American Inventions - Game 12, Connecticut Pizza

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Welcome to American Pizza Mecca.

Generally when you think "great places for pizza" you think New York City - thin crust, lots of cheese; or Chicago - deep dish, sauce for days.

But according to many, the best place for pizza is Connecticut. The Daily Meal rated five pizza restaurants in Connecticut (America's third smallest state.) in their top 101, including the number one pizza place. This guy also likes it. And these guys.

How in the world did Connecticut get America's best pizza? Just like with real estate, the three most important things are location, location, location. The best thing about Connecticut pizza is there isn't just one kind. There are at least two distinct varieties of pizza, catering to all kinds of pizza-loving palettes.

We mentioned New York City, to the west, home of what many say is the classic Italian slice. In my experience after living in NYC for three years, I'd say the pizza there is very hit and miss. I've had amazing pizza there (especially Sicilian), but I've also had greasy cardboard crust with molten plastic cheese. It's buyer beware for sure. New York is too big for bad news about food to get around quickly, so crappy places stay open longer.

But in Connecticut, you can go to New Haven, about a 90-minute drive or train ride from NYC, and get what you always think of when you think of great Italian-style pizza. The most famous pizza establishment in New Haven, and #1 on Daily Meal's list, is Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Neopoletana. It opened in 1925, when Frank, tired of schlepping bread around town as a delivery baker, decided to make a food people would have to come to get. And anyone knows, if you make good pizza, people will come. (And he's got a branch out a Mohegan Sun if you are gambling inclined.)

While a standard pizza at Frank Pepe's is tomato sauce, oregano and grated Romano (Mozzarella is extra), Frank is also credited with inventing the white clam pizza. He originally sold clams on the half-shell, but then, like everyone else who's ever made a pizza, he thought, hey, let's put it on pizza and see what happens. A classic dish was born.

Frank's nephew Sal opened Sally's Appizza a few years later, which started the nation's biggest pizza rivalry.

To the east, you have Rhode Island and Boston, so in the eastern part of Connecticut, Greek-style pizza is very common. It's cooked in a pan, but not a deep cake pan like in Chicago. This is a shallower pan, treated with years of flavorful grease. The pizza comes out like a crusty bread, but because of the grease, the edge and bottom are basically fried in the oven. Not only was it what I grew up on, but cooking it was my first job when I would go north in the summer during high school (because screw Florida summers.)

This is a substantive pizza that holds up to not only Greek toppings like olives and feta, but also other toppings, and lots of them. The "special" at my old job was pepperoni, sausage, linguiça, mushrooms, onions, and ground beef, all placed under the cheese. I have no idea how I stayed so skinny after working there.

In fact, when I left Rhode Island to start college at USF, I put two personal pizzas in my bag and ate them with my uncle when I got to Tampa. He damn near cried. You can't get this stuff in Florida.

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