When you come from New Haven you're born with a little bit of pizza in your blood. I come from a Sally's family. My mom's first meal in the hospital after I was born was a Sally's clam pie. I knew that Lawman had husband potential when he confided that he preferred Sally's to Pepe's. This is what we do in New Haven. We talk pizza. Lately my parents have been raving about this place Eli's Brick Oven Pizza Market in Hamden. Now I know that they hate parking in New Haven and parking spaces near the big three--Sally's, Pepe's, and Modern are notoriously hard to find, so I chalked up the first mention to parking convenience. But then apropos of nothing Eli's kept coming up. "Oh, we just went to Eli's" "You know your brother loves Eli's" "Eli's Eli's Eli's." Clearly I needed to check this Eli's place out. So I did. Not once, but twice...
The owners of Eli's Restaurant Group bought Bimonte's Pizza Castle from the Bimonte family and opened it as Eli's Brick Oven Pizza in September 2005. An email to a high school buddy, who now owns Huskies Restaurant and Bar and worked at Bimonte's back in the day, confirmed Eli's built an actual brick oven when they renovated replacing Bimonte's gas Blodgett ovens. In 2006 Eli's took top honors in the Hamden Daily's News' Best Pizza Poll, but how do they stack up against the big boys downtown?
When I saw their menu I'll admit was a little suspicious. Their pizza offerings went beyond from the standard toppings, your anchovies, sausage, peperoni, clams etc--they had gorgonzola, andouille sausage and mashed potato. Not that any of these things are bad toppings for pizza--I'm known to make a blue cheese and potato pie myself--but from first impressions this place seemed more like Bar, the relative youngin in the New Haven Pizza Scene, than the big three.
On to the pie. We ordered a small Plain Pie, a small white Clam Pie, and a small Big Spud (mashed potato, bacon, mozz, sour cream, garlic and cheddar). For me the true test of any pizza is their Plain Pie--tomato sauce with a sprinkling of parm. If you want to test a pizza place on their craft you can't hide plain pie. Sauce and crust are out in the open and on display.
Eli's earns high marks for their crust. It's thin but not too thin--please don't give me a cracker when I want a pizza. This crust was chewy with just the right amount of give.
Their tomato sauce was bright, fresh, and loaded with tomato flavor, but it was the weakest part of the meal. I tend to like a sauce that's a little more tangy. Of late--and by late I mean the last decade--I've found Modern Apizza's Plain Pie to be pitch perfect. It is the gold standard of Plain Pies. Eli's Plain Pie has a way to go before they can credibly challenge Modern in this arena, but I wouldn't rule them out.
The Big Spud was a big surprise hit with my fam. We've been known to enjoy the mashed potato pizza from Bar and Eli's handily surpassed theirs. I was a little skeptical of the mashed potatoes, mozzarella, garlic, bacon, and sour cream combo, but it worked and it worked well. The first time we ordered the Big Spud it was just right. The perfect bacon to pizza ratio. The second time we have The Big Spud their was--dare I say it--too much bacon. The pizza was just too salty. And you had so much bacon in every bite that you couldn't appreciate how good it was. Next time I'll let them know to go a little easy on the bacon. Bacon issues aside, I will be ordering this pie again and that's a promise.
The clam pie was solid. They didn't go too heavy on the mozzarella and the pizza came with plenty of lemon wedges for spritzing. It held up really well overnight.
On my return trip to Eli's I ordered the same pies to test consistency and brought them pies back to the city to share with the Serious Eats crew. All three pies were devoured and the clam received high marks all around.
It's exciting to discover a terrific new pizza place in the New Haven area. While I don't think Eli's Pizza is ready to be included in the SallysPepesModern trinity, it easily tops Bar in my book for the number 4 slot. And for those living in the New Haven county 'burbs this is a huge pizza boon. I have a feeling I'll be back soon...