Frank Pepe’s vs. Sally’s (New Haven “APizza”)
By Hugh Gallon
Based on this article’s title and image, you are reasonably expecting that we will declare one of these New Haven Pizza legends, “the best.” I’m going to confess now – that’s all clickbait stuff.
Sorry. We’re not going to declare a winner. I can tell you which one I liked better (and I will). It’s not like we are afraid to declare a winner between food rivals – we did it with Philly Cheesesteaks – (Pat’s over Geno’s). And we’ve done it with a myriad of foods in Episode 74.
I visited each of these New Haven pizza joints planning to compare, contrast, and anoint a champion. But after tasting both, I came to learn that Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s are essentially two different foods. Yes, they are both pizza – but pizza isn’t as tightly defined of a universe as you might think. You’ve got thin, thick, crispy, chewy, saucy, cheesy, meaty, New York style, Chicago style, California style, brick oven, pineapple (a category unto itself). If I’m going to rank two pizzas with any credibility, they have to be fairly similar – and even for two “New Haven” style pies, I personally found them to be pretty different from each other. So different that it was tough to compare. That said, there is plenty to say about each on its own merits.
Sally’s is a better overall slice of pizza – judging on all essential pizza categories – better sauce, perfectly flavorful cheese, and picture-perfect ingredient ratios. Sally’s is a fantastic slice of pizza. Fantastic – one of the best I’ve ever had. But it lacked any particular defining attribute or unique character. If I’m describing Sally’s, I can declare that it’s fantastic. What about it is so great? I don’t exactly know. It just is really really good.
Meanwhile, Frank Pepe’s pizza is all character. It’s a type of pizza I don’t seem to find many places and I can talk about it all day. Its most defining characteristics are its chewy dough and delightful char here and there. It comes out as an oval, not a circle. It’s cut into haphazard, randomly sized triangles and sometimes even rectangles. It offers thick-cut meat toppings that are like meals unto themselves. Frank’s pie comes to your table so hot and gooey that you have to waiting impatiently for it to congeal enough so you can manage a slice.
I can also easily contrast the ambiance and personality of each location.
Frank Pepe’s has several locations across two or three states. It almost always has a line out the door in New Haven. It seems pretty polished and a little corporate. Table service. A hostess. Hats for the kids.
So which is better? Well, seven out of ten days, I’ll take Frank Pepe’s over Sally’s – I like how unique it is. But if you wanted to go toe-to-toe telling me I’m wrong; if you want to shout at me and argue that by all objective categories Sally’s is superior, then I’ve got no retort.
It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Which, by the way, is much easier. Oranges are better. Way better. Sweeter. Less germs (no eating that dirty peel). And they protect you from scurvy.
P.S. Sorry I could not review the white clam pizza – the legendary pizza offered in New Haven. I’m allergic to the clams.