Abate | 129 Wooster St., New Haven, CT 06511, (203) 776-4334
For… White Broccoli Pizza
I don’t know why, but most New Haveners don’t even really seem to know about Abate. Or at least they must not, because if they did, there’s no question this place would join the forefront of the pizza debate*. I wouldn’t know about it myself, but I used to sing in a choir that practiced a block away and we used to go there for pizza parties after big festivals. Their pizza is a little less New Haven-y than Pepe’s (the crust is a little thicker) but oh my gosh the White Broccoli pizza could just about make you cry. The broccoli is sumptuously crispy on the outside and bursting with freshness on the inside, and each slice is just smothered in fresh minced garlic and lots and lots of melty mozzarella. Any day when I get to have this pizza is automatically a perfect day.
Bar | 254 Crown St., New Haven, CT 06511, (203) 495-1111
For… Mashed Potato Pizza, Bar Salad
I have so many fun memories associated with this place, but I think my fondest is the look of horror on my best friend’s mother’s face when she found out my parents had been regularly been taking their 4-year-old to a restaurant called Bar. Located in what was once an automobile showroom, this brewery and pizzeria is actually quite family friendly (there is a nightclub in the back but it’s removed from the Bru Room, the main eating area, and obviously closed during the day) and is without a doubt one of New Haven’s best restaurants. They serve their thin crust pizzas, which are almost as good as Pepe’s, in huge rectangular sheet pans, so it’s best to come with a sizable group. And their locally-famous salad, made with arugula, pears, craisins, blue cheese and caramelized pecans, goes better with the pizza than you could ever imagine. You do have to make me one promise though – when you go, you have to get at least ¼ of a pizza with mashed potatoes. I know you don’t believe me, but just ask any local: their white-mashed potato pizza, made with minced garlic and delightfully buttery mashed potatoes is positively life changing. My other favorite is their eggplant, but you pretty much can’t go wrong. Also worth noting – they had exposed brick walls way before it was trendy. There’s no doubt about it: Bar is the coolest.
Burger Baby | 283 Asylum Street Hartford, CT 06103, (860) 728-7437
For… Duck Fat Fries, Country Fried Bacon, Smothered Burger, Burger Baby Deluxe
This brand new restaurant is reason enough to make the trek up to Hartford. We’ve been there twice already, and both times we left in a state of very extreme euphoria. Their burgers in and of themselves are solid, beefy, juicy and extremely flavorful, but there are a few really decadent things about this place that really set it apart. Duck Fat Fries with Coriander Salt taught me what French fries were always meant to taste like. Thick cut and battered Country Fried Bacon is melty, tender and smoky. And their Smothered Burger, which comes with caramelized onions and dolce Gorgonzola, can only be described as revelation/taste explosion. Interestingly enough, while some of their more indulgent items (Lobster Macaroni with Taleggio, Wagyu Beef Burger with Black Truffle Aioli) were fantastic, I don’t think they give you the biggest bang for your buck. My best experience so far has been with the Burger Baby Deluxe, with cheese, marinated tomato, homemade pickles, their Burger Baby special sauce, and the decadent country fried bacon. Spring for the duck fries, but ask for the Parmesan foam that comes with the regular ones. Foam may be affected, but this one is addictive.
Also worth noting – if you like your desserts just a tad bit sweeter than I do, try the red velvet bread pudding, with moist and tender red velvet cake and cream cheese-infused pudding, is really, really wonderful.
Pepe’s Pizza | 157 Wooster Street New Haven, CT 06511, (203) 865-5762
For… The only pizza in the whole world that’s worth eating (other than Bar or Abate’s)
We had to come down on a side in the Great New Haven Pizza War*, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve yet to meet anybody who disagrees with me. Sally’s may have won over Hollywood, but Pepe’s has the hearts of New Haven County, and also The Guardian (yes, the British Newspaper), who stated that Pepe’s was “The Best Pizza on Earth” in 2009. Yes, that’s right, Earth. If you’re new to New Haven, you just absolutely must come here. Their crust is brick oven crisp, they use the highest quality cheese (and lots of it) their toppings are always fresh, and each bite contains just the right amount of wonderful greasy decadence. You should drink local Foxon Park Soda with it. It’s not very good, but it goes.
Note – Wikipedia says you have to order cheese specifically, since it doesn’t come automatically. I don’t remember if this is true… I’ve certainly never had a cheeseless pizza there. But do check to make sure. And if you want to sound like a local, call it mozz, which is pronounced “mutz” and sounds more like Yiddish than Italian. I don’t think anybody knows how that happened, but every other person seems to cite a Neapolitan Grandmother who condones it, so we don’t argue.
