Pizza historians study origins and appeal


Ask Google for the history of pizza in New Haven, and its first business result is Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Related questions such as “Was pizza invented in Connecticut?” Or “Why is New Haven Pizza famous?” »Support research results. For Scott Wiener, founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours and columnist for Pizza Today Magazineanswering these questions is part of what he does.

The beginnings of pizza history in New Haven

“New Haven certainly has an incredible history for first-time pizzas,” he said. “Some of the first pizza makers in New Haven were there within 19 years – certainly early on – and there’s a lot of information to prove that tons of Italian immigrants landed in New Haven, and with immigration from the southern Italy naturally comes pizza. “

Wiener’s estimates are not far off. Although Pepe’s was the first to populate a list of Google search results, it might not have been the first pizzeria to open in New Haven. Colin M. Caplan, columnist for all things New Haven and author of “Pizza in New Haven,” told Hearst Connecticut that Pepe’s was predeceased by Ignazio Camposano, who opened a bakery in the area in 1917 and a restaurant. who probably sold pizza in 1924 (at least a year before Pepe opened in 1925).

According to Carol Helstosky, associate professor and chair of history at University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, specializing in the history of food, these early pizzerias in the United States established by immigrants mainly from Naples, Sicily and southern Italy have often gone unnoticed, as many historians tend to search for elements such as business licenses as proof of their establishment. However, Helstosky said that the origins of these pizzerias can predate any restaurant.

“If we think about what pizza specialists call the pizza belt – New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – a good number of Italian immigrants end up selling this in their bakeries,” she said. “Or they sell it on a mobile – they take it to a street corner outside the factory and sell pizza before people go to work in those big boxes, very similar to what they do. would have done in Naples. “

Iconic New Haven Style

As more and more brick and mortar restaurants were established, this traditional Neapolitan-style pizza that originated with immigrants to New Haven began to transform into what is now considered “l ‘New Haven apizza “. Factors such as geography and topography affected access to key ingredients like flour and cheese, Wiener said, and ultimately created the city’s signature-style pizza.

“To extrapolate from all the information available, I think the commonalities are that it’s a thin crust pizza that’s eye-catching on the base, which is very softly topped and baked in a hot oven,” he said. he said in defining the style of New Haven.

A few key characteristics differentiate Elm City pie from that of a New York-style pizza, according to Wiener.

“The difference between this and the New York style is that the New Haven style generally doesn’t have a pronounced crest on the outside – it usually doesn’t have a big ‘cornicone’ – and that’s not a concept. “by the slice” is a whole pie, “he said.” Therefore, pizza fairness is not the first thought, whereas in New York it has to be round , otherwise when you cut it into eight slices, it’s not eight equal slices and it’s harder to sell that way.

Pizza migration

While these differences separate New Haven pizza from a traditional Manhattan slice, Wiener has suggested that a close relative of New Haven pizza can be found elsewhere – in Trenton, NJ.

“In Trenton, restaurants are called ‘tomato pie places’ and, of course, Frank Pepe is called ‘Frank Pepe tomato pies’, so there’s that little resonance between the two,” he said. declared. “It’s really lightly garnished in New Jersey, and with the tomato pie it’s more of a sauce with chunks and it’s on the cheese, but I think these are more similar (to pizza of New Haven) than in New York. ”

Wiener said that one of the first tomato pie restaurants in the Garden State was started by someone who left a New York City pie store and spawned a slightly different variation. Migration and pizza variations continued, with the rest of the United States catching up with the post-WWII trend as the railroad – built in part with the help of Italian immigrants – extended to the west, Helstosky said.

Each region recognized food as a “potentially lucrative business with very low overhead costs,” according to Helstosky, prompting other immigrant groups to enter the pizza scene and create other iterations. A former Connecticut resident, Helstosky said she has seen such differences grow in Simsbury.

“I ate pizza at a place called Apollo’s, whose name was a Greek pizzeria,” she said. “Connecticut, for example, had a very high percentage of pizza restaurants run by Greek Americans and recent Greek immigrants. We are seeing this phenomenon occur as pizza gains popularity across the United States – as immigrant communities tend to get involved in pizza production. “

New Haven’s role in national pizza history

As variations began to develop in areas beyond the northeast, cities and states crafted their signature styles (think Chicago-style deep pizza). Wiener – who has eaten at “thousands” of pizza places in the United States and beyond – said finding New Haven pizza tributes in places like Chicago and Washington, DC solidifies Elm’s regional-style status. City.

“I think the real hallmark of a regional style is when you pay tribute to it from the outside, mainly by people who grew up in that region,” he said. “So all these New Haveners like, ‘I can’t get these good things here! »End up doing it. And I think that’s the key to what makes a regional style important.

While each city or region of the country can often claim its version as “better” than another style and throw regional pizza jokes, Wiener said New Haven’s place in national pizza history remains strong. .

“The role they play is that they are the keepers of the flame,” he said. “Pizza changes so much in other cities, including New York… New Haven is really that torch keeper where they’re really trying to hang on to this thing because New Haven isn’t so easily considered initially as a very pizza town though… everyone in New Haven all knows it’s that amazing pizza town. But even to this day, as many times as Pepe has been able to be named number one in the country, there are still people who are surprised. So I think it’s that silent guardian of the flame – that’s what New Haven has to offer. “

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