D inner at Stony Creek Market feels like a mini vacation. With a view of the Thimble Islands, the Market serves up pizzas Thursday to Sundays, Memorial Day to Labor Day. The dozen or so small tables on the deck fill up fast, first come, first serve, BYOB, cash only. Service is quick and highly informal. You order at the register, pick up your own paper plates, plastic utensils and napkins, stake out a table, open your own wine or beer, and then… relax and let your cares drift out to the blurry horizon of blue skies and water.
Owners Valerie Wile-Wilkins and Greg Wilkins celebrated the Market’s 20th anniversary this April. They say there’s always been pizza in the summer evenings, though it’s changed over the years. They brought in stone ovens, and their pizza dough is practically local legend due to the unusual addition of sweet potato flour. Greg says it’s actually a blend of five flours, but other than sweet potato and wheat flour, he’s not sharing any classified ingredients.
“Did you change the recipe? Because people are saying it’s better this year!” asks an excited customer.
“No, we didn’t change a thing” Greg tells her with good humored exasperation. “People say that every year when we open. I think it’s just because they’re always surprised by how good it is.”
Pizza is seasonal, but the market operates 361 days a year, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter. Valerie bakes daily
Stony Creek Market
178 Thimble Island Rd, Branford (map)
Deli hours: Mon-Sun 6:30am-3pm
Pizza: Thurs-Sun 5-9pm
muffins such as pumpkin, apricot almond, and banana pecan, and scones on Sundays, such as cinnamon currant and cranberry orange. Willoughby’s blends a unique coffee for the Market, and deliveries arrive daily from H&H Bagels in New York.
I stopped by on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m. and the place was packed. A gray-haired man sipped coffee and soaked in the sun while reading the New York Times on the deck. A mom and dad with one daughter in each arm watched as their third and youngest took a few tentative steps toward a fridge lined with colorful juices. A young couple discussed plans for the day while waiting for eggs. The special, scrambled eggs with scallions, tomato, and Swiss on a toasted Brioche was worth a 10 minute wait, the eggs fluffy, the scallion crisp and fresh, the sweet roll a good contrast to the savory cheese. The blueberry muffin I took for the road was dense and smooth, like a pound cake batter rather than the grainy muffins that fall to pieces on first bite, and slathered with Cabot’s butter from Vermont. No margarine here.
It’s a family business. Valerie’s mother Annie, now in her 90s, makes Italian classics like sausage and peppers, eggplant Parmesan, and homemade meatballs (used on the pizza as well). Her nephew Robert DeGoursey manages the Market and has
worked there 15 years. He coordinates all the daily specials. The wait staff is mostly local high school and college students. “The kids that work here start at 16, and with today’s economy, sometimes they work here a year or two after college until they secure a job,” Greg says. “We call them our family. At this point we have kids working here who’s parents worked here.”
Emma tells us she’s been working at the Market for four years, as she patiently waits for us to decide on a pizza.
Daily specials are handwritten in markers and hung behind the counter, along with four standard pizzas on the menu, and we opt for one of each and a Caesar salad to start. The Market makes its own Caesar dressing, without anchovies, but you can add the little fish as a topping and we do to our salty delight.
The spring pizza special features asparagus, roasted garlic cloves, black olives, prosciutto, onions, fresh basil, roasted peppers, and mozzarella. The crust is appropriately thin for New Haven standards, but firm, solid enough to hold all those heavy toppings, and with an orange hue thanks to that sweet potato flour. The clam arrives dotted with spinach, the bacon still crisp, garlic, and mozzarella, a squeeze of fresh lemon to your liking, and the clincher, red onion sliced so thin it’s just a whisper of flavor, like a tasty secret.
They use all local ingredients from Jay Medlyn, a farmer down the road that they named a pizza after. The Medlyn pie is one of their biggest sellers, a white pizza topped with roasted eggplant, garden tomatoes, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, and sweet corn, which should be coming into season right about now.
“There’s no downside,” my friend Matthew says of our dinner at Stony Creek Market. “It’s a beautiful view. You look around and there are no sour faces here.”
Written by Jane Rushmore.