Come to Papa‘s

Come to Papa‘s

It’s easy to love the thin crust, blackened along the edges and smothered with impressionistic colors: the yellows, oranges and whites of baked cheese, the reds of rich sauce and, on half, the pale browns of meatballs marbled in. The elements both blend and pop, not just in the eyes but also in the mouth, united and highlighted by garlic and herbs and, of course, that crust.

This particular New Haven-style pizza isn’t from Sally’s or Pepe’s or anywhere else in New Haven. It’s from Papa’s Pizza II in Milford. There are, indeed, two Papa’s Pizzas in Milford: the original on Naugatuck Avenue, opened by Russell Pietrini in 1986, and the second on Bridgeport Avenue, which Pietrini opened around 2008 with his late cousin Jeffrey Salito and friends Dylan Bruno and Jamie Cavallo.

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I recently ordered from both to see if the familial tie is noticeable. It is. In fact, the two restaurants share a website, pizza boxes and, most importantly, a menu, which describes their pizza as “classic Napoletana apizza baked in fire brick ovens New Haven style.” And with a pie from each to taste side by side—the half-meatball from Papa’s II and a half-mushroom from the original—only minor differences emerged. The latter had a darker char along the edges, ideal for a make-it-crispy-please customer. The former had a more even char on the bottom. But both crusts were sturdy and chewy and crunchy, with those delectable dark edges that, if they flake off and fall to the plate, you pick up with your fingertips to get every bit. The mushrooms on the pie from the original Papa’s were savory, moist and meaty, and the sauces, both on the sweeter side, punched through the cheese with fresh, homemade flavor but didn’t overpower the pies. Each delivered the right amount of oil, the original Papa’s leaving enough on the bottom of the empty box to make it clear a pizza once lived there.

Scott Amedy, manager at Papa’s II, says pizza is “an art” he honed at the original Papa’s, where he learned the ingredients and the techniques. Both eateries make their own sauce and dough, using recipes Pietrini perfected 36 years ago with input from family, Italian women at his church, cooks he knew in New Haven and an Italian cookbook.

Basic pizzas include local favorites like a tomato pie and a white clam option, while the 25 House Special pizzas, seemingly named after real people, are usually more complex and specific. They include the Pizza Di Bona, with mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, broccoli and parmesan; the Pizza Di Erica—“A Diva’s Delight”—served hot and spicy, either red or white, with chicken and cherry peppers; and the Pizza Di Papa, with clams, garlic, olive oil, mozz, peppers and bacon. There are calzones, too, and “cone” grinders that one Yelp reviewer described as phenomenal, plus a salad. The Naugatuck Avenue location has one added feature: a pasta menu offering fettuccine, spaghetti, ziti and ravioli.

Both places are organized around takeout, though Papa’s II has several tables for in-house dining. “We don’t deliver, and we’ve got Foxon soda,” Amedy says, contending that those are two signs of a top-notch pizza joint. The original Papa’s is takeout-only, with a window where you grab your food.

The unifying name, Papa’s, comes from Pietrini’s grandfather, Peter Lasse (a.k.a. Papa), who, along with his wife Mabel, opened The Maples, a restaurant and banquet hall on Naugatuck Avenue, in the 1940s. The Maples changed hands and names in 1959, but the Lasses’ children and grandchildren went on to make their own Milford culinary history with a series of eateries including today’s Lasse’s, Little Lasse’s (reopening soon), Papa’s Pizza and Papa’s Pizza II.

It might sound cheesy, but at Papa’s I and II, torch-carriers for generations of family food, you can taste the love.

Papa’s Pizza
258 Naugatuck Ave, Milford (map)
(203) 874-0215

Papa’s Pizza II
2005 Bridgeport Ave, Milford (map)
(203) 283-5433

Written and photographed by Jill Dion.

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