Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut, is approaching its 100th anniversary, but one of its hottest menu items is a relatively new innovation: the Fresh Tomato Pie, created by Pepe’s own descendants 15 years ago. And the seasonal pizza makes headlines every year for the iconic chain, which has seven locations in Connecticut and one in Delray Beach, Florida.

As Jennifer Kelly, Pepe’s granddaughter, recently explained to WTNH, the pizza was developed by her late brother, Gary Bimonte, and a cousin. The goal: make the best use of fresh, locally grown summer tomatoes harvested at the peak of their ripeness. “As it became so popular—people were like, ‘Wow, we want this!’—what did we do? We went out and started gathering other areas’ native tomatoes,” Kelly said. “They have to be the best.”

Frank Pepe’s pizza makers use a bread dough—a family recipe since 1925—for the crust and layer on slices of fresh mozzarella. That’s followed by a heaping helping of diced fresh tomatoes, grated Pecorino-Romano cheese imported from Italy and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s baked in the restaurant’s coal-fired oven to achieve a crispy yet chewy, slightly charred crust, then topped with fresh basil.

Related: The humble origins of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

The price ranges between $17 for a 12” pizza and $33.25 for a large 18” pie.

The Fresh Tomato Pie is only available during the tomato-growing season. “As soon as we get it done, it flies out the door,” Kelly said in the WTNH interview. “People just cannot wait to have it. The reason for it is because we have fresh, native tomatoes. They’re only chosen through this time of year. We don’t do it any other time. [We add] our fresh mozzarella, we have fresh basil, oil—mix it all up, put it on the pie, put it in, and it comes out delicious. The rendering juices of everything is like an explosion in your mouth! It really is delicious.”

Each summer, the local news media, including outlets like WTNH, the Hartford Courant and the New Haven Register, touts the return of the Fresh Tomato Pie to the Frank Pepe menu. “In some parts of the state, summer is marked by seafood shacks or summer-only farm ice creameries opening for the season,” CT Insider reported on June 30 of this year. “In New Haven, it’s the Fresh Tomato Pie.”

Bimonte, the pie’s co-inventor, died of a heart attack in 2021, but the Fresh Tomato Pie isn’t his only legacy. Bimonte became the face of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana after Pepe himself died. New Haven historian Colin Caplan has called Bimonte “one of the master pizza chefs of the world.”

Frank Pepe himself is credited with inventing the New Haven style of “apizza” (pronounced “ah-beetz”), including its most famous variation: the White Clam Pizza. An immigrant from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Pepe and his wife, Filomena, started out with a bakery, delivering breads by cart around the neighborhood. “One day, he flattened out some bread dough and put some leftovers on top of it, and they baked it—voila!” Bimonte told PMQ in 2010. “He would go to the local markets and sell it—‘Apizza, apizza, ten cents a slice!’”

Food & Ingredients