Just a short ride from New Haven pizza legends Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern, West Haven, CT has its own iconic spot: Zuppardi’s Apizza. For about eight decades, they’ve been serving up New Haven-style pizzas in an unassuming space in a residential neighborhood by the beach.
Master bread-baker Dominic Zuppardi originally opened a place called Salerno’s Bakery in New Haven in 1932, moving it to Union Avenue in West Haven in ’34. By the 1940s, Dominic’s son Anthony took over and started making pizzas. He changed the name to Zuppardi’s Apizza in ’47, and the rest is West Haven history. Anthony’s kids and grandkids run the place today, still at the same Union Avenue location.
The first Zuppardi pizzas were plain pies, just tomato sauce and pecorino—like the Original Tomato Pie over at Frank Pepe’s on Wooster St. with its crushed tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, and grated cheese. Zuppardi soon started to add his homemade Italian fennel sausage to the pizzas. It was a real success then, and remains so today.
Unlike some of its New Haven counterparts, Zuppardi’s doesn’t use a coal-fired oven, but rather a gas one. The dough is a little thicker than at the other places, and chewier, too, but it still delivers a crisped crust and the characteristic slight char of New Haven pizza. In fact, the dough has a lot of the characteristics of a great artisan Italian bread. And the toppings are all high quality.
Today’s menu remains true to its history. The Traditional Plain Pie is just that—tomato sauce and pecorino, with garlic upon request. (Note that in New Haven, and in West Haven, you specifically ask for mozzarella when you want it.) The Special Pizza is another Anthony original: red sauce, mozzarella, mushroom, and that homemade fennel sausage.
They also do a clam pie, a New Haven classic. As you can see above, it’s a thing of beauty. They use shucked-to-order littleneck clams along with garlic and spices, flecked with crushed red pepper, and served with lemon wedges. Many regard Zuppardi’s clam pizza as the best one in the area—myself included. Although it can be pricey (depends on the market price for the fresh clams), it’s delicious, and it’s best eaten right away. This is not the right choice if you’re looking for leftovers: the clams get hard and rubbery and the crust gets soggy. But straight out of the oven, it’s briny, garlicky bliss.
Another stand-out specialty is the beans and escarole pizza: a white pizza with cannellini beans, sautéed escarole, mozzarella, fresh garlic, and olive oil. Consider throwing in some of the fennel sausage, too. Zuppardi’s has all the usual toppings, too, of course, and a few questionable specialties, like Buffalo style chicken. They also have some other menu items, like salads and appetizers, which isn’t the case with all the big name places in New Haven. They serve beer and wine as well as the great Foxon Park sodas, another local treat. If you’ve never had their white birch, try it.
If you’re exploring New Haven pizza, which you absolutely should do, take the short trip out to West Haven and sample the Zuppardi’s take on this regional specialty.
179 Union Avenue, West Haven, CT