Girls Next Door

Girls Next Door

Tomorrow is the 7th Annual Compassionfest, a vegan festival in Hamden aiming for “just, kindness, equality and compassion.” Over in Guilford, at Three Girls Eatery and sister spot Three Girls Bakery, you can aim for them year-round, in homemade Italian pizzas, calzones, sandwiches, cheeses, desserts and more.

The girls of Three Girls are Tracy Alexander and her daughters Brittany Guerra and Taylor Pitts. Guerra is the owner, but Mom is the prime mover. In 2011, despite never smoking, Alexander’s mother was suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. Doctors gave her 10 months to live. The family researched potential healing therapies and lifestyle changes, then presented them to Alexander’s mother, who chose to adopt a plant-based diet. Numerous studies suggest vegans experience lower rates of cancer, so Alexander then took up the challenge of veganizing the foods her Italian American family had always had on their table.

“The first thing I did was I started making the mozzarella,” she says, pronouncing it mooz-a-delle. “It took me quite a while to get it so it would be just as good in a caprese or a melty, stretchy, ooey-gooey lasagna… I always liked to cook, but I was never a recipe-maker, and I definitely wasn’t vegan. It was all new to me… I wanted the food to be like the real thing, ’cause my mom was never gonna eat it.” Her brother-in-law owned a pizza place, and Alexander gave him the first nonna-ready batch of cheese, instructing him to use it on any pizza her mother ordered. “She loved it,” Alexander says. “So next thing you know, she wants sausage and peppers.”

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The menu kept going, as did her mother. “She ended up living for eight years, saw two great grandchildren born,” Alexander says proudly. “Her last CAT scan showed no evidence of ; she died of something else. And,” she says, “I made over 800 recipes,” from plant-based meatballs, chicken cutlets and sausages to bombalini, turrón and zeppole.

In 2016, Alexander’s recipe library became the knowledge base for Three Girls Vegan Creamery, a business at first centered around selling cashew- and almond-based cheeses. Operating for a time out of her brother-in-law’s commercial kitchen, Three Girls wholesaled to FoodWorks in Guilford, Edge of the Woods in New Haven and grocers as far away as New York City, sometimes popping up in-store to hand out free samples. That’s how, at FoodWorks, they were discovered as a potential fit for the Wooster Square Farmers’ Market. Granted a spot as a guest vendor, they found their sea legs for retail—and coverage from O Magazine and the Washington Post. At some point the business moved into its own dedicated space and opened up one day a week, on Sundays, for walk-up customers, who soon learned that if they wanted to get their favorite items, they’d better get there early. “We’d open at 10, and at 8 there’d be a line… wrapped around the building. The police had to come and traffic.”

Today, picking up or dining at recently rebranded Three Girls Eatery, located at 645 Boston Post Road—or its sister store, Three Girls Bakery, in downtown Guilford—is a much less frenzied affair. You order online, then show up 20ish minutes later to find a bag neatly scrawled with your name and a bubbly heart.

The menu now spans traditional and innovative pizzas, stuffed breads and humongous calzones, Italian and American sandwiches and appetizers and desserts, with cold cuts, cheeses and other deli-style items also available. The front room is tiny, and I don’t know the size of the kitchen in back, but they do an awful lot with it. Because everything but the vegetables are made in-house and some items require days of preparation, not all items are available every day the business is open. Pizzas and calzones, for example, are available Fridays through Sundays. And I recommend remembering that, because I loved them both.

The Big Mac Apizza ($19.95), which may not always be available even on pizza days, was a thing to behold, a deconstructed burger strewn across a perfectly golden and blistered ring of dough, a side order of fries literally on one side. The burger toppings were savory and umami (the meat), sour (the pickles), creamy (the sauce) and refreshing (the lettuce and tomato). The crust—not really New Haven-style, despite the “apizza” billing—was wonderfully chewy and a little salty, and the fries were a delightful finishing touch, spilling toward the middle from a paper pouch.

Just as robust and delicious was the Chicken Parm Calzone ($23.95). Its size was daunting, but, as my girlfriend found, the best way to approach it was to fearlessly cut it just once across the middle, then eat it like a comically large sandwich. It was stuffed to the vegan gills with meat, cheese and sauce, with extra sauce to apply as we wished. The “chicken,” made in part from flax seed and mushroom, was juicy and umami, and the cheese was velvety and melty, reaching into the farthest folds of the fluffy, chewy bread. The sauce, meanwhile, was wonderfully sweet and a little acidic, a classic marinara style made with certified San Marzano tomatoes.

That sauce is a particularly obvious example of the traditional approaches preserved in Three Girls’s innovative dishes. “It’s like what my nonnas did,” she says. “It’s just simple, good-quality ingredients… And a lot of hard work.”

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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