitchers of beer) and I eagerly reached for what looked like a much thinner and better looking mozzarella pie.  I grabbed a bite and was relieved to find a dense crust that was much more tender than the previous.  It was still slightly chewy, but provided what was explained to be a typical Pepe's experience.  The sauce on the pizza was a very simple and smooth tomato sauce made with canned tomatoes with the skin still on as evidenced by the small chunks of tomato skins scattered across the pizza.  The cheese was there but didn't have a strong flavor or texture presence.  Overall, the pizza was pretty good.  I actually preferred the "no cheese/grated cheese" pizza to the mozzarella pizza because it allowed me to appreciate the moisture and natural flavor of the sauce a bit more as it contrasted the charred flavor from the blistering hot coal fired oven heat.

On a Taste of New Haven Pizza Lover's Tour, we tasted 3 different pizzas from each pizzeria.  Pictured are a red tomato pie and a red tomato pie with mozzarella.
The white clam pizza was every bit as good an legendary as the night prior, and provided a second helping of euphoria.  Aside from being a massive pizza fanatic, I'm also a huge seafood lover, and this tasted like the greatest linguine and clam sauce I've ever had - minus the noodles.  As a result, this pizza earned extraordinarily high marks as you can see below (note: ratings are based on day 2 of my trip during the pizza tour).  Overall, this was an amazing pizza experience, but it was that much better in the Taste of New Haven Tour.  Not only did we have reserved tables, 3 different pizzas to try, and beers, but we also learned all about the history of Frank Pepe's and the City of New Haven.  I will never forget either of our first visits to this legendary establishment, and will share more stories about the trip in the near future.

The pizza guy and the Pizza Princess waiting in anticipation of their first bite of Frank Pepe's Apizza!
See also:
My review of Sally's Apizza
My review of BAR New Haven
My Review of Modern Apizza

Frank Pepe's Original Tomato Pie with Mozzarella Scored a 7.8.

Frank Pepe's Original Tomato Pie Scored an 8.2.

Frank Pepe's White Clam Pizza Scored an extremely high 9.6!

If this post sounds like another blogger who is paid to say nice things about a product or service - IT IS NOT.  I was a paying customer who stumbled upon the tour while surfing through New Haven pizza pictures on Instagram. 
For those looking to cross New Haven pizza off their bucket list, and specifically Frank Pepe's, I highly recommend you try this service.  I was not compensated in any way to express my opinions.


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