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Sally's Apizza


Ellen Shapiro
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here's a quote from Fitzpatrick's that shows what can be done (breadbaking.)

" I can fire up the oven the night before and bake without a fire the next morning. If I super saturate the thermal mass of this oven with the heat of several fires Friday and Saturday, I can baked bread without any additional fire all day Sunday and bake the family dinner Monday evening (almost 48 hours later)."

I believe this, though I find it amazing. The oven he has built is huge, and looks both heavier and better insulated than any I have seen. Thanks, Nickn, for passing on this interesting website.

A production pizza oven needs (1) fiercer heat even than a bread oven, i.e. around 400 C; (2) an open door, so that you can constantly put new pizzas into the oven and remove the finsihed ones. This can happen very frequently i.e. once per minute.

You can bake acceptable pizza at lower temperatures -- this is what most of us do at home, after all -- but you can't keep the door closed in a restaurant setting. Hence the need to re-fire the oven during service.

Edited by JD (London) (log)

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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  • 2 months later...

Thanks for a very interesting discussion. Fatguy, I read your "best pizza in NY" and your "best hamburger of New York" articles. Both were out of this world. I would like to chime in on this discussion. Forgive me if I misunderstood some statements , my speed reading is not down pat as of yet.

1. Those homemade bakeovens websites are excellent. The ovens you can build using plans from various people such as allen scott are fantastic-------BREAD OVENS. These ovens have HUGE mass. They are intended to bake simpy with retained heat in it's thick masonry walls and floo. These ovens are capable of retaining so much heat that you can acutally cook bread on monday and a slow cooked pot roast on Wed. They are not meant for pizza, but are perfectly capable of doing so. (pizza ovens do not need such mass, b/c the fire is constintly going. I have built two of these beauts myself. Lot's of fun.

2. Italian pizzas and American pizzas are two different animals. The wood fired ovens of Italy are great for the small, sparsely topped creations of the Italian pizzaiolo, where dining is much, much more relaxed and laid back. The diners are in much less of a hurry.

Therefore the limited pizza space in a forno di legno is acceptable.

Pizza in the good old USA is a much larger, heavier beast. Americans, rightly or wrongly look for more toppings, more evenly spread about the pizza and sizes of up to 25". A wood oven simply can't handle enough of these monsters. The opening is ,in many cases , to narrow to handle a bunch of Yankee 'zas. Most average sized pizza joints in the usa have 4 deck ovens which can hold 16-24 large(18") pies. These get filled on a busy night of service. Most wood fired ovens, even the largest cannot handle this many pizzas. Don't forget, most pizzerias do at least 40% takeout so even if the place is packed, the ovens are cranking out even more pizzas than the dining room can fit! Pizza in Italy is strictly eaten at the pizzeria. Pizza eaten at home is generally BAKED at home.

I agree with FG on this. A gas fired DECK oven is the all around best for American style pizza.

While the pizzerias on wooster street in new haven use coal (a lot of pizza

places are converted bakeries, and most bakeries used coal at the turn of the century), a rival New Haven landmark uses an OIL fired oven!!

Diffferent fuel sources but all use the same principle as the deck oven.

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I'm loving this discussion, because a fantasy high on my list is a wood fired oven. Probably more impractical as a toy than a '65 GTO (which I once had).

The only thing I can add is that many wood cooking fires in Tuscany are built from olive wood, using dried grapevine cuttings as kindling.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert, I worked at a couple of restaurants that had wood-fired ovens. Mercifully, both stints were brief. Getting the fire going was a pain. Keeping it fed was a pain. Maintaining a proper temperature was a pain. Cleaning it out at the end of the night was a pain. The only good thing was how the food tasted: incomparably, subtly smoky and delicately flavored! So I guess it was it was worth all the pain.

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Nickn: Why? This isn't barbecue we're talking about here. My understanding is that the fuel source isn't supposed to impart an actual flavor to pizza, and given the baking times in these ovens I'm not sure a flavor transfer would occur anyway.

I tried to follow this conversation, but kept getting confused. My question is: if the heat source is not in the oven, who cares whether it's coal, wood or gas? (If you all agreed that the heat source should be in the oven, never mind.)

Oh, and that CT pizza looks burnt to me.

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I used to have a big opinion about pizza being better from a brick/coal/wood oven...then I discovered DiFara's. He has plain ol' pizza ovens.

Sally's pizza is just beyond words wonderful. So is Pepe's. So is Modern. So is the Spot. Serious pizza people have got to eat in New Haven.

