Pizzawars continues in New Haven with our next installment. This time we got a little adventuresome by branching out beyond the "Big Three" pizza places (Pepe's, Sally's, Modern's) and heading to pizza pastures heretofore unknown. This episode is about Zeneli's vs Bar (part II)
The Challenger: Zeneli's
So it turns out that everyone else wants to take part in the Pizzawars. On a lovely weekend afternoon we made the pilgrimage out to Wooster Square, the historic Italian immigrant neighborhood where pizza in New Haven was supposedly born. It was about 2 PM. We figured we'd grab a spot in one of the "Big Three," knock out a few slices of 'za, and pound out another installment of Pizzawars. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea...at 2 PM. At that hour, Pepe's had a line that was at least 20 people deep, and you could hear the crowd at Sally's from halfway down the street. Man, brutal!
But thankfully, across the street from Pepe's is another place, Zeneli's. We couldn't believe our eyes. We checked, and double-checked. But no, it was right: five stars on Yelp. Not four-and-a-half, but one, two, three, four, FIVE pointy ones! Even better? There was almost no line.
So faced with a 45+ min wait at Pepe's (remember, it's 2 PM) or five-star Zeneli's, we opted for Zeneli's. As it turns out Zeneli's has a great story. It was started by 5 brothers who were born in Albania, but immigrated to Italy where they grew up. Each one applied their talents to a different part of the pizza-making business (cheese-making, dough-making, people skills, etc.) and eventually came to New Haven to start their shop. Nice!
We ordered, and were greeted with the following:
The pizza was good. Nice dough, nice toppings. The sauce wasn't too notable. Everything had a good, clean, taste, and the crust had that New Haven char. Overall, a delicious though somewhat unremarkable, pie. The pasta, however, was excellent: creamy, with the right amount of taste, and very satisfying. As Jen informed me, cacio e pepe is composed of simple ingredients that are very challenging to cook together.
Moreover, the server, one of the Albanian brothers, was charming and friendly. He offered us grated parmesan cheese and chuckled when we brought up the family backstory. Turns out the fifth brother is still in Italy, raising goats (for cheese)!
Taken together: decent pizza, excellent pasta, a great backstory and ambience, put Zeneli's on our list of restaurants in New Haven to remember.
And defending its title in the other corner...Bar
Yes, we went back to Bar. As you may remember, we ranked Bar above Sally's due to the dining experience (but not necessarily the pizza). This time however, there was a twist. We invited my long-time friend and Tri-State Area native, Nick Peck, to join the judging panel.
Furthermore, Bar upped its game with a new pizza: the seasonal Elote hot Taki's pizza. Yes, you read that right. The pizza was composed of Elote (Mexican corn, street food style) and hot Taki's. For those of you who (like us) didn't know what a "Taki" was, check the picture at the top of this post. That's a Taki.
Bar also brought its standard heavy-hitters, including its (in)famous mashed potato and bacon white pie.
The verdict was that...the Elote/Taki's pizza...WAS DELICIOUS. We devoured that thing up in minutes. I couldn't even get a picture of it. The thing was dripping with sweet corn, oil, and the salty crunch of Taki's, and we couldn't get enough. Nick was also a fan of the mashed potato and bacon pie. Quote, "that thing is not a pizza. You can't call it a pizza. But whatever it is, it's just a good dish."
As usual, the dining experience was fantastic. We were seated instantly, the pizza portions were enormous (those are "smalls" on the table), and had a great time.
When it comes to pizza, Bar still wins. The Elote/Taki's pizza was an unexpected haymaker, and Zeneli's standard pizzas just didn't pop. However when it comes to overall restaurant experience, we'd give the edge to Zeneli's due to their pasta, backstory, and ambience. But, this being Pizzawars, it's all about the pizza, so for now, Bar keeps the crown. Next challenger up!
This post's randomness:
Jen's favorite game is Unstable Unicorns, a card game involving unicorns, magic, and lots of back-stabbing. She loves it. Unfortunately it turns out that Nick also loves card games, and apparently being really good at Magic, the Gathering, translates to Unstable Unicorns, because Jen and I were both handed our butts by Nick in three consecutive games. Tip of the hat, sir: game recognize game.