Years ago, sitting with Roadfood.com co-founder Stephen Rushmore over a whole baby clam pizza at Zuppardi’s, we joked that perhaps we ought not to post a review of this place on the website. Do we really want to share such a treasure with others, risking it becoming so crowded that we can’t get in?
Not that Zuppardi’s is a secret. It has been around since 1934 and on weekend nights you will likely have to wait for a table, even if the second dining room is opened up. But given its location off the New Haven radar, it never is insanely crowded like the big guns on Wooster Street, and it remains what it always has been – a neighborhood pizzeria. The pizza it serves is among the best, if not the best, anywhere.
The crust is Neapolitan / New Haven style: thin and crisp with a puffy circumference that demands a good chew and rewards it with profound yeasty savor. Available toppings include sausage that is made on premises in 200-pound batches and strewn across the pizza in rugged clumps, fresh tomato, broccoli rabe, escarole and beans, hot peppers, and roasted peppers. Clam pizza is listed twice on the menu, as whole baby clams and fresh clams, the latter twice as expensive as the former. That is because the fresh ones are opened when you order your pizza (you will wait) and spread about the pie in abundance.
The fresh clams are small and tender, glistening with briny-sweet oceanic liquor, complemented by a surfeit of chopped garlic and herbs. “Some customers ask for mutz [mozzarella cheeese],” the pizzaiolo shared with a disapproving frown, “But that just weighs it down.”
The Zuppardi family has been making New Haven style pizza in the residential neighborhood of West Haven for three generations. The white clam pizza has become a signature dish in New Haven, but surprisingly Zuppardi’s Apizza downplays their addictive pie.
Don’t start thinking about driving to Zuppardi’s until you call ahead and order a “FRESH” white clam pizza. We emphasize “fresh” since they will assume you want the mediocre canned variety which is like comparing Chef Boyardee to fresh pasta. Just like a fresh seafood shack that receives deliveries from local fisherman, the fresh white clam pizza is “market priced.” At least two dozen little necks are shucked immediately after your order is placed to ensure maximum freshness. It is a time-consuming process, so call 15-20 minutes before your ETA to prevent excessive thumb spinning.
When the moment arrives, a piping hot white clam pizza topped with fresh garlic, grated Romano, olive oil and sprinkle of parsley will be placed on your table. The edge of the crust is thick and crunchy, resembling the texture of freshly cooked baguette. The underside, which had less char than other New Haven pizzerias, was crispy and held firm during lift-off. The clams were sweet, tender and moist, and could be independently satisfying as an appetizer. The complete package makes Zuppardi’s Apizza fresh white clam pizza one of the best in world.
To wash down your meal, consider the locally produced Foxon Park soda. We gravitate towards the birch or root beer which is made with real sugar, instead of corn syrup found in the mass-produced beverage companies. For dessert, be sure to try the locally made Italian ices.
Lastly, Zuppardi’s has a freezer of single-serving frozen pies to enjoy at home. What a great idea! It is a far superior option to preservative-laden options found at the supermarket.