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Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana Photos


Ellen Shapiro
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I recently posted some photos of the pizza-making process in action at Sally's Apizza, in New Haven, CT. Today I stopped by Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in order to provide equal time (actually, Steven/Fat Guy is working on a newspaper story and I was shooting the family but took advantage of the opportunity to grab a technical snapshot sequence for the eGullet crowd).

Here's how it works at Pepe's:

Coals get added to the oven prior to and throughout service (the oven never goes out but burns cooler overnight and on Tuesdays when the restaurant closes).

pepes1.jpg

When service begins, as Gary Bimonte, the grandson of Frank Pepe, explained it to Steven, they have a four-step production process for making pizza:

Here you can see, on the right, the (1) "pizza man." This is the person who forms the dough into the round pizza shape. On the left is the (2) "decorator," who adds whatever sauce, cheese, and toppings need to be added.

pepes2.jpg

When the pies are ready to go into the oven . . .

pepes3.jpg

. . . they fall under the authority of the (3) "oven man," in this case Gary Bimonte.

pepes4.jpg

Once they are removed from the oven . . .

pepes5.jpg

. . . the (4) "coordinator" directs them to tables or into takeout boxes.

pepes6.jpg

When the stations are double- and triple-staffed, this process allows the restaurant to create as much as a pie per minute at peak times.

This is the famous Frank Pepe white clam pie, made with freshly shucked top neck clams.

pepes7.jpg

And here is Gary Bimonte.

pepes8.jpg

Okay, bye.

Edited by Ellen Shapiro (log)

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Steve W: The oven is huge. It's like the size of a commercial bread bakery oven, not a pizza oven. I bet they could theoretically fit 50 pizzas in there. But there would be no way for the oven man to manipulate them properly. So even at full tilt there are never going to be more than about 10 pies in there at a time, because just putting them in, shifting them around, and extracting them when they're done keeps the limit fairly low. Gary Bimonte said they can push a theoretical 60 pies an hour limit when everything is humming along and the place is fully staffed and seated -- like on a Sunday afternoon when they often have 150 people waiting on line before they open the doors (and take-out orders getting phoned in on top of that, which sometimes get rolled over to the Spot, which is the other pizzeria next-door owned by the family). Figuring on maybe 8-10 minutes for each pie, well, that works out to a maximum of 9-10 at a time in the oven under extreme conditions. When I was there yesterday -- right at opening time on a Wednesday -- they had maybe 5-6 in there at a time. Over at Sally's, where the oven cavity is probably a third the size of the one at Pepe's, I've seen them do 8 at once, so I assume they can also do 9-10 if they have to (though it's a much smaller restaurant). As I understand it, the full capacity of the Pepe's oven never gets used for pizza, but back in the day, when the Italian community in New Haven's Little Italy (Wooster Street) was more tightly knit and vibrant, the housewives of the community would use the oven for their own cooking during the off-hours and on holidays. Gary told me of memories from his childhood (this would be the 1960s, I guess, because he's in his mid-40s) where, on Thanksgiving, there would be dozens of turkeys roasting in the oven.

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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Steve W: The oven is huge. It's like the size of a commercial bread bakery oven, not a pizza oven. I bet they could theoretically fit 50 pizzas in there. But there would be no way for the oven man to manipulate them properly. So even at full tilt there are never going to be more than about 10 pies in there at a time, because just putting them in, shifting them around, and extracting them when they're done keeps the limit fairly low. Gary Bimonte said they can push a theoretical 60 pies an hour limit when everything is humming along and the place is fully staffed and seated -- like on a Sunday afternoon when they often have 150 people waiting on line before they open the doors (and take-out orders getting phoned in on top of that, which sometimes get rolled over to the Spot, which is the other pizzeria next-door owned by the family). Figuring on maybe 8-10 minutes for each pie, well, that works out to a maximum of 9-10 at a time in the oven under extreme conditions. When I was there yesterday -- right at opening time on a Wednesday -- they had maybe 5-6 in there at a time. Over at Sally's, where the oven cavity is probably a third the size of the one at Pepe's, I've seen them do 8 at once, so I assume they can also do 9-10 if they have to (though it's a much smaller restaurant). As I understand it, the full capacity of the Pepe's oven never gets used for pizza, but back in the day, when the Italian community in New Haven's Little Italy (Wooster Street) was more tightly knit and vibrant, the housewives of the community would use the oven for their own cooking during the off-hours and on holidays. Gary told me of memories from his childhood (this would be the 1960s, I guess, because he's in his mid-40s) where, on Thanksgiving, there would be dozens of turkeys roasting in the oven.

The Lombardi's oven would be similiar to Pepe's(the original Lombardi's oven, is now at the current Lombardi's location, if I got my facts straight)? In that the Lombardi's coal-fired brick oven, was originally made to be a bread oven.

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

Steve

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  • 4 months later...

Disappointing Sunday night at Pepe's. After waiting 45 minutes, no clam pizzas. Also, no white pizzas with sliced tomatoes.

Pizza itself was just okay, nothing amazing. Bottom of the pie seemed to be missing the cornmeal which when burnt, adds a tremendous amount of flavor to the pie. Maybe they didn't have the ovens as hot as usual because while the crust was nice and crispy and dark, the top of the pizza was too well done. The best pies are those that have a nice well done crust and the top is still soft and bubbly. We actually had a few burnt pieces of pepperoni on one of our pies.

Being disappointed, we decided to hold the ultimate pizza challenge and order a pie from Sally's to go. I ran down the street to order and was told that the wait for a to-go pie would be about 1 1/2 hours. We went to Libby's for some italian ices and gelato instead.

While eating gelato outside, a number of Pepe's diners were discussing how they thought the pizza tonight was below par. One family that comes down from Massachusetts every other month said that they have had a number of disappointing pies at Pepe's and have been more pleased with the Modern Pizzaria on State Street in New Haven. We were thinking about ordering a pie from The MOdern but was old that they are closed for two weeks for vacation. :sad:

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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