It's probably safe to say that pizza is Connecticut's most beloved food. Between its history of coal-fired pizzerias in greater New Haven and newer gourmand places experimenting with burrata, truffles and fried eggs, the Nutmeg State is home to hundreds of pizza joints firing up dozens of styles.
So we reached out to our readers through social media to hear about their favorite hidden gems, those pies that hold special places in their hearts and have brightened countless Friday nights after long workweeks, the fun, relaxed dives that encourage you to come as you are and kick back with a pie and a beer.
In honor of National Pizza Month (October), we wanted to experience your hometown favorites for ourselves, tasting a cheese and specialty pie from 10 restaurants, chosen based on number of suggestions and geographic representation, from Litchfield to New London counties. Click on the full gallery here.
Little City Pizza, Simsbury
Specialty/signature pie: The Little City, ($14 and $17 small and large): Farmington Valley residents love their Little City; this one came up repeatedly in reader suggestions. The pizzeria, near-hidden in an upscale Simsbury shopping plaza, is family-friendly with a comic-book motif. It's pies are thin yet sturdy enough to handle a number of specialty toppings: mashed potatoes, andouille and shrimp, meatballs. The commendable plain mozzarella arrived with welcome touches of julienned basil underneath the blanket of cheese, and the eponymous white pie with grilled chicken, roasted garlic spread, artichoke hearts, melted leeks and fontina and Romano cheeses was marvelous, a dream pizza for those who aren't as enamored of tomato sauces (or who aren't afraid of alliums.) littlecitypizzaco.com.
Bohemian Pizza, Litchfield
Specialty/signature pie: The Islander, ($19.95, one size): Bohemian Pizza is the antithesis of quaint, staid Litchfield, with its ramshackle exterior and eccentric décor (Christmas lights, LP covers for wallpaper, animal-print booths, a canoe mounted upside-down on the ceiling.) The pizzas have as much personality as the quirky surroundings, with each large, sprawling pie serving as a canvas for toppings like Nodine's andouille sausage; chicken with ricotta, broccoli and lemon; and goat cheese with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. The crust is substantial enough to support ingredients with heft like the Islander: a colorful, flavorful mix of slow-cooked pulled pork, fresh chunks of pineapple, red onion, scallions and a drizzle of barbecue sauce. bohemianpizza.com.
Stretch's Pizza, Newington
Specialty/signature pie: white clam ($12 and $20.50, small and large): Steven "Stretch" and Cathi Kurmaskie's Hartford pizza pedigree includes years of experience at First & Last Tavern before they opened their own shop in a Newington strip mall next to a Starbucks in 2009. Service was extremely friendly and began with a small basket of garlic and herb focaccia pieces. We preferred the traditional mozzarella pie, with its nicely bubbled crust edge, fresh-tasting sauce and scattering of grated Parmesan, to the white clam, which was heavier on garlic than seafood flavor. stretchspizza.net.
Angelina's Pizza, West Hartford
Specialty/signature pie: Pepperoni ($3.75 a slice): At Angelina's, a "slice" is more like two — and at just $2.99 for plain cheese, that makes it one of the least expensive meals you'll find in the Hartford area. The West Hartford pizzeria is beloved by college students and police officers alike, and for good reason: The oversized, foldable New York-style pieces are fresh, filling and satisfying. Maybe the slices could use a little extra cheese and toppings, but at these prices, it's pretty hard to complain. biggestpizzainct.com.
Enfield Pizza, Thompsonville
Specialty/signature pie: buffalo chicken ($9.99 to $19.99, small to party-size): The popular pizzeria in Enfield's Thompsonville section doesn't have much of a seating area, but its delivery operation appears to be quite brisk, with a team of employees handling a stream of calls and hustling orders to waiting vehicles — even on a Thursday morning before noon. The crust is what we'd call "medium" thickness, which is good because the pizzeria is not skimpy with cheese and toppings. The buffalo chicken pie, with a liberal serving of breaded and sauced chicken chunks, packs a nice fiery punch. enfieldpizza.com.
New England Pizza & Restaurant, Vernon
Specialty/signature pie: Moussaka, ($11.95 to $19.95, small, medium, large): The Hatzisavvas family has owned and operated Vernon's New England Pizza since 1982, and its friendly, homey atmosphere makes you feel like you're part of the clan, too. The Greek-style pan-baked crust — perhaps too bready and thick for true thin-crust aficionados, but a great example of the technique — is generously loaded with sauce and cheese. Moussaka pizza is a variation on the Greek casserole, with a hearty combination of sliced meatballs, eggplant, red potato, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. nepizzact.com.
The Plum Tomato, Salem and Colchester
Specialty/signature pie: bacon and white margherita (slices $1.99 to $2.49): The Plum Tomato really knows its way around dough. In addition to its thin-crust, brick-oven pies, the pizzeria with outposts in Salem and Colchester also hand-makes the bread for its popular flatbread "Brickini" and Italian-style "Fatti" sandwiches. (A colleague who grew up in southeastern Connecticut begged us to bring him back a turkey-stuffed Brickini, and it looked amazing.) But for the purpose of this taste-test, we stuck to the available slices at the Salem location, sampling cheese, bacon, pepperoni and white margherita varieties. The Plum Tomato's pizza is enjoyable, but I found myself a little more intrigued by the freshly baked sandwich possibilities. theplumtomato.com.
Fireside Brick Oven Creations, Ledyard
Specialty/signature pie: Great Smokey Mountain, ($15.99, 12-inch; and $20.99, 18-inch): We're intrigued by all the dishes coming out of Fireside's wood-fired brick oven: wings, stuffed jalapenos, gourmet flatbreads, sandwiches and even dessert pizzas (s'mores, anyone?) The menu at this restaurant in the Gales Ferry section of Ledyard is extensive and it's tough to settle on just one specialty pie, but we made a good choice with the Great Smokey Mountain, which replicates the flavors of a cheese steak on Fireside's hearty, blistered crust. It's got seasoned shaved steak, caramelized onions, green peppers, house-made steak sauce and a smooth, melty blend of provolone and American cheeses, and it officially won over our resident expert, Philadelphia native @TheSuzieHunter. (Note: Fireside is closed for vacation until Oct. 13.) firesideboc.com.
Tolli's Apizza, East Haven
Specialty/signature pie: shrimp and arugula with tomato ($17.50 to $38, small, medium, large): New Haven gets most of the national press, so we wanted to see what its neighbor to the east — a town particularly rich in Italian heritage — was doing with apizza. Tolli's in East Haven didn't disappoint, with charming décor and warm service. The thin-crust mozzarella was admirable, but the specialty pie with shrimp, arugula and tomato was the clear winner, as aesthetically beautiful as it was delicious with lemon, Parmesan and Grana Padano lending sharp, tangy notes to the flavor profile. (We'll be honest: After sampling 16 pies in four days, those vegetables were particularly welcome.) tollisapizza.com.
The Little Rendezvous, Meriden
Specialty/signature pie: sausage, ($10.25 to $17, small, medium, large): Meriden loves this unpretentious pizzeria with a fabled past; its coal-fired oven, originally used to bake bread, dates back to 1888. Fifty years later, that iconic oven began churning out pizzas as The Little Rendezvous. The unique building's setup is even part of its history: the front dining room, which was once a market, connects to the back building (the former bakery) by a narrow hallway. Pies here are crispy, with char at the edges, and maybe a little more dense than you'll typically find in New Haven. The sausage is crumbled evenly and generously across the crust, its robust flavor melding nicely with the mozzarella and thick, rich sauce. In keeping with its old-school charm, Little Rendezvous is a cash-only operation. thelittlevous.com.