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I echo Ellen's query, soon after I read the JoeBurger posting. Previous to this, I've heard of an oil fired pizza oven once ever. It's the oil fired brick oven at the famed Tacconelli's Pizza in Philadelphia. I've been wondering about this type of oven ever since(couldn't figure out a way to post this question at eGullet before). Since JoeBurger piqued my curiosity. What is the name of the New Haven pizzeria landmark with the oil fired oven?

-------------

Steve

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On the subject of Peppe's vs. Sally, if a vote was taken by those that have tried both, I am willing to bet that the outcome will be closer than the Florida presidential election. I preferred Peppe's and my wife Sally's and we've had half a dozen at each (not at once). Go figure, but I won't go as far as saying that Sally is from Venus and Peppe from Mars.

I kept wondering what made these New Haven pizzas absolutely amazing? Although the truth may be in the secret recipes, I have a tendency to believe it's the pie itself that stands out; as if there is a bit of "pate feuillete" pastry in it.

I have looked at residential wood burning ovens. Here are two places that sell them at reasonable prices, but I do agree that it takes about 1 hour for them to reach full heat status. Cleaning ain't so bad: a damp cloth does the trick with a shhhh... sound, but it's worth it. Earthstone and Renato. Also, there is this list of Brick Oven Builders & Suppliers.

New Haven pizza rocks.

"I hate people who are not serious about their meals." Oscar Wilde

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It's a difficult vote for a few reasons. You'd have to control for a lot of variables to get it right. First, Pepe's is just a more pleasant place to dine, unless you specifically like the rough-and-tumble style of Sally's. Second, Pepe's has the incomparable clam pie -- Sally's just does not compete on that basis. Third, you need to knock out all the people who wouldn't be able to articulate a reason. Once you get into the actual knowledgeable people and put aside the clam pie and the externalities, however, it is extremely difficult for me to think you'd get anything better than a small minority voting for Pepe's. My advice is to go to Pepe's if it's lunchtime (Sally's is dinner only) or if you want a clam pie (the Spot too -- I consider it synonymous with Pepe's). Otherwise go to Sally's. I know a lot of serious pizza eaters who live in New Haven and this seems to be the consensus.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Since Fat-Guy is getting technical on this, I agree 100% with his commentary. The clam pie at Peppe's is definitely unique, although when we had it the 2nd time, it wasn't the same. The first time. the owner was there and he told us it was fresh from that day. The second time, he wasn't there and we noticed a let-down in everything, including the famous clam pie.

As for Sally's, it's a smaller place with a bit more authenticity in its nostalgic setting. We were amused hearing pizza afficionado's order their pizzas well done, or extra oil, etc... I still crave the taste of both in my mind and have thought that if I had only one evening in New Haven, I would eat 1 pizza at Peppe's and a 2nd one at Sally's right after.

Finally, a bit more detail to the scene. Both places are full of b&w pictures paraphenellia on the walls; I noticed Peppe's had pictures of Clinton and Democrats; and for some reason I recall Sally's was more Republican. I may be speculating but I had a sense the political inclination is another difference to these 2 places, although it is unrelated to the pizza...

"I hate people who are not serious about their meals." Oscar Wilde

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I didn't realize that Toc's of Phily was oil fired! Thanks for the info.

I have heard on several occasions that Modern of New Haven has at least one oil fired oven. He works with at least 2. I am not sure if they are both oil fired.

Any word on M. Battali's new pizzeria concept?? He would certainly use a wood burning oven to recreate the unique flavors of and Italian pizzeria.

Thank you all once again.

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Flecks of coal dust are on the bottom of the crust at Pepe's. With the coal burning in the oven, right along side of the pizza, how could some of the flavor of the coal not be imparted to the pizza? Pepe's also has a different oven than Sally's. I believe that Pepe's has what is known as a "bread oven" based only on its appearance. Two or three years ago I was at Totonno's in Coney Island and was surprised that their coal oven looked nothing at all like Pepe's. I mentioned this to them and they said that their oven was built specifically to bake pizza. They didn't know about Pepe's oven but there was a bakery down the street from them that had what they described as a coal fired bread oven. I walked down the street and the oven they had described looked EXACTLY like the oven at Pepe's even down to the 10 foot long paddle. Several months later I was in South Philadelphia near 9th and Passyunk a block or two from Pat's. Walking down the street was a bread bakery that had an oven identical to the one in Coney Island, identical in appearance to Pepe's. Like Coney Island only bread came out of it.