(See also their Wikipedia Article)
For… Cherry Vanilla, Pistachio, Banana and/or Reese’s Nightmare Ice Creams with Hot Fudge and Whipped Cream
I have no idea how young I was when dad first started taking me to Praline’s… so young I was foolish enough to think I didn’t like whipped cream, which is a shame because theirs is just so good. Founded by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Praline’s is smart enough to stick to normal flavors and do them really, really well. All of their handmade ice creams are as creamy as Häagen Dazs and as flavorful as Bassett’s, but my absolute favorite is their Black Cherry, which is made with huge chunks of fresh summer cherries swirled into vanilla with soaring almond overtones. Since they insist on only using the highest quality ingredients, that’s sadly only available in the summer, so my other favorite is certainly Reese’s Nightmare, since this chocolate-peanut butter ice cream with huge chunks of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, is the first flavor in my life I ever formed an allegiance to. Other favorites are Banana, which is the first sweet Francesca ever tasted, and Pistachio, which pairs perfectly with Black Cherry or Banana. Whatever you get, pair it with hot fudge and whipped cream and I promise you will be ruined for life.
Shady Glen | 840 Middle Turnpike, East Central Manchester, CT 06042, (860) 649-4245
For… Crispy Cheese, preferably on a burger
I have to admit it’s been years since I’ve been to Shady Glen, but since Road Food stopped by in the interim and it’s hardly changed since the beginning of time anyway, I’m pretty sure we’re safe. Located somewhere far off in the Connecticut hills, this old fashioned dairy bar does all the standards well, but pretty much everything they do is just a supporting act to their magical cheeseburgers. You’re not allowed to leave this place if you haven’t had a cheeseburger. I just won’t let you. The burger itself is succulent and juicy, just as a diner burger should be, but something quite majestic happens when four pieces of cheese are placed, corner to corner, on the sizzling patty, their wings spreading onto the grill and crisping up to make a crown of cheese heaven (see picture here). It’s enchanting. I’ve known vegans who admitted to having a weakness for Shady Glen burgers. You can also get their crispy cheese as a side dish, which you should do. Pair it up with a milkshake, or finish with a scoop of one of their dozens of famous ice creams for the ultimate indulgence.
Staropolska – 252 Broad Street, New Britain, CT, (860) 612-1711
For… Pierogis, Potato Pancake, Wienerschnitzel, Stuffed Cabbage, Mashed Potatoes
You know how mom and I obnoxiously brag a lot about what an amazing cook my Oma is? Well if she was Polish this is exactly what her food would taste like. I have rarely had anything so flavorful or comforting as the food at Staropolska. Whenever I see chefs over utilizing foams and liquid nitrogen, all I ever think is that no matter how hard they try, they’ll never come close to giving someone the same joy as really good peasant food. It’s not glamorous in the slightest, but if I had a million dollars I would spend it all on their crisp, soft, perfectly caramelized pierogis. The mashed potatoes were as good as homemade, the Wienerschnitzel was perfectly hot, crispy and succulent, and their potato pancakes are positively decadent. If you don’t have a grandmother from Eastern Europe, you have no idea what you’re missing. Food like this is meant to be shared, so be sure to go with at least one other person and get an order of Wienerschnitzel (crispy fried veal cutlet) and a Polish Platter, which comes with Kielbasa, Hunter’s Stew, Pierogis, a Potato Pancake and Stuffed Cabbage. And if you get pierogis, get the potato-cheese, meat or both. This restaurant is as real as they come, and unapologetically amazing.
*If you’re not from the area you, sadly, probably don’t know what that means. I may have made up the term “Great New Haven Pizza War,” but it’s very very real. New Haven pizza is not just a bout of local pride – it is without a doubt, undisputedly the best pizza in the world. We have our own Wikipedia page and everything! New Haven pizza is thin crusted and comes with lots of high quality tomato sauce and cheese. Brick ovens are all but assumed. While the worst New Haven pizza is still better than the best New York pizza, we have about a billion places for you to choose from when you visit and it doesn’t do anybody any good to go to the wrong one. So here’s how it boils down. The main pizza epicenter is Wooster Square, which is probably my favorite neighborhood in New Haven, and the main debate is between Pepe’s and Sally’s, the two originals. I have to admit that my allegiance to Pepe’s is such that I’ve actually never been to Sally’s. Which is bad, and will be rectified. But Pepe’s is, in fact, the best pizza in the entire world and one of the only foods I’m willing to wait in line for. They use the freshest mozzarella and perfectly ripe veggies, their crust is always crisp, and each slice is always perfectly melty and greasy and perfectly delectably unhealthily perfect. I’m so sad for you if you haven’t had it. So that’s the main debate, though some people try to put Modern on the list. But they shouldn’t because their ingredients are always stale. But there are, of course, some local secrets, which is why you’re so lucky to have me. I won’t go into it here, but if you’ve already done Pepe’s, read below and learn more. Because if there’s one thing you should do in New Haven, it’s eating. And if there’s one thing you should eat, there’s no question it’s Pizza. Lots and lots and lots of pizza.