N ew Haveners are spoiled: we have some of the best pizza in the country, maybe in the world, and we have options for where to get it. “Apizza,” “thin-crust” and “brick-oven” are elevated concepts elsewhere, but they’re our normal.
From the outside, we may look like an enclave of people who have pledged allegiance to either the much-venerated Pepe’s or Sally’s, making solemn oaths held sacred and inviolable.
Let’s be real, though. New Haven isn’t just a two-pizza town. Plenty of us swear by the blistered crust at Modern Apizza, for example, or the game-changing mashed potato pie over at BAR.
Maybe you’re so aware of your plethora of pizza choices that it’s become a point of pride. Perhaps you’ve driven down Wooster Street, haughtily pitying those who have lined up for the lunch or dinner rushes on Sally’s or Pepe’s hallowed pizza grounds. Maybe you’ve laughed wickedly at their seeming pizza tunnel vision.
Well, the joke may actually be on you because, if you’ve never tried a gem that’s nearly as old as those on Wooster and just a few miles down the road in West Haven, then the line-standers aren’t the only ones missing out.
Cheryl Zuppardi Pearce, co-owner of Zuppardi’s Apizza in West Haven along with her sister, Lori, quickly liberates me from fixating on New Haven’s pizza wars, whether real or imagined. “Honestly, we don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on over there” in New Haven, she says. “They work hard and we work hard. If everybody’s working hard, who are we to criticize?”
As soon as the Special Apizza—with house-made sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella (carved from a block of the stuff, not pre-shredded)—comes out of the oven, or the Clams Apizza featuring shucked-to-order littlenecks slides onto your tabletop, there’s no need for comparison. You’re too busy eating and “mmm”-ing.
Nestled within a sandy section of West Haven, “Zupp’s,” an unassuming family-run restaurant on Union Avenue just off of Main Street, is nearly 80 years old. Vintage high school jerseys and aged family photos dot the wood-panel walls. A brown-and-orange tiled floor leads patrons to plastic orange booths and other tables. During my visit, the TV—loud—was blasting cable news. The decor feels anachronistic in the best way, like returning to the house you grew up in.
Originally opened in 1934 as a bakery specializing in fresh loaves of Italian bread, Cheryl and Lori’s grandparents decided to hand the business over to their parents, Tony and Frances. Living above the restaurant, the sisters both learned the family trade, watching their parents establish a family legacy that they and other family members have vowed to carry forward. Cheryl and Lori’s children, nieces and nephews work on the floor and behind the counter slinging dough, shucking clams and shipping pizzas nationwide through their online ordering system. They’ve sent orders to 27 different states so far.
Nation- and neighborhood-wide, the restaurant’s hands-down top seller is that Special. The sausage is made right there in the kitchen with the family’s secret ratio of salt, pepper and fennel seed, and it takes everything I have not to tear into a slice the moment it arrives at the table. Instead of cased sausage segments, hunks of perfectly seasoned pork are crumpled and layered into the cheese. Cheryl tells me they make approximately 250 pounds of it every week to keep up with demand.
Those with alternative dietary needs need not stay in the car, by the way. Zuppardi’s carries a gluten-free crust option (one of the few dish components prepared off-premises). If you’re lactose-intolerant or vegan, specifically tell the server not to include any cheese whatsoever, as the standard preparation includes some cheese sprinkled over the crust. (In other words, simply ordering a red pie with veggies may not put you in the clear.)
Like other great area pizzerias, table settings are sparse, including shakers of parmesan and red pepper flakes, paper plates and maybe a beer or a pitcher of Foxon Park soda to go with your apizza.
What more can a Havener ask for?
179 Union Avenue, West Haven (map)
11am-9:30pm Mon-Thurs, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 12-8:30pm
Written by Courtney McCarroll.