Crust Me

Crust MeCrust MeCrust Me

W hen it comes to pizza, I might live in the wrong town. Eating New Haven’s signature thin-, charred-, bubble-crusted apizza leaves a void in my mouth only one thing can fill: more starch. 

Which is why, when I found out about Abaté Apizza and Seafood Restaurant’s Sicilian-style pizza—offered alongside its titular apizza—a big cheesy grin appeared on my face.

When it first opened on Wooster Street in 1992, Abaté, like its famous neighbors Pepe’s and Sally’s, only served New Haven-style pies. To compete, Abaté found a niche with a lunchtime crowd that wanted fast, single slices. But any thin-crusted apizza slices that lingered too long in the window would dry out and curl up. Thick slices of Sicilian-style pizza, on the other hand, could hold up much longer.

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Today, basic Sicilian slices are always at the ready at Abaté, with a cheese running $2.95 and pepperoni a dollar more. Pies carrying the restaurant’s seven “gourmet” topping combinations, on the other hand, are made to order—either in the form of a slender apizza or, for a few dollars extra, a hulking Sicilian.

Put side by side in afternoon sun, a slice of Abaté’s Sicilian even casts a shadow on a slice of its apizza. But while my pepperoni Sicilian dwarfed my apizza by height, the latter, a small Abaté Special, was carrying a far greater load, with mushrooms, onions, sausage bits, meatball chunks and bacon strips. The beefed-up, porked-up Special, drooping under the weight of its toppings, covered a wide spectrum of textures and flavors. But the Sicilian could still easily do what the top-heavy apizza could not: fill my mouth with warm, pillowy bread.

When it comes to size, Abaté can deliver in more ways than pizza crust. The whole menu is big, offering 30 appetizers and sides, eight salads, 15 subs and 17 pasta dishes, among others. But the seafood section of the menu takes it to another level. Any of the Fried Seafood Specials can be got in either “Regular” or “I Dare You” sizes, the latter filling a huge fish-shaped platter—the kind used for Abaté’s “famous” Zuppa Di Pesce ($32.95), which is meant for two.

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Speaking of big fish, the restaurant’s most consequential catch came in 1993, when it was unexpectedly asked to host newly elected president and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton during a stop in New Haven. And all because of its parking lot.

The couple had originally planned to eat at Pepe’s, where the Clintons used to come while attending Yale Law, but according to owner Lou Abaté, who’d first cut his teeth working at Pepe’s, the Secret Service found the premises too difficult to secure. They looked over at Abaté’s parking lot and decided it offered them the room they needed.

Which was just what Abaté needed. “It was a struggle until the president came. After that, business was booming,” Lou says. “It put us on the map.”

The Clintons didn’t eat inside Abaté, but they shook a good many hands, posed for pictures (including ones the restaurant still displays) and took a medium cheese to eat on the way to Air Force One.

Good thing Abaté is equipped for takeout.

Abaté Apizza and Seafood Restaurant
129 Wooster St, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
(203) 776-4334
www.facebook.com/pages/Abate-Apizza-Seafood-Restaurant…

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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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.

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