Modern Apizza - New Haven

Modern Apizza: The Best of the Big 3?

The Tomato Pie from Modern Apizza in New Haven.
Modern Apizza, along with the legendary Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally's Apizza make up the consensus "Big Three" pizzerias in New Haven Connecticut.  Some whom I've spoke with along with some columns I've read have added BAR (which I've also reviewed) and/or Zuppardi's Apizza to form a Big Four or Big Five, but when you ask most people what the most popular pizzerias in town are, they will generally rattle off Pepe's, Sally's, and Modern in that order.  These landmark pizzerias started with Pepe's which opened in 1925,  Modern initially opening under the name Tony's Apizza in 1936, and Sally's branching off the Pepe's family tree in 1938.  Of the three pizzerias, Modern Apizza is the most unique in terms of its pizza and restaurant.

An original sign believed to be from the 1950's on display in the dining area.  Note the prices and spelling of "Muzzarelli."
First, Modern provides, as you would expect, a slightly more modern atmosphere including amenities such as padded seating while still preserving a historical feel.  Another unique characteristic is that Modern is one of the few pizzerias in the world that bakes pizzas in ovens heated by oil unlike Pepe's and Sally's which are coal-fired.  And finally, the Apizza (ah-beetz) itself doesn't look exactly like Pepe's and Sally's with a little less charring, more uniformity, and more generously applied mozzarella cheese applied on top of the pies (if you order it that way).  There are some more nuances to Modern, but rather than talking about what this Apizza isn't like, let's talk about what the three pizzas I tried were like!  If you read the rest of my pizza reviews while on the Taste of New Haven Pizza Tour, you know that the tour guide provides each group with three different pizzas at each stop.  At Modern, we tried a traditional Apizza plain (no cheese), a traditional Apizza with mozzarella, and a specialty pizza affectionately known as "The Italian Bomb."

The tomato pie with Mozzarella at Modern Apizza.  Mozzarella cheese is a Topping in New Haven as the tomato pie is the default "base" pizza.
All three pizzas shared the same crust and same sauce so we'll start the discussion there.  The crust was very thin, although not quite as thin as BAR's razor thin dough.  This was reminiscent of a New York style pizza dough except perhaps a bit more dense, but the density did not cause the pizza to be tough as it was very tender and flavorful.  The crust was cooked beautifully with some light charring but golden brown everywhere else.  The sauce on the tomato pie had a little more texture to it than the other pies and had a more vibrant appearance.  Atop the sauce of the traditional pie was a mix of garlic and spices which provided a lovely flavor punch to the neutral albeit somewhat sweet tomatoes.   The lack of cheese atop the sauce allowed for moisture to evaporate from the tomatoes that caused a wonderful reduction that created a more concentrated and pronounced flavor profile that was easy to enjoy.  Of course, this is probably why the tomato pie is the default way to order in New Haven and mozzarella is considered a topping, because super hot ovens and fast cook times blister the dough and release moisture without cheese inhibiting the evaporation process.

A look at the Italian Bomb Apizza at Modern.  This one looked so good I couldn't get a picture of the full pizza before someone grabbed a slice!  It was fantastic!
Despite my affinity for the tomato pie, I enjoyed the tomato pie with cheese even more.  I usually can technically sort out why I rate a certain pizza higher than another, but I think this came down to personal preference.  I like the flavor and texture of cheese on top, because I grew up on pizza made that way and I'll always prefer pizza with dough, sauce, and cheese!  That is not to say that the tomato pie wasn't delicious, but trading the savory sauce reduction, garlic and herbs for a layer of fairly creamy mozzarella cheese is one that I'll always make.  The crust here was just as wonderfully tender and thin as the tomato pie but the cheese completed the pizza for me and was the "icing on the cake."
A cross section of the dense crust on the tomato pie at Modern Apizza.  
Finally, we arrived at the "Italian Bomb" an Apizza with a crazy name comprised of three meats and four vegetables: pepperoni, sausage, bacon, mushroom, onion, pepper, and garlic.  This array of toppings provided an explosion of flavor and texture that required taking small bites to really appreciate.  Every single bite was a new and inviting experience.  Now, some may say this is just a supreme pizza with a fancy name and you might win that debate with enough persistence, but the way this pizza was composed and carefully constructed with quality ingredients made it very special.  Many times, a pizza with too many toppings ends up with a sort of bland and moist pizza where the toppings have a microwaved taste because there is just too much to cook in a short 5 to 10 minutes in the oven.  This pizza was prepared in such a way that each bit of topping seemed individually cooked in its own little oil-fired oven!  It was truly crafted and cooked to perfection in the most literal sense, and I really enjoyed the heck out of it.
Our awesome tour group leaving Modern Apizza with full bellies!  The pizza princess shepherds the crew!
Of the four pizzerias I tried in a 6 hour span on the Taste of New Haven tour, Modern Apizza was my favorite.  This pizza was authentic but unique in it's own way.  I loved the way the oil oven heated the pizza and provided a unique char and texture.  We also enjoyed the atmosphere, the comfortable seating, and the service.  Overall, it was an incredible pizza experience with 3 amazing pizzas.  When we return to New Haven, this will be the first stop!  Have you ever been to Modern Apizza?  What is your favorite pizzeria in New Haven?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

See also:
My review of Sally's Apizza
My review of BAR New Haven
My Review of Frank Pepe's

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