At one time considered by national authorities to have the best pizza in the country, Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana is a New Haven institution. The Wooster Street location boasts a classic neon sign with the restaurant's namesake, two rooms with spacious booths and an open kitchen Where you can watch the action. Pizzas are generously topped in plain view, then slid into the oven with a paddle whose handle is so long (to reach deep into the oven) that it needs to rest on a hook to prevent eye gouging. Walk into most pizza shops in the country and you're lucky if you find more than one person over the age of 20. At Frank Pepe's, it's the other way around: try finding someone under the age of 30. And most are over 40. For me, that's a good sign, because it means there's not only experience all around but a healthy relationship between management and staff that retains good people.
The crust isn't thin like a cracker, but it does have the flavor of a cracker, but with a softer texture. The signature effect is the blistering and charring that give it a flavor that may no longer be unique, but it's definitely a plus.
Toppings are handled with pride. I forget the exact wording, but after our server described the house roasted red peppers, there was no way these weren't going over at least half a pie. The pepperoni weren't the thin, perfectly round slices you see in thousands of pizza shops bt instead a thick, irregular chunk made with passion. All of the toppings sit under the cheese, which gets hit with a more-generous-than-you-want-to-know dousing of oil. The tomato sauce is pretty ho-hum. The cheese was also pretty standard, but on the spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola pie, it was a standout. As for the signature whute clam pie, the namesake ingredient does just fine but gets second billing behind the intense garlic that's a pleasure as long as everone at the table (and more importantly, the bed) is sharing it.
The staff across the board were not only experienced but downright friendly and still businesslike, and I like that.
After trying pizzas at both the Fairfield outpost and the New Haven Flagship, I can say that the odds of Pepe's being your favorite pie ever are pretty low. But one of the top 10 to 20 percent? Absolutely. As for the service and all around experience, it'll probably rank higher as long as you don't go in expecting too much. Just like Louis Lunch, Frank Pepe's is a legend that may not live up to all of the hype, but it's a must-visit for the history and still unquestionably good.
My review of Frank Pepe's in Fairfield
Urbanspoon reviews of Frank Pepe's in New Haven