Connecticut does not have an official state dish, but all serious eaters know what it would be. Pizza, of course. Connecticut didn’t invent it; but without question it is the place to get the best. Most of the state’s cities and towns have pizza parlors worth checking out; in and around New Haven, the choice of excellent ones is staggering.
Eli’s, in Hamden just up Whitney Avenue, is high on the list of worthies. It is no hole in the wall. It is a modern restaurant with a full menu and an attached market that sells Italian products, meals ready to take home and heat, and handsome pastries. Never mind all that; the specialty of the house here is brick-oven pizza, a fact that is evident when you note that each table is outfitted with an armature designed to hold two pizza pans in the air for easy access by all around it.
Eli’s pizza has a crust I want to call microthin, but it is just hefty enough to offer a nice chew rather than break when bitten. Its rugged underside is a beautiful scattering of dark grains from the oven’s floor, its edge just barely risen, mostly dark brown but blistered black in a few places where it rose the highest in the oven. The topping selection is vast and includes two of New Haven’s signature configurations, both originally sold at Pepe’s – white clam (no red sauce, no mozzarella) and “old fashioned,” the latter a tomato pie topped only with a sprinkling of pecarino cheese but, here too, no melted mozzarella.
I could quibble and say that the dough lacks the certain soulful flavor that distinguishes the great crusts of Wooster Street, but the fact is that Eli’s pizza is one I never would kick off the table, and is superior to 99.99% of the world’s pizzas.