Let’s just face it: We have a serious weakness for this ultimate comfort food in all of its tasty incarnations. We are continually transforming it in new and unexpected ways. Today, there are pizza pies to suit any palate and price. This is especially so in Fairfield County, where traditional tomato- and-cheese pies are offered along with inspired gourmet choices. We visited some of the area's most popular pizza joints to get a taste of the choices.
A classic, forever-popular chesse pie at John’s Best
After fifteen years, Acqua, once distinguished by interiors reminiscent of an old Tuscan villa with hand-painted frescoes on the ceilings and grotto windows, now has a new aesthetic and culinary focus. Today, this dramatic, multilevel space is beachy and modern, reflecting the meticulous care Acqua’s owners put into their cuisine and gourmet pizza.
Made from scratch, with ingredients such as imported Italian buffalo mozzarella, the eleven-inch, thin-crust pies depart from traditional American ones in other ways. For instance, the ever-popular pizza Parma, which includes freshly sliced tomatoes, melted mozzarella, prosciutto, and baby arugula with a balsamic reduction drizzled over the top, is hot and cold at the same time. Other favorites include the Margherita and the eggplant pizza (a white pie with grilled eggplant, crushed tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil). “We use all fresh ingredients whenever possible,” says general manager Marc Murphy. “Our chef de cuisine Marcio Carvalho has relationships with farmers in the area, so everything that can be organic is organic, and everything that can be local is local.”
43 Main St., Westport; 203-222-8899; acquaofwestport.com.
The strains of opera and Neapolitan folk music and the menu dominated by Italian scaloppine, insalata, and similar regional offerings capture the flavor of the province in Avellino’s roots. “I like traditional style pizza,” owner Peter Del Franco says. He operates the restaurant with his wife, Grace. “We don’t put honey in our dough. We make it the way I think it was supposed to be made—just flour, water, yeast and salt.” The popular New York–style pie, with lots of sauce and a sprinkling of cheese, is as light as air yet satisfying.
Another customer favorite is La Fiorentina with spinach, marinated tomatoes, mozzarella, and garlic. With the exception of the Margherita, Avellino’s specialty pizzas generally don’t have tomato sauce. But if you have a special request, the kitchen staff will gladly customize one to your liking, such as the pizza Caprese with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and mozzarella.
1813 Post Road, Fairfield, 203-254-5339; avellinosfairfield.com.
If you’re a longtime Westporter, chances are excellent that you’ve been to John’s Best Pizza and Grille. Opened in July 1967 by Ralph Sandolo, a native of Ponza, Italy, this Post Road pioneer moved into a new building in 2007. Thankfully, the restaurant’s food retains its old-fashioned goodness. Dino Avellino, Sandolo’s cousin and business partner, manages the day-to-day operations and personally trains each member of the kitchen staff to turn out family-sized portions of specialty pastas, classic dishes like chicken parmesan, and the thin, tasty pies, which have drawn customers for generations.
Pepperoni and sausage pizzas are the perpetual bestsellers, but John’s Best also offers many gourmet selections, such as the Mappamondo pie, which comes with ham, black olives, ricotta, tomato sauce, and mozzarella—all baked to crispy perfection in a multilevel, rotating pizza oven. Two of the restaurant’s most innovative offerings have nothing to do with toppings. Several years ago, Avellino began preparing special wheat-free dishes for one of his customers. Today, his gluten-free pastas and pizzas have become a staple for those with health concerns, such as allergies, along with the restaurant’s whole wheat and salad pies.
361 Post Road, Westport, 203-227-7247; johnsbestwestport.com.
During the day, you can shop near Fairfield’s train station. In the evening, you can catch some great music. Day or night, though, don’t miss the Nauti Dolphin, which has been here for twelve years. Run by longtime friends and business partners Scott Hartley and Greg Roberts, this small restaurant is known for brick-oven pizza that some claim to be as close to New York–style as you can get outside of the city. Nauti’s formula: the thin-crust pies are made with simple, high-quality ingredients. “We don’t try to make something it isn’t with spices,” Hartley says. “We buy whole Italian tomatoes and that’s what we use for the sauces. You’re going to taste that flavor.”
The formula is working. At any time of day, you’ll find a steady stream of commuters and locals picking up orders or sitting at the counter. Hartley and Roberts have more than fifty years of restaurant experience between them. And they’re very hands-on, tossing dough, preparing salads, and greeting everyone who comes inside. Traditional toppings such as pepperoni and sausage are the mainstays, but the menu also includes an abundance of specialty pies, from the popular shrimp-and-broccoli pizza to one with baked chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, and garlic. The salad pizza—featuring crisp green lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette and tomato sauce over baked pizza dough—is another favorite.
The walls are covered with drawings from students and thank-you notes from local charities. Community is important here, and the owners attribute their success to putting people first, whether it’s the employees that stayed on through high school and college or the mom who has a special request. “We’re blessed because we have the nicest customers,” Hartley says. “Our feeling is, serve the best we can serve and we won’t have to worry so much on the other end.”
1 Carter Henry Dr., Fairfield, 203-256-1877.
In Wilton, grown-ups head to Portofino’s for the food, but children are just as interested in the ducks. In warmer months, the restaurant opens its patio, which overlooks the Norwalk River. Little ones devote a great deal of time—and the restaurant’s bread—to feeding the birds who make their home along the water’s edge.
