Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great Pizza, Doughnuts, and a Farmstand in Southern Connecticut

Thoroughly Modern Pizza
    This is one of my few posts that isn’t derived from a trip outside the United States, but the food aspect of it fits right into what I’ve posted about over the past few years, so I thought I’d mention that aspect of my recent overnight trip to Southern Connecticut, where I grew up.  While I moved away from that area around 40 years ago, I still have family there, and on a recent family visit I made some surprising food finds.  I hadn’t planned to write anything about the trip, and hadn’t brought my camera, so the pictures I’ve posted here have mostly come from the web sites of the places I visited.

    First up was Modern Apizza in New Haven, Connecticut, which has been around since 1934.  A lot of Italians settled in the New Haven area, and having grown up nearby, I was familiar with the well-known pizza establishments that have been mainstays of the New Haven scene for years, particularly Sal Pepe’s Pizza and Sally’s, both on Wooster Street in downtown New Haven.  However, having been twice disappointed on my most recent forays to one of these establishments, I decided to do some research before the trip, and came across glowing reviews for Modern Apizza, which was #1 ranked on Tripadvisor.com among all restaurants in New Haven.  So on Saturday night, after picking up my father, who lives in Wallingford, we all went into New Haven to Modern.  The parking lot was mobbed, and there was a line outside the restaurant.  But the parking attendant, who, like all the staff I came into contact with that night, was incredibly friendly and helpful, directed us to the one empty spot.

    While my wife waited in the car with my father, who is in a wheelchair, I went in to leave my name.  The place was mobbed, but I could see that the line moved fairly quickly, and it was a pleasant evening to wait out on the street.  After about a 20 minute wait (I was later told that was very short for a Saturday night), we were seated.  The staff helped me get my father out of his wheelchair and into a seat, and when I had trouble folding up the chair, one of them said he’d just put it off to the side to save me the trouble.
    The helpfulness and friendliness of the staff at Modern continued throughout the meal, with our server explaining about the local beers they had on tap, and recommending the Caesar salad, which was excellent.  We had a pepperoni pizza and one with eggplant, and they were outstanding.  And while I’m far more of a wine drinker than a beer drinker, I thought the beer from Elm City Brewing was superb. I can see why Modern is so highly rated, and why it’s always busy.  I’ll definitely be back.
Ready for the oven
    That evening we stayed at a hotel in Wallingford, north of New Haven.  A major part of Wallingford used to be farmland, but development has taken over large swatches of former farmland.  Besides the hotel we stayed in there are several others right nearby, all built on what probably used to be farmland.  There is still some farming in town, and in fact you can see corn fields from the hotel.  The next morning on our way out of town we discovered Farmer Joe’s Gardens and Farmstand and stopped there on to stock up on wonderful corn, peaches, plums, and other produce grown right beside the stand and at another field nearby.  We had the corn that night with dinner after we got home, and it was superb.

    Sunday morning we had another food find that was as pleasantly surprising as Modern Apizza; Neil’s Donuts in Wallingford.  I had stumbled across it on the Internet the day before when looking for a place to get something for breakfast on Sunday morning, and there were glowing reviews.  As with Modern, the reviews were spot-on, and the place was just as crowded.  I should have known as much, since when I stopped for gas nearby and I asked where Neil’s was, the person at the gas station pointed me in the right direction and, when I asked if it was good, her face lit up ands she said “The best; they make them by hand, not by machine like at [well-known donut chain].”  I got apple cider doughnuts, a glazed cruller, and a glazed chocolate, and all were excellent. Not greasy, and not too heavy (for a donut, that is).

[Neil's Photos from Roadfood.com]
    So, if you find yourself in New Haven craving pizza, go to Modern Apizza, but be prepared to wait.  And if you need a doughnut fix when in the area (but probably not after eating at Modern), stop at Neil’s.  You won’t be disappointed in either one.


  1. So nice to see a post from you, Bob. Who knows when I'll be in New Haven next, but I'll definitely put these two places on my Travel Restaurants list. The write up on Modern Apizza made me long for what I now call "East Coast Pizza." California has amazing cuisine of all varieties, as you know, but finding the kind of pizza that is ubiquitous in the Northeast is nigh to impossible. If you want figs and goat cheese on your pizza, California is the place to go, but if you want a classic slice that leaves a little pool of cheese grease on the plate and folds up nicely as you pick it up, you need to be somewhere between Malden and NYC.

    1. Mary, you hit the nail on the head. I make pizza pretty much every other week, grilled in the summer and in the oven during the winter. It's fantastic, but it's more like California pizza. For the grease, you need to get pizza from, as you say, between Malden and NYC. Like Reginas in Boston, or Modern Apizza. And when you get pepperoni, you get double grease; from the cheese and from the pepperoni. So when will you be in Maine? Lobster is so cheap this Summer that you think they're giving it away. There's a guy down the street who sells fresh caught lobster from a tank at a gas station Friday-Sunday, and I've been buying it every weekend. Lobster with corn and tomato salsa, and lobster and corn fritters have been our mainstay.