“I’m gonna get whiplash,” says Auntie JoAnn, as she’s known by the crew, looking hurriedly from the large menu mounted on the wall to her right, then back down to the order she’s scribbling, the phone wedged between her ear and shoulder. It’s one of about twelve orders, lined up carefully before her, and there’s no end in sight. The phone keeps ringing.
It’s Wednesday night at Joey D’s, a new pizzeria in Morris Cove, and one thing is clear: the restaurant—one of just a few commercial businesses in the neighborhood—is a very welcome addition.
Lani Asuncion, who lives just down the street, is trying out the spot for the first time. The fact that she can walk there, she says as she picks up her Loaded Mashed Potato pizza, is a major plus. She’s already envisioning summer visits: walking to get a pizza, then to the beach.
Open every day for lunch and dinner, with a few onsite tables available, Joey D’s is located on Townsend Avenue in Morris Cove, a neighborhood that’s closer to East Haven than the heart of New Haven, even though it’s technically part of the city.
Commercial space, like the Krauszer’s convenience store, Lighthouse Liquors and two event venues, Anthony’s Ocean View and Amarante’s Sea Cliff, does exist in the area. But many “Cove” residents (myself included) have longed for a lively gathering spot to call our own—someplace we could walk for dinner and maybe run into a neighbor or two.
Owner and restaurant namesake, Joey DeMatteo, recognized that need, saw an abandoned retail space and worked it like pizza dough, opening the restaurant on May 3. The night before, Joey D’s hosted a night of free food and introductions for the neighborhood.
“We wanted to be somewhere where there’s community,” says DeMatteo, and that’s turning out to be the case. Although Joey D’s offers free delivery, most customers choose to pick up orders in person, which also means he’s getting to know his clientele.
Barbara Carroll, a community news organizer and Chairman of the East Shore Management Team, says the immediate and enthusiastic acceptance of the restaurant has been overwhelming. “The Morris Cove community welcomed a new business where they can not only get good pizza and Italian food but can also walk to!” she says, noting the convenience of not having to go “into East Haven or over the bridge” for a fix.
Given the excitement in the Cove, it’s not shocking when DeMatteo says, “The response has been amazing.” Given the 32-year-old’s education, experience and background, it’s not shocking that he would start this particular business. He has three Bachelor’s degrees—in Management, Finance and Economics—from Quinnipiac University, and DeMatteo’s been running an environmental cleaning business, called American Fleet Services, while also helping his family run a commercial garage.
In opening Joey D’s, he teamed up with cook Michael Petrillo, the restaurant’s “master pizza maker,” for a bellissimo combination of business and kitchen sense, but DeMatteo isn’t out of his element on the line. He tells me that some of the recipes, like the meatballs and tomato sauce, are nearly 100 years old, having been handed down through his Italian family. He grew up cooking with them, as well as eating a family dinner every Sunday (though being busy with Joey D’s has caused him to skip lately).
Cooked on seasoned stones in Blodgett and Baker’s Pride pizza ovens, the pizza crust at Joey D’s is doughy and slightly chewy, with crisp edges here and there, topped with generous amounts of homemade sauce, cheese and fresh-tasting ingredients.
There are traditional pies, and also Joey D’s specialty pizza menu, which includes some standout and unusual offerings. The Lighthouse Special is a tantalizing white pie, with spinach, mushrooms, gorgonzola, bacon and garlic, and the Texas BBQ Chicken pizza is topped with tangy BBQ chicken cutlets, bacon and pineapple. Naturally, there’s a Margherita, though with a Neapolitan twist: it’s a white pie with sliced red tomatoes, red pepper and garlic.
Pizza may be the star, but the menu also features a robust Italian repertoire—Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Florentine (chicken breast and spinach sautéed in a white wine lemon sauce) and Linguine with Clam Sauce, which includes both whole and chopped clams, as well as soups like Escarole and Bean and Pasta e Fagioli. There are hot and cold grinders, of course, along with a nod to particularly American appetites: chicken wings. Rounding it out are a number of salads, including my (and, according to the menu, the house’s) favorite, Joey’s Salad: a spring lettuce mix with roasted red peppers, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, gorgonzola and crispy bacon.
Making everything fresh to order is a standard DeMatteo says he’ll stick to no matter what, and it means customers may have to wait sometimes. On the night I visit, callers are instructed it’ll be 40 minutes, and DeMatteo says it’s been as long as an hour.
But he says he’d rather have people wait than compromise quality, and it seems that’s an explanation diners can digest. Plus, it gives those who live close by a reason to take a nice, slow saunter down the road to pick up their order.
It’s something they’ve been waiting to do for a long time.
27 Townsend Avenue, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 12-9pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.