Time capsule: Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

Today, pizza from New Haven, Connecticut, is legendary for its misshapenappearance, thin crust and charred edges—but someone had to start it all,and that someone was Frank Pepe, who in 1925 opened up Frank PepePizzeria Napoletana (pepespizzeria.com). Pepe, an immigrant from Italy’sAmalfi Coast, returned to New Haven in 1920 afterWorld War I with his new bride, Filomena, and eventuallyopened a bakery, delivering to the neighborhoodby cart. “One day, he flattened out some bread doughand put some leftovers on top of it, and they bakedit—voila!” says Gary Bimonte, grandson of Frank Pepeand one of the seven grandchildren who inherited thebusiness from Pepe’s daughters. “He would go to thelocal markets and sell it—‘Apizza, apizza, ten cents aslice!’” At first, Pepe sold two simple styles: the tomatopie (topped with tomatoes, grated cheese, garlic, oreganoand olive oil) and another topped with anchovy. Inthe ’60s, however, the pie forever associated with Pepewas born: the White Clam Pizza.

Pepe’s celebrates 85 years in business this year andhas expanded to five locations, with another in the works for early 2011.The Original Tomato Pie is still prominently featured on the menu, andmany consider the pizzeria the best on Wooster St., known for its historicand highly competitive pizzerias. The secret, according to Bimonte, relieson maintaining the status quo. “We haven’t changed anything frommy grandfather’s original recipe,” he says. “Just surviving three generationsis very difficult, but we try to keep Frank Pepe’s legacy alive.”