Our final stop on the Sunday leg of the 2012 Roadfood Eating Tour of Connecticut was the most storied pizza shop of West Haven, Zuppardi's Apizza (read the Roadfood.com review). This is the place where they shuck the clams to order for every white clam pie, as opposed to Frank Pepe's in New Haven, whose clams are fresh daily but not shucked to order. This is also the place that prides itself on their homemade sausage, which is as good as we've had anywhere in the country. After lobster rolls, fried clams, and scallops at the previous tour stop, Lenny & Joe's, our group was certainly ready for a custom spread of Zupp's famous pies.
And Zupp's was ready for us! Co-owner Lori Zuppardi Sweeney had already set up the back dining room for our group, and the pies were in the oven. She and her cousin gave us an oral history of the place, starting in 1934 when her grandfather opened the restaurant:
Every recipe, including the one for the homemade sausage, was passed down from generation to generation. Zuppardi's grinds approximately 250 pounds of sausage per week for their pies, some of which are frozen and sold to local businesses. The sausage pie (top photo of post) is incredible, but the simple addition of hot cherry peppers raises it to a more divine level:
A plain cheese pie for those who don't indulge in meats:
And the shucked-to-order white clam pie in all its briny and garlicky glory:
Lori's sister, co-owner Cheryl Pearce, was also on hand to hand out free T-shirts and refrigerator magnets. Michael Stern signed a copy of the latest edition of Roadfood, while Lori's teenaged daughter represented the next generation of pizzamakers:
After stuffing ourselves with pizza, we staggered back to the buffet for dessert from Ashley's Ice Cream (read the Roadfood.com overview) of New Haven. Their Coffee Oreo flavor was particularly wonderful as always, and the hot fudge was heavenly:
This was a phenomenal way to end the 2012 Roadfood Eating Tour, and Michael had already inquired about where folks wanted to travel for the 2013 Roadfood Tour: Charleston, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Kansas City, to name a few.
Bruce: Lori and her family were wonderful hosts, continuing the theme of the entire Connecticut tour.
The pizza here is spectacularly good, and the white clam is the best of the bunch. The question that always comes up when talking about Zuppardi's white clam is this: does it beat Pepe's? The fact that the subject can even be discussed is, in our view, testament to the quality of a Zuppardi's white clam pie. It's the only other clam pie, in our experience, that is in Pepe's league. So, c'mon, which is better?
We try not to pit one restaurant against another when they are both gracious enough to host us for a Roadfood tour. Nonetheless, Pepe's and Zuppardi's are both so good that to express a preference for one in no way diminishes the other. And we give the nod to Pepe's raunch over Zuppardi's elegance. Pepe's clam pie is rough-hewn, oily, in-your-face with brininess and garlic punch. Zuppardi's pie is a little more restrained and refined.
We can fully understand an expressed preference for Zuppardi's over Pepe's, but it should also be noted that while a large Pepe's white clam pie currently runs an eye-opening $26.25, a large Zuppardi's clam is an eye-popping $38.25. They're both worth the dough, and both worth trying.
A word about Ashley's. Stephen Rushmore (Roadfood.com czar) has been preaching about the importance of homemade (as opposed to commercial) hot fudge for years. We've always been quite happy with the commercial stuff over the years and never quite understood his crusade for better hot fudge. Now we understand. If you like hot fudge you've got to try Ashley's version!
Chris: I agree with your apizza assessment, because both places are incredibly good. For pizza purists, it really doesn’t get better than this: New Haven is the epicenter of truly great pizza in the country. I refuse to pick a winner here, because it depends on which pie is being considered. Taste-wise, Zuppardi’s white clam pie has the edge over Pepe’s, simply due to the freshness of the just-shucked clams—and you can taste the difference immediately. But with that price tag, I consider it a special-occasion pie only. Every single time we visit a Pepe’s location, we order the white clam pie, which is phenomenal in its own right—and was our introduction to white clam pies. At Zuppardi’s, we can’t do that.
However, red pies are a mixed bag. I’d choose Pepe’s original tomato pie over any at Zuppardi’s, yet Zuppardi’s easily wins in the sausage category. Living in Boston doesn’t allow us to visit East Haven nearly as often as we would like, of course, but we do get down to Manchester every so often and always hit up the Pepe’s there (and it’s just as good as the original on Wooster Street, no matter what anyone tells you).
I’m glad you’ve come over to the homemade hot fudge side! That really does make a difference, especially when you taste the real and the fake, side by side.