Clam Apizza - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Clam Apizza

New Haven's signature pie combines staples from Rhode Island and Naples.

When is pizza apizza? When someone from the Campania region of Italy is talking. Pronounced “ah-beets,” apizza became New Haven, Connecticut’s regional way of describing what the rest of the country calls “pizza.” How does apizza end up covered in clams? It certainly isn’t an Italian concept.

Clam apizza was invented at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut, during the 1960s. The unexpected pairing is the brainchild of Frank Pepe himself, who served raw littleneck clams from Rhode Island as an appetizer. Freshly shucked clams were placed on top of Pepe’s white (sauceless) apizza, topped with Romano cheese, olive oil, garlic, and oregano before being coal-fired in an open-flame brick oven.

Clam apizza isn’t just any white pie with a handful of clams thrown on top. The New Haven–style pizza on which it’s served is an entity all its own, and clam apizza is the most noteworthy rendition of this local specialty. During the early 20th century, parts of New Haven became enclaves of Italian immigrants, particularly from Southern Italy, where Neapolitan-style pizza originated. Known for its brief 60- to 90-second cook time, Neapolitan-style pizza is served uncut and slightly wet in the center. The Neapolitan immigrants that landed in New Haven developed “a hotter, crispier, and dirtier descendant” of that pie. With a charred, more substantial crust, New Haven–style apizza could be cut into slices and topped with heavier things–like dozens of raw clams or piles of aged mozzarella that locals call “mootz.”

Pepe’s white clam apizza has won “best pizza in the country” multiple years in a row. The restaurant may be famous for clam pie, but the combination has since become a Northeastern signature. Spin-offs of the original have also taken on a life of their own, with bacon and chili joining the ranks of popular ingredients fired alongside fresh littlenecks.

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