I don't know what this means but I've eaten pizzas from Pepe's and Sally's one hour apart and ended up flipping a coin for the one I liked best. Both of their crusts are superb but I personally think that Pepe's, at its absolute best, has crust that cannot be improved on. I prefer the atmosphere of Sally's especially little gestures such as spreading the tomatoes with the palm of his hand, picking out tough sections and throwing them away. I truly believe Sally's uses more oil than Pepe's MUCH MORE oil.

I have also eaten pizza throughout Italy. At Il Pizzaiola in Florence two weeks ago I took photos of their wood fired oven and talked to the owner. He said that he has never heard of a coal oven in Italy. I have never seen one. His pizza was superb.

Still, for me, Wooster Street has the two, perhaps three best pizzas on earth. I'm inclined to believe that one of them is baked in a "bread oven," whatever that means. I also know that I've eaten coal oven pizza at eight or nine places including Regina in the north end and Tacconelli's in Philly along with the three or four in New York. Still, I prefer New Haven. (I think there are also two in north Jersey.) Interestingly Santarpio's in Boston has a German oven (yes, a German gas oven) that looks very similar to the same revolving platform gas oven that the original Giordano's uses in Chicago. Still, when you walk in the door of Santarpio's, to the right where the charcoal pit is, there is a brick wall with a square door. It looks exactly like the photo of Sally's coal fired oven shown on page one. They told me that Santarpio's used to have a coal oven once but now only the door remains. As good as Santarpio's pizza is today I wonder what it might have tasted like thirty years ago when their coal oven still operated?

I also am inclined to believe that water influences the crust-I know that the sub rolls from the Atlantic City bakery and Rando's bakery in Atlantic City which are used by the White House, when they are hot from the oven, are incredible. I've watched a 70 year old man bake the rolls at AC-I swear his sweat gets in the dough! But the rolls are incredible, in fact, among the best rolls/bread of their kind in America. And this is a gas fired oven.

To come full circle the pizza dough rests on a surface in the ovens on Wooster Street, each of which is at least 70 years old. There must be some "flavor" in this surface this is imparted to the pizza. Perhaps in a principle similar to a cast iron skillet that has decades of "seasoning" the same must be true with these ovens. Part of that flavor is found in the flecks of coal on the bottom and the sides of the pie.

Somehow all of this comes together in New Haven: the coal oven, the water and its influence of the dough, even the "seasoning" of these ovens which all go back at least 70 years, along with picking out hard ends of tomatoes as well as each's unique ambience and personality.

I don't think anyone, anywhere else can duplicate this. In fact even though pizza may have originated in Italy the best today is still the same place its been since the '20's: Wooster street in New Haven.

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Flecks of coal dust are on the bottom of the crust at Pepe's.  With the coal burning in the oven, right along side of the pizza, how could some of the flavor of the coal not be imparted to the pizza?

My understanding is that the coal is in a separate compartment from the baking cavity, and that any flecks on the pizza are likely to be charred cornmeal and flour rather than coal dust. I do not believe flecks of coal dust would be desirable. I'm willing to learn and be corrected, because I'm far less expert regarding Pepe's than I am regarding Sally's, but I'm relatively sure on this one.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The coal IS seperate from the pizza compartment.

If the coal were in the same compartment as the pizza, it would probably be inedible. This coal is NOT charcoal. This coal is a petroleum product, greasy and dirty, this is why they are illegal now. Charcoal is a wood product, also not the cleanest fuel in the world, but not a greasy fossil fuel.

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The coal burns IN the oven about two feet to the left of where the pies bake. It is the same surface that they rest on. I confirmed this by just calling Pepe's, 203-865-5762. The flecks of black on the crust are probably grains of semolina flour. I was wrong in my statement that the flecks included bits of coal dust but I am certain that there is some kind of "influence" on the flavor from the presence of the coal on the same baking surface.

I do not know if this is true for Sally's. At Pepe's I focused several years ago on the burning coal while standing at the register because I thought it was so unusual. At Sally's what has stood out is the spreading of tomatoes and the large amount of olive oil that was squirted on the pies.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Joe, you are correct that the anthracite coal burns in the oven cavity. It sits to the front right of the oven and the pies are baked at the back left. In watching pies being baked at Pepe's today I estimate 4 feet from the coal to the pies (this is an informal measure I took with the camera lens's focus ring and could be +/- a foot).

