When we first saw the “coming soon” sign go up across the street from the Buckland Hills Mall, we were… well, skeptical. Could the distinctive taste of New Haven be replicated 30 miles to the north? And in a strip-mall setting at that? We were delighted to find, however, that our concerns were unwarranted. In fact, the only thing missing from the Manchester satellite location was the unwieldy wait. Although some would argue that waiting in line for an hour is part of the authentic Pepe’s experience, we would willingly sacrifice elements of the environment in order to ensure an efficient bite to eat.
Pepe’s of New Haven has always been at the top of our list of places to take visitors to the Nutmeg State. Having both grown up far outside of the Connecticut pizza belt, we view our first Wooster Street pie as a sort of adolescent rite of passage. Pepe’s has made sure to reproduce every element of their original New Haven store with attention to every detail. The coal-fired oven was cast from the original molds, and the interior boasts the same booths, the original menu marquee on the wall, and Foxon Park soda, including their fabulous White Birch Beer.
There is nothing quite like a white clam pizza from Pepe’s and we cannot help but order at least one small pie each time that we visit. There are enough fresh, garlicky clams strewn across the white crust to ensure an oceanic punch with every bite. Most often when we have suggested the clam pizza to a New Haven-style newbie, our recommendation has been met with a questioning look. However, it has yet to disappoint and has most often come to be a new favorite.
Some pizza fans may question placing an order for a plain pie, but they probably have not tried a Pepe’s tomato pie. The sauce can only be described as perfect—not too sweet, not too seasoned—simply packed with fresh tomato flavor. The pepperoni pie is divine, and the sausage pie is spicy with small knuckles of gnarled sausage sprinkled over its surface. The crust, especially those sections blackened by the oven, are crunchy and taut enough to support the slice’s weight in toppings with no droopage.
Although you should not expect to be seated instantaneously at this new location (word had spread within the first week after its grand opening), wait times are certainly manageable, particularly on weekdays. This is one place where a sit-down meal is unquestionably more efficient than take-out, unless you have had the foresight to call an order in hours in advance.