We went to Pepe’s shortly after we concluded our tour of Stamford, we ate at Modern shortly after that, and then—inexplicably—we waited another six months to tackle the final piece of New Haven’s holy pizza triumvirate, Sally’s. Yes, we finally braved the arctic winds waiting in yet another out-on-the-street New Haven line to round out our tour of the city’s heaviest hitters.
Establishment. As it turns out, New Haven pizzerias are all kind of the same: minimal parking, old coal-fired ovens, and long lines in the street (which can be charming on a summer evening, but painful and borderline infuriating in the dead of winter). Sally’s is no exception, with its requisite long, dimly lit, wood-paneled, ceramic-tiled, drop-ceilinged dining room spattered with pictures and articles attesting to its fame and/or Italian-ness (apparently, Ol’ Blue Eyes was a big fan of the place).
Once we found our way inside, thawed, and were seated (no small feat in its own right) we waited a good 10 minutes to be helped, and another 35 or so to be served. In this time, we witnessed an obvious regular strut in and feed his family of six, a family of eight leave in absolute disgust after their one hour wait yielded no pizza whatsoever, and the brazen neglect of the time-honored “I’ll be with you in a sec” promise about 40 times over. But Sally’s (and the rest of the city in general) isn’t known for its kindly interest and goodwill, especially toward newbies like us; we never expected much. The menu is more or less a list of toppings, among which are the New Haven-specific white clam pie and an extraordinary emphasis on mozzarella being considered a topping. Oh, New Haven, you and your disconcerting ways.
Pizza. Once we absorbed the horrible one-two punch of waiting and terrible, impersonal service, we sunk our teeth into a medium mozz (“mootz”) pie topped with sausage. That’s two toppings if you’re keeping track.
The crust was less chewy than expected, but it was super thin, yeasty, and blistered with a hearty New Haven char in places (and burnt to a friggin’ crisp in others), making for a markedly unique taste and fingers resembling those of a chimney sweep. Crust aside, the sauce was the true crown jewel of this pizza with a strong, well-seasoned tanginess and the chunky texture of whole crushed tomatoes. The mozzarella, while somewhat of a outcast in New Haven, was superbly creamy and stringy. Further, it brought the pie together both physically and in terms of flavor, mellowing the sharp flavors of the sauce and making us wonder why it’s so much of an afterthought in these parts—without it, this is just a big cracker with sauce.
We weren’t particularly crazy about the sausage topping as Sally’s uses sliced sausage rather than crumbled, which tends to shrivel into little grease-filled cups in the oven. Plus, it tasted pretty bad. Also, as is the case with ultra thin pies like these, it cools ultra fast; even when you put it away with ravenous Pizza Tour speed, your last slice is just south of tepid. That said, we can see how Sally’s simple core product keeps people coming back, especially favored regulars that can traipse right in and throw back a few well-rounded, iconic pies while suckers like us play the waiting game on the street.
The bottom line. Sally’s certainly earns its reputation as one of the big three with a clean, textbook New Haven pie, but the unwritten rules here will leave you scratching your head.
Hits the Spot: 5.0/10
Large Cheese: $15.80 (18")