The fact that this is encouraged speaks to Portofino’s charm. Manager Stephanie Merrill, who has worked at the restaurant for the past fifteen years, describes it as “casual, warm and inviting”—a place where the chefs will happily customize a dish or substitute ingredients upon request. Such flexibility extends to the thin-crust pizzas, which come in three sizes. Toppings include classics like meatballs and mushrooms along with zucchini, sweet fennel sausage, and other alternatives—delicious to people of any age.
12 Center St., Wilton, 203-761-9115.
Cash and check accepted. No Delivery.
Located on a quiet village road in one of Fairfield’s historic districts, Southport Pizza isn’t the easiest place to find. And yet, it’s not unusual to see entire families drive from neighboring towns to grab a piping-hot slice of Sammy Palik’s ultrathin, crustless pizza.
“My dough is so thin that it breaks easily. So you have to know what you’re doing and that’s why it’s hard to copy,” Palik says, explaining that he aims for quality and consistency. “I like my pies nice and brown with crispy edges; and since there is no crust, the sauce goes all the way to the end.” The dough is made fresh by the staff daily, and they cook the sauces using tomatoes from Easton in the summer or California, which are then aged on the premises. For everything else, Palik buys premium ingredients, including whole vegetables and huge blocks of cheese. With more than fifteen gourmet pizzas and a long list of toppings, customers have choices, including the popular Tomato Basil pizza, with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and basil.
295 Pequot Ave., 203-259-9843. Delivery available.
When you ask Wilton Pizza owner Matt Criscuolo about his passions, he’ll name two things: authentic Italian fare and classic jazz. That’s because the New York–born restaurateur, whose family has owned pizzerias since the 1960s, started playing the saxophone twenty-nine years ago. Now, with three restaurants (the others are Wilton’s Toozy Patza and Ridgefield’s Piccolo Pizza) and three CDs to his credit, Criscuolo is successfully combining his two great loves.
He relies on time-proven recipes from his parents’ ancestral home on the Amalfi Coast to create dishes that are “as authentic as when I go to Italy or when my mother cooks on a Sunday.” Criscuolo describes Wilton’s thin crust, crispy pizzas as “more of an Italian-American creation. We’re using American pizza ovens, high-quality crushed tomatoes from California, and the highest-grade Wisconsin cheese you can get. That’s the way my family started off.”
Wilton’s cheese and Margherita pizzas are the most popular, but the menu also includes a tempting array of chicken, seafood, gluten-free, and vegetarian pies, many named after well-known musicians such as the Calloway and Arthur Blythe.
The walls of his “jazzeria,” as he has coined it, feature instruments, vintage photos of performers, and works by local artists. In the summer, he hosts jazz concerts on the patio. “Before they even come in, they’re going to hear the likes of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. I feel good to be able to promote this music,” Criscuolo says. “And I love pizza. It makes me happy.”
202 Town Green, 203-762-007; wiltonpizza.com.
Good for Eating with the Kids
This family-style restaurant offers ten-inch baby pizzas for the little ones, along with traditional Italian fare.
881 Post Road, Fairfield, 203-255-4190.
Westport Pizzeria and Restaurant
Offers cheese pizzas with lots of toppings, including many for vegetarians.
107 Main St., Westport, 203-226-4094; westportpizzeria.com
Tom E Toes
The salad pizza wins consistent raves, while the ratatouille pie with eggplant, zucchini, sweet onions, garlic, green peppers, plum tomatoes,
and shaved parmesan is another healthy option.
5 River Rd., Wilton, 203-834-0733; tometoes.com
With sublime pies lurking in most of its towns and cities, Connecticut can be a dangerous state for pizza lovers. If you’re willing to hit the road, these places are worth the mileage.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
New Haven pizza owes much of its fame to the legendary Frank Pepe and the coal-fired, tomato pies. After eighty-six years, Pepe’s cheese pies still dominate, though the list of extras offers ample opportunity for customization.
157 Wooster St., 203-865-5762; pepespizzeria.com.
Considered on a par with Pepe’s and Sally’s—which is high praise in Connecticut’s pizza capital—Modern offers traditional brick-oven and specialty pies, including a crabmeat Seafood Supreme.
874 State St., 203-776-5306; modernapizza.com
Founded in 1938 by Frank Pepe’s nephew, Sal Consiglio, this Wooster Street landmark is Pepe’s oldest and best-known rival. The lines can be intimidating, but stick around to try the white pie with thinly sliced potatoes and rosemary.
237 Wooster St., 203-624-5271
Fat Cat Pie Company
Organic ingredients are the rule at this seven-year-old restaurant, where many of the wines, pizzas, salads, and even the sodas bear that label. Toppings include garlic chips, broccoli rabe and sweet bell peppers, but be sure to ask for the specials, which change every few weeks.
9-11 Wall St., 203-523-0389; fatcatpie.com
Your friends might look at you strangely when you suggest sharing the “garbage pizza,” but anyone who’s had this thin-crust pie—which comes loaded with meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, peppers, and onions—has sung its praises.
666 Main Ave., 203-847-6022
This kid-friendly place is known for its addictive “hot oil pie,” available with or without stinger peppers. The sausage topping, made fresh by
De Yulio’s down the street, is also popular. Expect a 30- to 45-minute wait whether you take out or dine in.
172 Myrtle Ave., 203-359-2184 (cash only); new location at 1520 Post Road, Fairfield, 203-259-1989