In honor of National Pi Day on March 14, here’s a look at some of the best pizza pie around. Of course, by tackling this subject, we’re just begging to be smacked with a pizza pan. New Englanders are passionate about pizza: You’ll never convince a Santarpio’s fan that the original Regina is better, or a lover of Sicilian slabs that skinny flatbread is the way to go. We all have our hometown favorites, but where do you go when you’re on the road and you Need. Pizza. Now? Here’s a look at the slices that keep topping the “best pizza” lists.
Obligatory COVID note: These pizza palaces are open for takeout. Some offer limited indoor dining.
Alley Cat Pizzeria (www.alleycatpizzerianh.com ) in Manchester has won New Hampshire Magazine’s “Best of New Hampshire” pizza plaudits several times. That’s street cred. In a side-by-side comparison of the state’s best pizza in 2017, the magazine hailed this plain-Jane downtown spot as “unexpected takeout gold,” and praised the “cracker-thin masterpiece” crust. Alley Cat is under new ownership now, and slightly spiffed up, but they wouldn’t dare mess with the loaded specialty pies that keep all of “Manch” coming back — like the Fat Cat with marinated BBQ chicken and red onions.
THOP, a.k.a. … Tilton House of Pizza (www.tiltonhouseofpizza.com) is more homespun than hipster. Little Leaguers, families, tourists — all come together here, united by the love of thick, sauce-slathered dough and stretchy cheese. Located on the riverside, THOP was on the list of “101 Best Pizzas in America” by the “Daily Meal,” and is beloved by all for the sheer number of combinations available, from spinach and feta to grilled chicken and broccoli Alfredo.
Can nearly 25,000 Vermonters be wrong? That’s how many voted in the most recent Seven Daysies awards (2019) at the alternative weekly newspaper Seven Days (www.sevendaysvt.com.) A top vote-getter in the best pizza category: Pizzeria Verita’ (www.pizzeriaverita.com ) in Burlington. These wood-fired Neapolitan-style (super-thin) pies are topped with San Marzano tomatoes, house-made fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), and a medley of tasty add-ons. Most toppings are locally sourced, supporting local farmers and food producers in the Neapolitan tradition. The quality really comes through with their simplest pies, like the Pizzarao (fior di latte, crushed tomatoes, caramelized onions, fresh basil, and oregano.) Vegan cheese is an option.
Seven Daysies voters piled on the love for Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge (www.piecasso.com) in Stowe. The publication raved, “Owner Eduardo Rovetto’s parents came from Sicily and taught him well” in the art of creating hand-tossed, thin-crust pizzas. Word on the slopes is, order the Carcass, a protein-lover’s fantasy of pepperoni, spicy sausage, ham, bacon, meatballs, and double mozzarella. Choose from a white flour or cauliflower crust, and get a drizzle of CBD oil on your pie for an extra three bucks.
When it comes to pizza, New Haven rules, says pizza guru Colin Caplan, owner of Taste of New Haven (www.tasteofnewhaven.com.) “For 83 years, the plain tomato pie at Sally’s Apizza (www.sallysapizza.com) has been the gold standard,” says Caplan. Sally’s thin, char-crusted, coal-fired, “heavenly” pies are topped by a thick layer of crushed tomato, oregano, Pecorino Romano cheese and garlic. We fell hard for Sally’s white potato pie, with onions, imported Parmesan, mozzarella, and rosemary — the love child of pizza and gnocchi.
No surprise: Caplan gives high marks to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (www.pepespizzeria.com) for the famous white clam pie. For nearly a century, fans have flocked to New Haven for this coal-fired pie, dotted with fresh littleneck clams, plus garlic, olive oil, oregano and Pecorino Romano cheese. It’s also been rated number one in the United States for 2020 by The Daily Meal (www.thedailymeal.com.)
Talk about loaded: The Italian Bomb pie at Modern Apizza (www.modernapizza.com) boasts three meats (bacon, sausage, and meatballs), and four vegetables (peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic), along with crushed tomato and mozzarella cheese. You’d think that this would be too much for a thin-crusted pie to handle, but no — this brick oven-fired delight is up to the task, delivering “an explosion of flavor,” Caplan raves.
Lobster pizza is a treat, not a travesty, in the capable hands of chef Kerry Altiero at Cafe Miranda (www.cafemiranda.com) in Rockland. Lobster is a luxurious add-on to his gourmet wood-fired pizzas. Feeling puckish after strolling the L.L. Bean campus in Freeport? The brick oven at Tuscan Bistro (www.tuscanbrickovenbistro.com) yields pizza so delicious, we’ve eaten it outdoors on their patio in mittens. (The house-made fennel sausage pie with burrata is insane.)
Some of the same names keep cropping up on foodie lists. The folks at Maine Eater (www.maine.eater.com) rave about the oversize, pillowy, Sicilian-style rectangles at Micucci’s Grocery (www.micuccigrocery.com), in Portland, available only at lunchtime. Cheesy secret: They use a 50-50 blend of Wisconsin provolone and mozzarella. In the “local institution” category, Pizza by Alex (www.pizzabyalexmaine.com), in Biddeford has been tossing their beloved 10-inch pies for more than 50 years. Their house-made sauce and use of cheddar or feta cheese make these Greek-style pies special. Order the Yaya’s Greek, with onions, feta cheese, and spinach.
