There hasn't been much going on on the culinary front in the past week or so. We are getting ready for a big move out of a house that we've lived in for 10 years; despite finding a plethora of exciting recipes and new, unused cookbooks sitting on the shelf, the drive to bake is temporary stunted. Moving is stressful as most know and more so in special situations as such; My parents were recently divorced (recent as in this past Wednesday) and we are moving out of our beautiful home and relocating to a new house February 6th. This is only 6 days before I will make another epic move to the Culinary Institute of America. The excitement and sadness is confusing; at times I'm giddy with thoughts of baking away in the kitchens of the CIA for 6 hours a day and others I am trying to process how to deal with leaving behind our home nestled in the quiet, two acre forest in the heart of upper-middle class suburbia. Quite picturesque, eh?
Although there may not be much heating up in my kitchen; I have been eating. In the midst of happiness and sadness, we eat and we eat good. I live in Fairfield County, the suburbs of Connecticut, about a 40 minutes from New Haven and 60 minutes from my former residence, New York City. And in the words of Alton Brown, these cities offer up some seriously "good eats". I claim to be no gourmet but rather a serious gourmand. I love food; good seriously tasty, flavorful food. I do not discriminate; the big guys from the humble little guys, say Thomas Keller's esteemed Bouchon, from your aromatic neighborhood bakery. While my palate may not have the sophistication of some; I care deeply of the quality of food that enters my mouth and consequently, inches to my hips. This serious relationship branches out to many cuisines, particular foods or ingredients; one of which being pizza. Living in New York, I considered the best of my experiences with pizza to stretch as far as a subway ride to Brooklyn or down on my corner at Arturo's. Shame on me for not exploring the greater lengths of great pizza; I suppose I'll be easy on myself for not knowing better but I was falling short before the wonder that is New Haven pizza.
If you are unaware of New Haven pizza, as I was, tread carefully upon these next words- they'll be hard to stomach and may prompt a food excursion. The famed Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's from New Haven are by far the best pizza I've ever had in my life; I can't eat at a local pizzeria to satisfy the craving for pizza. My taste buds have been forever spoiled; It's the way pizza was meant to be. Every flavor and texture of your average pizzeria just incomparable, from the crisp, sturdy coal burned crust from the oven's of Sally's to the tangy tomato sauce that is perfectly sweet and salty.
The duo of Frank Pepe's pizza and Sally's has been a dual for best of the best of New Haven pizza. Both are delicious; however, Sally's has won my heart with their consistent, bursting with flavor goodness that in my opinion has a an edge on Pepe's. Some may argue there is a trio in this battle including Modern Apizza but I'm here to set the record straight.The only thing their "M" logo stands for at Modern pizza is messy and mediocre at best. When I plan to expend my calories indulgently, I expect to walk away smiling and satisfied, high from settled anticipation and full bellied delight. That night at Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven, I pouted over each fallacy as they exponentially unfolded. The first sign of doubt came as the menus were tossed down on the table in front of us; the menus included something other than pizza. I say this because at Sally's and Pepe's there is one thing on the menu; the perfection that is their pizza and they don't practice the trickery of filling up on sides notes of garlic bread or salad because you've only come for one reason, the pizza! The second sign was that of the garlic bread that arrived at the table that appeared to just be grocery store quality french bread piled with a heaping glob of greasy mozzarella. I squirmed but remained poised; I mean the pizza had to be good with all of the "talk" prior to this visit. The first pizza arrived and so did my third qualm; the pizza looked ordinary. My disappointment set, the pizza looked fine like an average pizzeria cheese pie, but fine is not why I come to New Haven, not what I waited all week to devour. Then our pie arrived, a medium cheese (you must ask for cheese in New Haven) with half broccoli and half sausage; this was among the variety of pie's we've had at Sally's and Pepe's. The pie descended on the table, slicked with a thick sheen of water/oil/who knows on top. I wondered if there was some sort of mistake, maybe we should call back the waitress but as the pies continued to arrive each was a mirror image of the former. I reached to lift up the first piece; the cheese and sausage slide like an avalanche onto the saturated paper of the pan. I was left with a wet noodle like dough supposed to be a pizza crust. Now I was miffed, how did they think they could serve a pie like that? I ate in hungry disgust as I picked off the sausage chunks and tears of outer crusts which were really the only edible portions. The way this meal was redeemed was to heading to our favorite Italian Bakery on Wooster Street (neighbor of Pepe's), Libby's, to buy cannolis to revive our spirits in good food. Okay, and there were some cookies involved in this revival, about a half pounds worth. After that disaster, it was bound to take a lot of "nourishment" from creamy ricotta and feathery butter balls to feed my disheartened food soul.
"Modern" had to be given the chance, as given to each establishment before it in the tri-state area concerning pizza so far. At least now, I could return to my true lover with even more devotion, Sally. I'll never return to Modern Apizza; even if it happened to be an "off" night for this pizzeria, I don't see how they could produce a good pie after having my first and last pizza there. If you serve something of such poor caliber as our sloppy, wet pie you don't deserve another chance on the mere fact of quality control and pride. As a baker, even as an amateur, I take pride in knowing I produce baked good of quality in my kitchen. Anything I bake (or cook) that comes out of my kitchen shaped with my hands, I believe I created to my best ability to provide a flavor and joy to others (and myself). So with any establishment, in this case Modern Apizza, I find distaste in serving something of poor quality. The only thing I can do now is carry on knowing that I've tasted what's out there and get to the gym to prepare for my next date with Sally.