I have heard quite enough about New Haven apizza. I have traveled far and wide in this country only to see endless imitations of New York-style pies. Chicago-style deep-dishes.
I set out into a scorching summer afternoon with the intention of finding some real Stratford-style pie. I wanted to prove that pizza in this town is second to none.
My travels first brought me to Lisa’ s Take-out Restaurant & Catering at 2338 Broadbridge Ave. As luck would have it, my hunt for a true taste of Stratford-style pizza proved fruitful. I ordered a small pie, mozzarella and meatball.
This cheeser had moxie.
The crust was thin and forgiving. Immediately I noticed that it passed the “fold test." The crust, somewhat pastry-like in consistency, gently flaked when I bent it in half and brought it to my mouth. But most important to this pizza was it rimless quality, boldly defying the New Haven-style pizza staple in which a raised edge typically goes all the way around the pie. Its absence means, to owner Lisa Gargano of North Haven, “more cheese, more sauce, more flavor.”
I was immediately sold on the rimless nature, and also tantalized by the thinly sliced homemade meatballs prepared by manager John Hurylovich. A native of Brooklyn, Hurylovich also makes a plethora of homemade delicacies - including the sauce. Lisa’s combines old school Italian recipes with a flair of originality.
I could have stayed and sampled the extensive assortment of available items on Lisa’s menu - which included some radical-looking subs - but I would have never been able to get to my next destination, Bella Napoli.
Bella Napoli brought me back to reality. Not every pie in Stratford seeks to venture into untested waters. This place relies on its unique history, which is 60 years deep. Bella Napoli, owned by the Zeko family, has been perfecting its thick, Neapolitan-style pizza recipes for ages. Located at 1112 Barnum Ave., the elaborately decorated pizza differed drastically to Lisa’s low-profile pie. The sausage and pepper slice felt a lot more like biting into a submarine sandwich. A hearty, chewy crust juxtaposed magically with the pizza’s gooey nature to create a real resource of crude cheese and oil.
I also found this place very difficult to leave, and it had nothing to do with the air conditioning or well-lit atmosphere. (Bella Napoli offers plenty of seating). But as I was eating my slice, I noticed through the window, a sign.
I devoured the rest of my slice and walked across the busy intersection to Star Pizza, owned by Turkish native Sami Aydin. Though the building is small in size, the comfortable little nook unfolds into a menu that resembles something more of a Greek diner than a small pizza shop. Chances are if you crave it, you can find it on their menu, which spans everything from tuna wraps and fish and chips to lasagna and ziti dishes.
But it was the pizza I wanted.
The first thing I noticed about this radiantly glowing orange slice was the presence of a sharply defined “rim,” a coastline of crusty cheese giving way to a tender sea of oil and mozzarella. But it was a calm sea. It was the type of pizza that behaved when I bit into it. After taking a bite, you can see the definition of your teeth marks embedded in its flesh. Consistent to its sister slices from Lisa’s and Bella Napoli, the crust was not charred and overcooked but tender and somewhat flaky. It was flexible. It was, I thought, another nice variation in regards to New Haven’s crust which, while tasty, can resemble volcanic rock.
The most unique place of the day, and my last pizza stop, took me to Jerry’s Shakespeare Pizza of Stratford Avenue, just off of Main Street. Realizing I had not yet consumed a single slice of bacon, my eyes lit up when it was suggested that this topping was available in slice form.
Never have I seen such a mountain of meat. The pile - and I kid you not, it was a true pile of pig - sat before me like a throne. And most impressively was the way in which the pizza held up the weight of its load. The cheese avoided a rim, rolling straight onto the crust and forming a solid connection that did not break as I ate.
Jerry’s was alright with me, and the service, like every other place I had walked into, was phenomenal. For the youngsters, Jerry’s also offers a claw-operated Gift Box and a racing arcade game to keep them occupied while you eat, and ample seating is also available.
After a long and greasy afternoon, I came to the realization that part of the allure of Stratford - what makes it a pizza lovers’ haven - is the variety of options available. True “Stratford-style” pizza defies the notion of conformity. There is no one correct way to eat this glorious food, and there is no exact label to box it in. It all comes down to options - and the honest, hardworking folks who consistently turn out some of the best, and most original pizza I have come across to date.