You probably won’t order the 28-inch party-size pie at The Cabin (www.cabinpizza.com ) in Bath. But you’ll wish you did, if only for the leftovers. Audaciously claiming to serve ‘The Only Real Pizza in Maine,’ this place has been slinging dough in a rustic former mill building since 1973. Want cauli crust, or some weird topping? Don’t even ask. Simple, basic, and fabulous are the bywords here. Try the Veggie, topped with cheese, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, olives, fresh tomato, and more cheese.
The pizza at Bettola in Cranston (www.bettola.com) is a happy culinary marriage of Naples-meets-New York. “It comes out charred on the edges but it’s firm enough to eat by the slice and, if you’re from Queens, you’ll even be able to fold it in half while swallowing the slice in three swift bites,” wrote Karen Deutsch in a recent article for “Rhode Island Monthly” (www.rimonthly.com). Add some pizzazz to your ‘za with a splash of truffle buffalo sauce, white truffle oil, or some lemon aioli. Veggie lovers, all hail the pink sauce pie with artichokes, caramelized onions, and a drizzle of hot honey. Yum. We can vouch for the Fig ‘N’ A, a fiesta of arugula, prosciutto, figs, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, gorgonzola, garlic oil, and fig-balsamic glaze that hits a bazillion flavor notes.
Providence Coal Fired Pizza (www.providencecoalfiredpizza.com), with locations in Providence, North Kingstown, and Westerly, was the first pizzeria in the Ocean State to use coal-fired ovens. The result of scorching, 900-degree baking: a crunchy, smoky crust with the perfect degree of char. On a recent visit to the Providence outpost for takeout, we debated the virtues of the pizza-as-salad Rocket (topped with a pile of arugula and pecorino) and the Conrad (with onions, sausage, roasted peppers, rosemary, mozzarella, and pecorino). We chose the latter, and reveled in the spicy/crispy deliciousness — even though we sacrificed an L.L. Bean parka to the cause (sausage stains)!
In Boston and beyond
Around these parts, you’re either Team Regina or Team Santarpio. Standing in line at the original (c. 1926) Pizzeria Regina (www.pizzeriaregina.com) in the North End is a rite of passage for Bostonians. You’ll be redolent of garlic for, like, days if you order the Broccoli Aglio e Olio (white pizza with loads of broccoli and even more garlic), but it’s so worth it. Santarpio’s Pizza (www.santarpiospizza.com ) began life as a bakery in 1903. Now of course, this no frills, cash-only Eastie joint is a must-go for decadent, heavily-loaded pizza, plus house-made sausage and skewers of barbecued meats. That shrimp scampi pizza? Last-meal worthy.
If you like your pizza fancy, maybe topped with arugula, please skip the James Beard Award-winning Galleria Umberto on Hanover Street, to leave space in line for those who truly appreciate these hefty, cheese-laden slabs of Sicilian carb. It’s open for lunch only; in-the-know pizza lovers arrive by 10:30 a.m. before they sell out.
Some folks are all about the toppings — the crust itself is a mere platform for what goes on top. If that’s you, get thee to All Star Pizza Bar (www.allstarpizzabar.com) in Inman Square, Cambridge. Think killer combos like meat loaf and red onion jam, pulled pork and mango — if you can dream it, pizza wunderkind Kosta and Johnny Diamantopoulos can do it. Potato skins and Brussels sprout, anyone? Vegan and vegetarian options abound (almond milk bechamel)!
And if you’re tired of the same-old, same-old (we all ate a ton of pandemic pizza), head over to Area Four (www.areafour.com) in Kendall Square and other locales, and try something creative from their wood-fired oven. They add plenty of love to the product — the dough ferments for 30-plus hours, and they hand-pull the mozzarella — so you know it’ll be amazing, whether you go for, say, the sausage and pickled pepper pie, or a Wellfleet cherrystone clam and bacon combo.
Heading to the Great Barrington? Don’t miss Baba Louie’s (www.babalouiespizza.com) for its wood-fired sourdough pizza. The result is tangy and tasty, the perfect foil for high-quality toppings, often sourced locally, like vine-ripened tomatoes and good cheeses. The Isabella Pizzarella — with roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, caramelized onions, garlic, fresh mozzarella and shaved fennel drizzled with balsamic reduction — is a farmer’s market on a plate.
We could go on — so much pizza, so many stories! There’s Red Rose Pizzeria (www.redrosepizzeria.com) in Springfield, where three generations of the Caputo family make such good pizza, they’ve had to expand four times. And the enterprising Candidus twins from Newton, a pair of saucy siblings who started with a coal-fired oven and a trailer, and now operate four locations of Max & Leo’s Artisan Pizza (www.maxandleospizza.com.) It takes 900 degrees and all of two minutes to bake one of their doubly-delicious pies.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com