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Thanks, Ellen. When you think about it having coal burn in the oven, near the pizza, is consistent with wood burning in the oven similarly close. Still, Pepe's is the only coal oven pizzaria where I have actually focused on this. I'm fortunate to have been in a number of these (I've gone out of my way to try to find as many as I can actually) but Pepe's oven is different from the other "pizza" ovens.

Interestingly your really excellent photos of Pepe's oven shows the inscription "Middleby, Boston, Massachusetts." Damned if Middleby doesn't still make pizza ovens!!!! But not coal ovens. http://www.middleby.com/pdf/mm/4103.pdf is the website for what now is known as "Middleby Marshall" who claim that they have been around for 100 years. In an age of hyperbole I'm surprised that they don't claim Pepe's as a credit!

Thanks for the wonderful photos.

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A restaurant in the Wicker Park section of Chicago serves pizza that seems inspired by Sally's Apizza. The place is called "Piece," and its menu says that its recipe, "(I)s inspired by New Haven-style pizza." Though Piece did not mention Sally's by name, thanks to Fat Guy, I caught the reference. :biggrin:

Piece served us the pie on wax paper with a blistered crust, and frankly, it was the finest I've ever tried here in Chicago (admittedly a deep-dish kind o' town.) All the ingredients screamed, "Fresh!" and the crust was cracker-crisp.

Has anyone else tried it?

There are two sides to every story and one side to a Möbius band.

borschtbelt.blogspot.com

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Chances are better than 50-50 that if someone says "New Haven pizza" that person means Pepe's, not Sally's. Pepe's is the larger, older, and more popular of the two places. (Though not, in my opinion, the better of the two.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I stopped at Sally's for dinner last night on the way back from Vermont and all I can say is the pizza is in an entirely different class from anything that I have had in NYC. It is incredible and frankly easily alone worth a trip from Manhattan. It is one of the very few times I have been jealous of another city's restuarants. Why oh why can't NYC have something like this. I am still fantasizing about last night's dinner.

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  • 3 months later...

See for my list of best pizza places in the U.S.

http://www.common-threads.com/jv/pizza.htm

I went to school in New Haven and had a lot of Sally's. It's third on my list. #1 is right in Manhattan, but since it's in Harlem, few know about it and it never shows up on any lists. TRY IT. It's amazing. Totally amazing. I have taken MANY people to Sally's and Patsy's and ALL agree Patsy's is MUCh better. I like Sally's, but it's not Patsy's....

My take on the oven: I have been making pizza fanatically for years so I have worked through this oven problem personally. The oven has to generate more heat at the top of the pie than at the bottom. The bottom is dry and in direct contact with the stones so it cooks faster than the top which is wet and doesn't touch rock. So the blast of heat from the top is the key to even baking. So "retained heat" oven's work for bread but not pizza. By having the coal or wood off to one side the heat rises and makes the top hotter than the bottom by a LOT even though they are just inches from each other. I'm guessing 800 Floor / 950 ceiling is best. Also, the coal or wood pile radiates down on the pie. By spinning the pie you can cook the top of the crust from that heat. Most of the best places in the US use coal, in Italy they use wood. I can't say much about the wood cause frankly I've never personally had a good wood pie. As far as the door goes, all the places I can think of have a door on the oven to keep the heat in. When I walk in a pizza place and see a brick oven with no door, I get nervous because I think they have it for show, not for heat. It is possible to heat a doorless oven properly, but It's hard and thus rare. In Italy they pull this off, but they know what they are doing...

The other real key is the yeast. I know this is an oven conversation, but the yeast is the other big thing. I use 2 yeast cultures from my top places. You cannot get close to these pizza's with yeast you bought in a little packet from the supermarket. I promise, it can't be done...

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#1 is right in Manhattan, but since it's in Harlem, few know about it and it never shows up on any lists.

Who doesn't know about Patsy's, and what lists isn't it on? Certainly, any basically food-literate New Yorker is aware of the place, and it's covered in all the restaurant guidebooks and databases. I agree that overall it's the best in New York, but I can't imagine why anybody would prefer it to the superior product being served at the New Haven places. Patsy's just doesn't have the flavor.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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1) Sally's (the crust, the bianca, the balance, the experience)

2) Pepe's (clam bianca, the sauce)

3) Modern (striving to be Sally's - not quite there

4) The Spot (striving to be Pepe's - definately not there

Below that in the ranking you might get places outside of New Haven (Gina Marie in Middletown was pretty good before it burned down).

A friend worked at Sally's for awhile. I heard some great stories -- sounds like a brilliant experience.

Red Star frozen yeast.

fanatic...

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