It's been a pizza-filled few days! I will surely be doing some dietary penance this week, but for now, here's a rundown of my recent indulgences.
It began on Thursday, when I decided to try the Pepe's in West Hartford. Yeah, the same place TnTinCT just visited. Part of the reason I went was the awareness that I actually live in
Hartford, and that I should see if this particular Pepe's could become a regular resource for me.
I ordered the same thing I did at the New Haven Pepe's: half bacon and onion, half sausage and peppers. Here was West Hartford's preparation:
I immediately saw that it was a bit different from what I had in New Haven a while back.
As you can see, the WH version has darker-colored bacon, red and
green bell peppers, and a more lightly done crust.
Taste-wise, I absolutely can't complain. It's recognizably Pepe's. Luscious bacon, good (but not Zuppardi's-level) sausage, wonderfully gooey mozzarella all working together with a fantastic sauce to create what is still one of the best pizzas you'll have in this country.
But we are
talking about the Pepe's standard. My experience with the crust resembled TnTinCT's: it was partly uneven, and overall didn't seem to meet the exquisite thinness that the New Haven style requires. Plus there wasn't as much char, and I don't know if this was accidental (not good) or a concession to West Hartford tastes (understandable, but still!).
Make no mistake, this was still a fantastic pizza, and would, on its ownm easily rank among the top options for the Hartford area. I can't help, though, but feel like I'd be cheating myself with it - I imagine myself going to this location so much that it begins to define Pepe's in my mind, and forgetting what the real New Haven product is like. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but that can't be allowed to happen, so I think I may go here only in "emergencies" (whatever those might be), and drive the extra half-hour for the genuine article.
Saturday, I was tooling around Middletown, desperately hungry but plagued with indecision. I phoned a friend, who immediately suggested Illiano's
out on South Main. Pizza again
, I thought? Why not?
I didn't feel like taking on a whole pie again, but I was informed they had a wide variety of individual slices. That sounded excellent. When I entered, I saw a dozen or so different kinds of pies behind the counter, with slices ready to go - "Grandma", Sicilian, macaroni and cheese, tomato pesto, loaded baked potato... all sorts of options. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture; I was too busy gaping in astonishment. And these looked good, too, not like the kind of careless variety with low quality one would get at, say, Cici's or Godfather's.
While I waited for my slices to be heated up, I was given a sliver of macaroni and cheese pizza to munch on.
If the mac and cheese isn't distinctive, it's easy to lose in this kind of pizza, but it had the defined richness and cheesiness that you'd want - assuming that mac and cheese pizza is even your bag, which I know it isn't for a lot of folks. I liked this rendition fine.
A friend of mine had recommended the baked potato slice, so I got one of those, and because I can never stand to get just one slice at a slice joint, I got a tomato pesto one as well.
Baked potato pizza is an interesting creation, and can definitely be too rich or otherwise unsatisfying depending on how it's made. Some places go heavy on white sauce, for example, while others skimp on bacon. This, though, was well-balanced. All the flavors you'd expect from something labeled "loaded baked potato" were there, including a nice bacon presence, and I actually felt like I could eat another slice. My only complaint was that the cheese was a bit dry, but I did like that they put in some cheddar, as would fit a baked potato theme.
The tomato pesto slice was also solid. I've found that pesto is also easy to lose in a pizza due to its mild, delicate flavor, but it sang here. I don't care much for warm tomato slices on pizza, but they were a logical pairing with the pesto. The cheese on this slice was a thick layer of pure, delightful mozzarella, and not dry at all.
The crust was of note: a nice combination of crispy and chewy, thin but not New Haven-thin, sturdy enough for the dense toppings of the baked potato slice and for the hefty cheese of the tomato pesto slice. This was well-crafted pizza and I would recommend it to anyone that happened to be in the area, especially if all their other slices are of the same level of quality.
... And because two pizzas weren't enough, on Sunday I drove to Middlebury for breakfast at Leo's.
(I'd originally intended to go to DB's in East Hartford, but after striking an upright beer bottle that someone had deliberately left in the middle of the road, I got pissed and decided to just get away from the Hartford area for a while.) Leo's claim to fame is a "bocco" bread, which is basically a pillowy flatbread that's a little bit like Taco Bell's gordita shells. It's been described as "pizza-like", but there's only one item on their menu that actually uses it in that fashion: their breakfast pizza. I've posted about breakfast pizza before - I had it several times back in Iowa and Kansas City, where it took the form of a standard pizza crust, a creamy sauce (cheese / white gravy / etc.), scrambled eggs, cheese, sausage and/or bacon, maybe onions, at a minimum. I got this at Hy-Vee, Casey's General Store, and the University of Iowa cafeteria, among other places.
Leo's version is, well... hmm.
Bocco bread, eggs, sausage (ham and bacon also available), cheese.
It was tasty enough - hard not to be, with these ingredients - but not assembled with any care, and not really a pizza in any meaningful sense. I was disappointed with how the sausage was just tossed on in random chunks, and I expect I would have received better results with one of the flat meats. The bocco bread, which I'd had before in an exceptional eggplant sandwich, was too soft to serve as a pizza base. I don't mean to be overly down on Leo's. I would, without question, recommend them for breakfast sandwiches (great home fries, too!), but for breakfast pizza, try elsewhere.