In his heyday, the world was truly Frank Sinatra’s oyster. Or, perhaps, we should say – his clam pie.
When all was said and done, the Rat Pack superstar sold over 150 million records, won every award under the sun, and recorded some of the most iconic ballads of all-time, including “New York, New York”.
That means Sinatra could get anything he wanted, any time he wanted, including pizza. Before his biggest performances in New York City, Sinatra would order delivery from Sally’s…in New Haven, Connecticut.
That’s right – even when Sinatra would wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep, he had the pizza of New Haven, Connecticut at the top of his list. King of the hill. Number one. (You get the idea.)
Does this mean that New Haven’s pizza is actually better than New York’s?
Before you dig in to find out if you see it the same way as Ol’ Blue Eyes, spot the difference with our Styles Spotlight.
The first difference you might notice between New Haven-style pizza and New York-style pizza is the shape. The NY pie is as round as Madison Square Garden. The New Haven pie, on the other hand, can be best described as round-ish.
There’s no true uniform shape for the New Haven pie – some are oblong and some take the form of an asymmetrical circle, depending on the shop that makes it and the whims of the chef on any given day. Lopsided or not, rest assured that your New Haven pie will be sliced into triangles and come out darn near perfect, no matter what.
Both crusts are crispy, but New Haven-style crust is all about the chew.
There’s a stark difference between the two crusts, owing to the longer fermentation process of New Haven’s dough. Proofed slowly overnight in the fridge, New Haven crust tends to be more complex in flavor than its oversized NYC counterpart.
For the most part, New York-style pizzas are built upon a quick-rise dough to form a foldable crust. The fold is a major hallmark of the style – some say that if the slice doesn’t fold, it isn’t truly a New York slice. In fact, the New York slice is so collapsable that Tony Manero managed to stack two of those bad boys together and fold them while strutting down 86th St.
Some say that New York’s tap water is the secret to the fold. NYC’s “softer” H2O has lower concentrations of calcium and magnesium than water found elsewhere and a bit of extra sodium, and some pizzaiolos say that’s the key to a crust that is simultaneously springy and crunchy.
The doughs differ in flavor and texture, but they both emerge crispy on the bottom, thanks to super-high oven temperatures. New York-style pies are typically baked between 500-600° in gas-powered ovens, whereas New Haven kicks things up a notch at 650° or higher.
A New Haven neophyte might wonder if the bottom of the pizza has been burned. Rest assured – it’s not. The New Haven pizza is given additional time to achieve a blistered and blissful char, the true hallmark of a perfect NH pie.
ATTN: New Haven neophytes – please don’t send your pizza back for a perceived lack of cheese, either.
New Haven-style pizza subscribes to a less-is-more philosophy. New Haven’s first pies were topped with only tomato sauce – no cheese – to showcase the tangy tomato sauce and nuanced taste of the crust. In keeping with that tradition, New Haven-style pizza has only a light touch of cheese, which often means just a smattering of grated cheese, unless you specifically order a pie with “mootz”.
Meanwhile, New York-style pizza is positively packed with cheese, with low-moisture mozzarella spanning the entire pie, right up to the cornicione. If you’re looking for a highly-Instagrammable cheese pull and deciding between a New York and New Haven pie for dinner, the choice is a no-brainer (Though, making and documenting the pizza pilgrimage to New Haven will also get you lots of likes.)
You might not be able to see the difference between the sauces used on New York-style and New Haven-style pizzas, but you’ll certainly taste it. New York’s pizza sauce is heavily seasoned with aromatics like garlic, oregano, dried pepper flakes, and basil to balance out the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes.
New Haven sauce, on the other hand, aims to preserve the natural sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes with fewer aromatics and spices.
Because there are no rules when it comes to pizza, you can get a New Haven-style pie with ample cheese and toppings, just like you’d find on a New York-style pizza, if that’s what you’re after. Modern Apizza, for example, loads its signature Italian Bomb with mozzarella, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, bell peppers, and garlic.
Still, for a true New Haven experience, you’d do well to try the famed white clam pie, made with grated Romano cheese, fresh garlic, olive oil, parsley, and freshly-shucked, barely-briny, and surprisingly-sweet bivalves. There’s no need to bring sauce or extra cheese into the mix here, but you can up the smokiness and textural contrast by adding bacon, a pro move that many New Havenites swear by.
Pizza vs. Apizza
Remember: Your New Haven-style pie is charred, not burned. And, if you want mozzarella, you need to order a pie with mootz.
Oh, one more thing: In New Haven, it’s not called pizza. It’s apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz”.
The name “apizza” is a nod to the dialect of the Neapolitan immigrants who first brought pizza to the region. It’s one of the many ways that New Haven-style pizza stays close to its roots, along with the chewy crust, minimalistic tomato sauce, and lighter touch of cheese.
Don’t worry – Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern Apizza, and the rest of New Haven’s famed shops will still know what you’re talking about if you order a “pizza” or slip into New York nomenclature and request a “pie”. But, if you want to blend in with the locals, you can say “ah-beetz” and park your out-of-state license plate somewhere off of Wooster Street.