No matter how hot, the intrepid Taste of New Haven goes on! In the middle of a heatwave, I joined founder, and author about all things New Haven, Colin Caplan on his walking-eating-history tour of the Goatville section of New Haven. You might guess where the name comes from. Neighborhood goats were allowed to roam the streets in the early 1900s, and journalists plopped the name on the area, then predominantly made up of Irish immigrants.
Colin is full of great stories, particularly the ‘first-of’ tales. Lollipops were invented in New Haven, named for the racehorse the inventor bet on. No, we don’t know if the horse was a winner, but you would probably agree that lollipops are. And the frisbee? Mrs. Frisbie’s pies were good, but those pie tins made for a great game among Yale students.
And then, there’s the pizza. What is it that’s so special about New Haven pizza? First, we learned to say it right. The signs say apizza, but this is really pronounced a-Bitz. Practice that, and you’ll make it in New Haven (which by the way is pronounced new HAVEN, not NEW haven).
Good water is an essential ingredient for pizza dough, and New Haven has been blessed. This good spring water is why the first artificial ice machine was developed by a Yalie. And why, you ask, do we need artificial ice machines? Well, to make beer, of course. New Haven has excellent water for lager, and as far back as 1646, when Deputy Governor Goodyear (whose descendents would invent the rubber tire) of New Haven Colony applied for his brewery license. Ice is essential for making, storing, and delivering good beer and would have been seasonal until that Yale invention.
Although the Greeks got us on our way to loving that flat bread (pita) with toppings, Italy helped make pizza what we know today, especially after incorporating tomatoes, an Inca product. Each region of Italy has its own style of pizza.
Pizza in New Haven is unique, too, developed by Italian immigrants in the 1880s. Water helps and so does the secret yeast used for the dough. The dough is stretched not rolled, which affects the consistency of the finished work of art, creating what Colin calls a taffly-like texture. And so does the oven, and the battles rage on about coal-fired vs oil-fired. Regardless, very hot, like 800-900 degrees, and flash cook it fast, like in 3 minutes.
Today we went to Modern, which I had heard is many people’s favorite, even over the overcrowded, and I think over-rated, Frank Pepe’s, as well as Sally’s and their coal-fired oven. About Modern, I now get it. The dough is light and chewy, with a clear olive oil flavor. The white clam pie? Okay, that was good. Squirt lemon on it. Oh my. Beats the mashed potato pizza at Bar downtown any day (although I do love the look of Bar). But I say, try them all and decide for yourself!
At Modern, I also tried Foxon Park white birch beer, which was refreshing and delicious on this hot, hot day. It also made a splash during Prohibition.
We didn’t just eat pizza–we went to two bakeries, a farmer’s market, a neighborhood bar claimed by the New Haven police, and a Mexican restaurant, whose owners intend to rectify the dearth of good Mexican food in Connecticut. The mole was too chocolate-y for me. Never thought I’d say that, but I want to taste the cumin, chili pepper, cinnamon, anise, oregano, cloves and other spices. A good mole, you can taste all the flavors. The place is called Mezcal, and we got a lesson in how to drink mezcal, starting with the chili-spiced orange slice followed by the tequila. Wow! A real shot of flavor in the mouth.
Colin continually wove in the history of this odd neighborhood–not quite gentrified, but not desperate either. I learned about ‘New Urbanism,’ which is just how we all like to live–walking villages with no need for a car–a concept inspired by life in New Haven. You can see how your neighborhood compares to this list of new urbanism characteristics from wikipedia, the source of all knowledge:
“According to husband-and-wife town planners Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, they observed mixed-use streetscapes with corner shops, front porches, and a diversity of well-crafted housing while living in one of New Haven‘s Victorian neighborhoods.
- The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
- Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 0.25 miles (1,300 ft; 0.40 km).
- There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles and families, the poor and the wealthy may find places to live.
- At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
- A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).
- An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
- There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than a tenth of a mile away.
- Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
- The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
- Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
- Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
- Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
- The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.”