Without a doubt, you've heard of New York pizza, and Chicago pizza, but what about New Haven pizza? New Haven (as in Connecticut) pizza is called apizza, and the letter "a" at the beginning of the word is not the only thing that's different about it.
What Is Apizza?
First things first, though. What's the deal with that letter "a" at the beginning? Is that some sort of typo?
Actually, no, the "a" belongs there. New Haven apizza is pronounced "abeets," which is a throwback to the way it was pronounced by the original Neapolitan immigrants who moved to the area around the turn of the 20th century.
Basically, apizza is a thin-crust pizza that is traditionally baked in a coal-fired brick oven. The coal gives the crust a sooty, smoky, flavor, and the high heat of the oven gives the bottom of the crust its characteristically charred quality.
How Is Apizza Crust Different From Regular Pizza?
Probably the main thing that makes apizza different from other kinds of pizza is its crust. The key to New Haven apizza is using a high-gluten bromated flour, with a hydration factor approaching 70 percent—meaning that the weight of the water added to the flour comprises 70 percent of the weight of the flour itself.
That much water makes for an extremely wet dough, which in turn causes it to be very sticky and difficult to work with. A dough that sticky is almost impossible to knead, which means that the gluten have to be developed almost entirely through fermentation, which is where the bromated flour comes in. Potassium bromate is added to flour as an oxidant, which helps to develop the glutens in it. (The bromate burns off at the high baking temperatures of the oven.)
Another consequence is that since it needs such a long fermentation period, the dough acquires a much richer flavor than ordinary pizza dough. The high water content also contributes to the bubbly quality of the crust—almost like a thin, crispy, airy, ciabatta-style bread.
And because it's so sticky, apizza-style dough does not readily form balls, but is instead gently shaped into shaggy mounds. These mounds are always stretched by hand, with the help of vast amounts of bench flour, rather than tossed, which in turn causes each pie to have an oblong, rather than perfectly round, shape.
Finally, apizza pies are baked very quickly, in coal-fired brick oven, with temperatures in the range of 650 to 725 F, which gives the crust its distinctive charring and bubbling. Interestingly, this highly hydrated dough can't be heaped with toppings the way a normal pizza can. You can usually place up to three toppings on apizza pies, but more than that will affect the way the crust bakes.
(Note that traditional Neapolitan pizza is cooked in even hotter ovens, for as little as 90 seconds.)
In comparison to a classic New York pizza, which features slices that sag toward the tips, New Haven apizza is so crisp and chewy that the slices exhibit no sag whatsoever.
How Else Is Apizza Different From Regular Pizza?
Another major difference is that unlike regular pizza, on which a layer of red sauce and a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese are assumed to adorn the crust, apizza will often dispense with both. A plain pie will have tomato sauce, plus garlic and parmesan. Mozzarella (known to the locals as "mootz") is considered a topping, and must be ordered as one.
Other toppings include ricotta cheese, pepperoni, salami, capicola, peppers, olives, anchovies, basil, and arugula.
And then there's the white pie, which comes topped with olive oil, garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan, and oregano, but not red sauce, although fresh tomatoes are a common topping for the white pie.
Yet another interesting variation is the white clam pie, which is basically the white pie with chopped littleneck clams as a topping. This white clam pie is a New Haven classic.
Where Can You Eat Apizza?
For the most authentic apizza, you'll have to travel to New Haven, specifically Wooster Street, where Frank Pepe's, Sally's Apizza, and Modern Apizza have been serving traditional New Haven apizza for generations.
Frank Pepe's and Sally's both still use coal-fired ovens, while Modern uses oil-fired ovens. Other New Haven establishments bake their apizzas in wood-fired or gas-fired ovens.
One thing to prepare yourself for, however, is the wait. Most of the traditional apizza joints in New Haven have lines that stretch out the door, especially for dinner. But like so much in the culinary world, some things are worth waiting for.