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For a small city, New Haven, Conn., has an impressive chokehold on fetishized food. There’s Louis’ Lunch, where the burgers come on white toast and the staff threatens to expel any patron classless enough to request ketchup; there’s the late Yankee Doodle, which for more than 50 years mastered the art of artery-clogging griddle food. These latter owe their notoriety more to longevity and marketing than to original food, but over on Wooster Street, the dough lives up to the hype. Here, in the 1920s, Frank Pepe invented the original New Haven tomato pie, the pride of Southern Connecticut’s Italian-Americans and the staple of wingtip-shod parents who roll into town. When Pete’s opened in Columbia Heights, I assumed it’d be all marketing and no substance, right down to the mawkish “apizza” epithet and the names of most of the pies (“Boola Boola,” “Merrit Parkway,” “The Elm City,” etc.). In the final tally, Pete’s loses points for shape—as a former resident of New Haven, I tend to think that if we’re trying to preserve the sacred unities, New Haven pizza should at least be rectangular—and for price; Pete’s finest (and least authentic) pie, “The Edge of the Woods,” will run you $24.95. Pete’s has also gone all apostate on the subject of slices, which is to say that it actually offers them, and good ones at that, without the congealed graininess that usually befalls cheesy slices left too long under a heat lamp. But from the white clam pie to the almighty crust—crisp on the low end and just doughy enough below the fastidiously selected toppings—Pete’s “apizza” is about as close as nonindigenous imitators can come to the real deal. And if your purist Yalie friends scoff that Pete’s “doesn’t even use coal-fired ovens,” show them the beer list and watch them do a little tap dance. In their wingtips.
Pete’s Apizza, 1400 Irving St. NW, (202) 332-7383
Photo by Darrow Montgomery