Besides Chicago and New York, few cities in America get us much love for their pizza-making prowess as New Haven. In terms of heritage and density of great pies, the hype is well deserved. Frank Pepe’s foundational white-clam pizza is something everyone should try at least once before kicking the bucket. Modern Apizza consistently hangs with the nation’s top dogs, and even newer upstarts like Bar continue to keep the standard high.
But here’s the thing: New Haven does not have the best singular pie in Connecticut. For me, that distinction goes to the hot-oil pizza at Colony Grill in Stamford. Before you get your knickers in a twist and call me a fool, let me explain.
I love bar-style pizza, and Colony Grill has the best bar-style pizza I’ve ever had.
I’m not a contrarian at heart, but I will admit that there is a bit of rabble-rousing at play in my love for Colony. Having grown up just outside of Hartford and traveled to all corners of the state, I firmly believe that Connecticut is one of the East Coast’s most underrated food destinations, particularly when it comes to regional specialities: chili dogs, lobster rolls, steamed cheeseburgers, and—of course—pizza. So it bothers me when gastrotourists, mostly traveling by Zipcar or train from NYC, flock blindly to New Haven as if it’s the only thing poppin’. Telling these folks that they are clowns for sleeping on Colony is my way of saying, “There’s more to CT than Yale, Louis’ Lunch, and white-clam pies, players.”
But, more importantly than that, I ride for the place because I love bar-style pizza, and Colony Grill has the best bar-style pizza I’ve ever had.
What the hell does bar-style pizza mean? In the Slice taxonomy of regional styles, Serious Eats founder Ed Levine offers a helpful breakdown that, lo and behold, uses a shot from Colony as its definitive example:
[pullquote]“[Bar-style pizza] is usually very thin-crusted to (I’m guessing) leave plenty of room in the eater’s stomach for beer. It’s baked in a gas oven that may have replaced a coal oven if the bar is old enough. Bar pizza is made with decent, commercial, aged mozzarella and comes topped with canned mushrooms, standard pepperoni and, if you’re lucky, house-made sausage.”
The original location in Stamford, first opened in 1935, is an all-American tavern on a rather rugged street, with one room devoted to a locals-filled bar, and a dark dining room full of well-worn wooden booths and black-and-white photos. The beer is shitty, macro-brewed stuff sold by the pitcher, just as it should be. And the menu consists of pizza and…pizza. No appetizers. No sides. Certainly no salads.
The oil and cheese congeal into an intricate patchwork structure that I’m convinced was the model for Freddy Krueger’s face.
Each pie is exactly the same save for the toppings—a thin-crusted disc with a greasy, exceptionally crispy proto-crust that forms around the edges—but something remarkable happens to the cheese when it’s doused with hot oil, which the kitchen strains from what it calls “stinger” peppers (they look like Serranos to me). The oil and cheese congeal into an intricate patchwork structure that I’m convinced was the model for Freddy Krueger’s face. If you’ve ever had a Celeste frozen pizza, think of this as its Platonic ideal.
Unlike a Neapolitan pie, where the gooey mozzarella, chewy crust, and tomato sauce all play off each other in various ways as you work through the pizza, the Colony pies are completely uniform throughout—the slices don’t flop, and the cheese never slides off. This is shamelessly Americanized birthday-party stuff. And unlike deep dish, where one or two slices might put you in a coma, you can get after Colony pizzas like there’s no tomorrow, which is another quality I value (don’t worry, it’s cheap as hell). Eating a ton of slices is always more fun.
Along with the hot-oil pizza, I always get the sausage pie, which comes with the type of chubby, salty nubs of sausage meat you want at an American pizza parlor. Given that De Yulio’s Sausage Co. is directly across the street, you can safely assume that the purveyor is local.
If you’re an NYC-based pizza obsessive and you’re still not convinced, here’s the clincher: Stanford is only 45 minutes from the city on the Metro-North train. So let the other lemmings keep chugging along toward New Haven while you hop off and pay homage to an undersung Connecticut classic. Eat your fill—I’d suggest a pie and a half per person—then grab a few to go. As is fitting for a slice that’s basically the greatest version of a frozen pizza you’ve ever had, it’s just as good the next day.
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