Grand Tradition

O ver the door of a milk-white, sky-blue building on Grand Avenue, letters styled after a western saloon read “Grand Apizza,” pronounced “Grand Ah-beetz.” And while it doesn’t seem to get the ink New Haven’s other established pizzerias do, Grand Apizza is no upstart. Opened in 1955, it even has a connection to one of New Haven’s most beloved brick ovens.

Grand’s founder, Fred Nuzzo, was brother to Nick Nuzzo, one of the men who made Modern Apizza what it is. Like Modern, Grand Apizza uses a brick oven, but unlike Modern, Grand heats it with gas for more consistent cooking, I’m told. What’s more, the dough is thicker—though only slightly—giving toppings a more pillowy bed to lie on. And while the crust is still crispy, the edges aren’t sharp.

Nuzzo himself ran the pizzeria from its opening in 1955 until about 2005, when current owner, George E. Carranzo Jr., took over. “We closed on a Monday,” Carranzo recalls of the transition. “Tuesday we were open.” Nuzzo oversaw Carranzo’s operation for the first week, though there likely wasn’t much to worry about. Carranzo had been working Nuzzo’s ovens for about 20 years. Today, the math tells us, he’s up to around 30.

sponsored by

College & Crown - Live in the center of it all!

Grand wasn’t Carranzo’s first gig in the business. He started making pizza at age 15, working at his uncle’s since-closed pizzeria in West Haven. After about a year, he walked into Grand Apizza—which was closer to home—to see if it was hiring. “What, you want to wash dishes?” Nuzzo asked. “No,” he said. “I make pizzas.” Nuzzo had the young Carranzo make him a pizza, then hired him on the spot.

While the pizzas Nuzzo made mostly stuck to classic toppings, the menu has since blossomed and grown with the times to include many spin-offs of the traditional pies. The Antipasto Pizza ($13/$19/$24) has the menu’s largest topping list, though it doesn’t have tomato sauce. The white pie is a lot like a salad sprinkled over a pizza, with artichoke, onion, roasted red peppers, olives and balsamic vinegar. Beneath the forest lies provolone cheese and pepperoni disks lying on a bed of salami slices twice their size.

Grand Apizza’s Seafood Lover’s ($14/$21.45/$27) has a lot on it, too. This pie can be got with either red or white sauce and comes loaded with soft clams, flavorful shrimp and chunks of Alaskan pollock crab. While all the toppings were good, the crab chunks were the stars of this sea show. Buttery and sweet, their natural white and pink color climbed to toasted brown peaks.

While the specialty pizzas can be real eye-catchers and mouth-fillers, Carranzo himself prefers simpler pies. He names garlic and anchovies as two favorite toppings—no mozzarella. And while these pungent ingredients are no problem, something he still can’t stomach on pizza is fruit. He remembers when the Hawaiian pizza started coming into vogue. “I hated making them then, I hate making them now,” he says, though he’ll still do it.

From their non-pizza options, the most notable, according to Carranzo, are the meatballs. Ordering one brought a fist-sized ball to the table on a ceramic gondola. Swimming lazily in a pool of marinara, the ball was topped with melted parmesan crumbles. And for beverages, it seems Grand is a loyal follower of Foxon Park, stocking virtually every flavor of the local soft drink line and scarce else besides.

While the menu has been updated under Carranzo’s watch, other dynamics haven’t changed much. Carranzo has kept it largely a family operation. His father-in-law works in the kitchen and one of his daughters comes in as well, though she’ll be off to college in the fall. “My wife helped out from time to time but I had to fire her. She was creating a hostile work environment,” Carranzo says before breaking into a smile.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Grand Apizza’s PR policy. “Nobody ever advertised,” Carranzo says. “Never did, never had to.”

That helps explain why most customers have had to hear about the pizzeria by word of mouth. Carranzo recalls a customer who dubbed it “New Haven’s best-kept secret.” And while it’s hard to pinpoint just where the restaurant ranks among New Haven’s hidden gems, it’s also hard to deny Grand Apizza is an important, if under-mentioned, slice of New Haven’s apizza pantheon.

So go try some ah-beetz off the beaten path, and if you like it, don’t be afraid to spill the beans.

Grand Apizza
111 Grand Ave, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 2:30-10pm or 4-10pm (summer)
(203) 624-7646…

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

Leave a Reply