Flying Starter

A t this point, I imagine most pandemic-era home bread bakers have soured on their sourdough experiments, relegating their oozing starters with cutesy names to the compost bucket of recent history.

Charlie Negaro Jr. isn’t one of them. The CEO of Chabaso Bakery, Negaro perfected his “New Haven-ish”-style pizza in a backyard wood-burning stove during the quarantined months of 2020, and now his pandemic sourdough project has morphed, via Atticus Market, into a delicious addition to New Haven’s pizza scene. The East Rock cafe and specialty foods grocery, which is owned and supplied by Chabaso, now serves freshly made pies every Thursday and Friday night.

Negaro says he launched the project for “fun,” and it’s as fun to eat as it is for him and chef Matthew Wick to make. On a recent Thursday visit, Wick made one of the current popular specials, a white pizza with fior de latte cheese, paper-thin zucchini rounds, dill flowers and a post-oven dollop of ricotta. The dill and a hearty squeeze of lemon balanced the creamy cheese and made for an exquisite, addicting combination. “Matt’s forte is creativity with fresh ingredients,” Negaro says.

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Next up was the traditional New Haven Tomato Pie, simple and equally satisfying. Wick elevated the red sauce with zings of garlic, flecks of parmesan and, that day, a swirl of an Italian-style chili crisp sauce made with sundried tomatoes. My friend and I ate around 4:30, before the evening rush of customers and our typical dinner time, but we nearly finished off both pies.

When Negaro was workshopping his dough recipe at home, he aimed to incorporate regional, fresh-milled whole grains, high-hydration dough and natural leavening into a New Haven-style crust. But it may be as hard to define “New Haven-style” as it is to concoct a pie worthy of that distinction. Atticus started off trying to hit a particular conception of that style, Negaro says, but quickly realized that “each location does it their own way.” Atticus’s pizza bakes for five minutes at 660 degrees, similar to the process perfected on Wooster Street. But Atticus uses an electric rather than coal-fired oven, and the natural fermentation in Atticus’s dough makes for an extra bubbly and somewhat thicker and chewier crust than a famous New Haven “apizza.”

The challenge for Negaro was less the recipe than the scaling up of the operation, which began at the end of 2021, about nine months after Atticus Market opened. The weekly ritual starts on Tuesday, when Chabaso bakers feed the sourdough starter at the industrial kitchen on James Street. On Wednesday, Thursday’s dough is mixed and rests overnight before being shaped and delivered, 12 pillowy rounds per tub. Wick, meanwhile, has drawn on his relationships with local farmers to bring in the fresh produce they need for that week’s menu.

The market, which closes each night at 7, starts taking pizza orders at 4:30 on Thursdays and Fridays and serves until pizza or time runs out, reportedly selling about 50 made-to-order pies on Thursdays and 75 on Fridays. On another Thursday, I arrived at 6:25 and secured the very last pie, opting for a simple Margherita that accentuated the flavorful red sauce and left me wanting more.

Negaro said he was daunted—“of course”—to sell pizza in New Haven, though he questioned whether Atticus’s small-scale popup service even puts it on the map. “Are we just hobbyists?” he asked Wick as he slid a pie into the oven. One bite was enough to disabuse me of any doubts. Compared to the pies that inspired it, Atticus Market’s pizza may only be New Haven-ish, but it’s no less delicious.

Atticus Market Pizza Nights
771 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Thurs-Fri 4:30-7pm (while supplies last)
Website | Order | Instagram

Written by Steven Rome. Image 1, of the Margherita, and image 4, of the white zuke special, provided by Atticus Market. Image 2, of Charlie Negaro Jr., photographed by Stephanie Wratten. Image 3, of Matthew Wick, and 5, of 12 doughs in a tub, photographed by Steven Rome.

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