I just spent some time in Pepe's Pizza
(officially Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana) in Fairfield, Connecticut. If you aren't aware, Pepe's is an institution in Connecticut - the original restaurant in New Haven has been host to US presidents and other dignitaries. Yes, my friends Connecticut is pretty boring - a great place to raise a family but our most exciting event is to go to New Haven and eat pizza.
So what sort of pizza becomes a state institution and is it really so good? Let's put it this way... Connecticut is known as the Constitution State and the Nutmeg State. There are some that think Pizza State is more appropriate. You see where this is going?
The pizza is thin-crust style and as greasy as you can imagine. You can try sopping up the extra grease with a napkin but this is not in the spirit of Pepes by any means and doing so will yield many dirty looks from others. In fact, wiping up the extra grease in Pepes is like wiping the ice cream off a Haagen-Dazs
cone, draining the alcohol out of a martini or removing the eggs from caviar.
The New Haven restaurant is frequented by many of my college friends and I get there whenever I can.
Recently Pepes opened a new pizzeria in Fairfield, CT and my friend Scott and our families had a chance to go there this weekend. I didn't know there was a new Pepes so close to me until I got Scott's e-mail. As you can imagine this was great news -- like hearing I got an extension to file my taxes. It took the Frank Pepe Company 80 years to launch a second Pepes - can you imagine if McDonalds expanded so slowly - there would likely be just a handful of restaurants and many of us would be at least 5 pounds lighter. ;)
It is worth noting that about 10 years or so ago the family opened another restaurant called The Spot in the parking lot behind Pepes just to accommodate the massive crowds. I am not sure this really counts as a second location but I have eaten there many times and the food is excellent.
What is amazing about this Connecticut institution is that even though the new restaurant in Fairfield is about a month old there is a line that ranges from 30-120 minutes! This is about the same as the average wait in New Haven or even longer.
Is it worth it? Absolutely!!! I give it two taste buds up and the service is friendlier than in New Haven.
If there is a downside it may be that the pizza doesn't seem to have the same character in Fairfield as it does in New Haven. Perhaps the nearly century-old brick oven in the original restaurant is the reason. Scott tends to think the oven needs a year or so to be broken in. Still this didn't stop the two of us from eating about a large pie each.
In all I highly recommend Pepe's Pizza in Fairfield. It is right off exit 25 if you use Interstate 95. It is across the street from the Mercedes dealership.
My only request is that they start delivering to Norwalk, where TMC
headquarters is located.
Here are the addresses of the two restaurants:
THE ORIGINAL - 157 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT 203-865-5762
238 Commerce Drive, Fairfield, CT 203-333-PEPE (7373)
Update August 30, 2007
I just visited Pepe’s in Fairfield yet again with some friends and was blown away by the experience. My friends and I have been going to the Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven since the mid-eighties. I think my first time there was in 1983.
Certainly my college days are where I saw most of my Pepe’s Pizza eating action. Memories of the New Haven Pepe’s experience were always of long waits to get in, followed by poor service and waitresses that were downright rude and worst of all slow. For my college friends and I this was part of the experience.
Perhaps this is why the Fairfield Pepe’s Pizza encounter from last night was so amazing. Even Ken Marcucio, my college roommate and pizza aficionado said that Fairfield Pepe’s is better than New Haven. Before last night to even suggest that Fairfield was in the same league as New Haven would have banished you to Hell for years. Now with the Cooch’s approval (Ken’s nickname) we can once again admit reality.
According to Ken, the sausage pieces were bigger in Fairfield and the pepperoni has a good bite to it. Scott Miller insists there is just something missing in Fairfield. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. Thankfully the ever deductive Robert Hashemian determined the missing item was in fact a mineral named salt. Once we realized this, we were all relieved because Pepe’s in New Haven bathed their products in the substance. The first time I ever remember waking up in the middle of the night to drink a glass of water was coincidentally the first time I ever ate at pepe’s.
Aside from the food, the service was better than any restaurant I have ever gone to. The waitress and manager came by our table constantly to make sure we were OK and then at the end of our meal the Manager came by again to ask how our waitress was. Apparently she was new.
We even had some strange old man come to our table and tell us he was taking pictures for a future Pepe’s advertisement. This would have been more believable if he didn’t have a $7 disposable camera in his hands and actually knew how to operate it. Still, we didn’t care. We smiled (my mouth was full – I hope you can’t tell) and then kept eating like we had never seen food before.
This new Pepe’s is more like a real restaurant in that they give you napkins and plates. Although New Haven may have changed for the better lately I remember over a decade of pizza eating where no plates were given to customers. Still, there are no menus but this is part of the charm.
If there is any room for improvement it is in the signage at the front of the door. We waited in line for 20 minutes and had four people ask if they need to go to the front of the line to put their name on the list. Of course the answer is a resounding “No!” Just like in New Haven. From time to time a person will emerge from the restaurant and ask how big your party is and then tell you there is a 15-20 minute wait (in New Haven it is usually double this).
One other comment Scott made which is oh so correct is when will Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop be expanding to Fairfield as well?
I was hesitant to even write this review up because frankly I don’t want longer lines at Pepe’s in Fairfield. So in exchange for this review -- if you see me in line on an upcoming pizza eating expedition, be sure to let me cut in front. :)