Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Turns 90

It’s the definition of American dream. In 1909, Frank Pepe left his hometown just south of Naples and immigrated to the United States. Impoverished and illiterate, he took a job at a New Haven factory. By 1925, Pepe and his wife Filomena had opened a bakery and began making simple pizzas. Fast forward 90 years, and Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana is consistently ranked among the country’s top pizza joints. Pepe’s now has seven locations in Connecticut and an outpost on Yonkers’ Central Avenue.

So what’s the key to some of the country’s best pizza? “It’ all about the process,” says Wally Lewis, general manager of Pepe’s Yonkers location. Lopsided rounds of thinly stretched dough get topped with super-fresh ingredients like just-shucked clams or in-season tomatoes before a trip to the massive, blazing hot coal oven. Pies emerge bubbly and blistered (charred, not burnt) with a crispy exterior and chewy interior. The pies manage to be both delicate and flavorful.

With 90 years under Pepe’s belt, Frank and Filomena’s grandchildren—who currently run the eight locations—have no plans to slow down. In fact, they’re continuing to expand. A Boston location will open its doors later this year, and Eater reported in June that the company is considering a massive expansion in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Rumor has it they’re even eyeing a new location in Westchester. So far, Pepe’s has been tight-lipped about possible locations here but confirm they are scouting the area, especially in the vicinity of local colleges. In the meantime, we’ve got Yonkers to hold us over.

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Our Top Three Pepe’s Pies

White Clam Pizza

This classic—and much imitated pie—is supposed to have originated at Frank Pepe’s New Haven location back in the ’60s. Loaded with garlic and freshly shucked clams, consider adding bacon to the mix for extra richness and a salty punch that enhances the clams’ brininess.

Fresh Tomato Pizza

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Available only from July until September, fans of this seasonal pie start calling as soon as the weather warms to ask when it will be available. It’s the best fresh tomato pie I’ve ever had, with juicy, ripe tomatoes, a bit of garlic, and a scattering of whole, fresh basil leaves.

Original Tomato Pie with Mozzarella

If you’ve never been to Pepe’s, let us clue you in on how it works—an original pie does not have mozzarella cheese. If you want that oozy, cheesy goodness, order the original tomato pie with mozzarella. Consider adding the sausage made according to Pepe’s proprietary recipe or (my favorite) thick cut, meaty pepperoni that curls up and traps little pools of tomato and zesty oil.

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Photos By Samantha Garbarini

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