The hot oil bar-style pizza, a New England alternative to New Haven-style apizza, has been spreading up and down the East Coast with the expansion of Colony Grill, the 85-year-old restaurant brand that started in Stamford, Connecticut. The brand now has locations in five states after opening a new shop in Potomac, Maryland, this past summer.
The latest store, which spans 4,800 square feet, is the ninth Colony Grill location, with other stores in Connecticut, Florida, New York and Virginia.
The first Colony Grill location opened in 1935 in an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Stamford. Since then, Colony Grill has become famous for what is now its only menu offering: a cracker-thin-crust pizza that’s best served with Colony Grill’s signature “hot oil” topping, a spicy, full-of-flavor, pepper-infused creation that can be ordered with any other combination of toppings.
While the original owners of Colony Grill were Irish-American, they employed Italian and Eastern European chefs throughout the Great Depression. As the story goes, these chefs wanted guests to try the pizza recipes of their homelands but needed a way to fit a pizza tray on Colony Grill’s narrow bar top. The solution: the Bar Pie, a thin-crust pizza that’s smaller in diameter than a traditional pizza, with a thin layer of cheese and sauce so that slices can be easily managed with one hand. Top the pie off with oil infused with Serrano chili peppers, and you’ve got a burn to yearn for.
In later decades, Colony Grill’s hot oil bar pie became so popular that all the other Colony menu items faded away, as did the need for a grill. But the name Colony Grill remains as a link to the company’s heritage.
As Colony Grill’s website explains, “The beauty of hot oil is its versatility. The oil’s spiciness infuses the crust, cheese and toppings [and] adds a spicy kick and a unique aroma to your pizza.” If that’s not enough flavor for you, the brand recommends adding cherry peppers for a “burst of heat, tanginess and a pleasant crunch.” Another tasty topping option: actual Serrano peppers, also called Stingers. “The combination of the peppers’ spiciness and the pizza’s savory elements creates a mouthwatering contrast,” the site notes.
“Still, what’s most appealing is the crust,” Alice Levitt writes for Northern Virginia Magazine. “It’s almost tortilla-thin, and while it’s crisp, it’s also as chewy as a New York-style pie. The cheese goes almost all the way to the caramelized edge, so there’s no wasted space. For me, it’s a Proustian madeleine. But even if you didn’t grow up eating pizza in Connecticut, the oily pies will make you wish you did.”
Colony Grill has been consistently been named one of the “Top 101 Pizzas in America” by TripAdvisor. Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports visited Colony Grill’s Stamford store in 2018 for his One Bite Reviews and gave the pizza a score of 8.4, noting, “This is very good bar pizza.”
In 2018, The Daily Meal ranked Colony Grill at No. 26 in its list of the “101 Best Pizzas in America,” stating, “That signature oil is a must—if you don’t do it, don’t bother going. There’s almost the same amount of tasty sauce and cheese as there is crisp cracker crust. There’s something special about the equal amounts of ingredients you likely won’t have had before, the way the pockmarked surface resembles some crazy dream where cheese covers the surface of the moon (melty like you remember from the orange-oil-covered slice at your childhood favorite pizzeria), and how the sting of the oil brings you right back to the sip of beer you’ll want while savoring each bite.”