Written by Anita
April 22, 2012
It doesn’t take long to gather from Haven Pizzeria Napoletana’s founder and owner Tiger Mullen that the Bethesda pizzeria is a labor of love. Tiger’s father and grandfather both hailed from New Haven, Connecticut, and he fondly recalls enjoying apizza at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (known as “Pepe’s” to the locals) as a kid.
Indeed, Haven pays homage to Pepe’s, one of the oldest pizzerias in the United States, in a number of ways. Several pizzaiolos (including chef and manager Mark Bergami) and members of the waitstaff have experience in the New Haven institution and some menu items, like the white clam pie topped with clams that are purchased by the bushel and freshly shucked by hand, are straight off Pepe’s menu. Apizzas are served on a metal tray topped with waxed paper and can be washed down with Foxon Park soda, which has been bottled in East Haven since 1922 and served at Pepe’s since 1925.
While staying true to its inspiration, Haven also takes things up a notch. Its bar is topped with marble that once was part of the floor of Independence Hall. The pizzeria’s own floors are milled from reclaimed wood from the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, and Haven’s roomy booths can accommodate up to eight people. Waitstaff are clad in striped tees that are reminiscent of Italian gondoliers.
In addition to its more upscale setting, Haven adds some extras: a full-service wine bar, additional menu items (including one of our favorites—coal oven roasted tomatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil, and parmigiano and bursting with sweet summer flavor) and homemade breads and gelatos made in house with all-natural ingredients (our favorite gelato?: The uber-creamy pistachio…but a sampler is available so that you can discover your own).
As for the main attraction, New Haven neophytes may need a primer: apizza (pronounced ah-beets) has a thin crispy crust and, unlike traditional pizza, is never flipped in the preparation process. Haven’s apizza dough uses an Italian yeast culture that is over 300 years old. Made daily at 10pm, the pizzaiolos can make up to 3,500 pounds of dough at a time, which is cut into 6oz portions by hand and proofed in house. Apizzas can be topped with a variety of ingredients, including imported Italian tomatoes, hand-sliced sausage and pepperoni, and premium prosciutto. We savored the white spinach and mushroom pie, topped with mootz (that’s mozzarella in the New Haven dialect) and grated cheese. In the tradition of New Haven apizza, slices are cut so that they cannot be folded—encouraging diners to stick around and savor them hot-from-the-oven as intended (although take-out is available).
Apizzas are baked in clean burning anthracite coal-fired brick ovens. The ovens hold center stage at Haven; Custom designed by an 82-year-old Italian bread oven maker, they include 4,500 bricks and reach an internal cooking temperature of 2,200 degrees. Each oven is 12-feet deep and 12-feet wide (the pizza peels here are remarkably long!) and weighs in at a whopping 100,000 pounds. It took six weeks to season the ovens, which now add just the right amount of char to the apizza crust.
Can’t wait for a taste of Haven? Check out its YouTube video. Want to feel special? Then stop by midday to experience Haven’s special lunch menu (available only from 11am-3pm), which includes $4-$5 starters and a selection of apizzas (small=$8/large=$14). Looking for a new happy hour spot? Haven’s happy hour, from 4:30pm to 7:30pm daily, includes $5 menu items, $2-$3 beer selections, and $5 wine specials. Haven can’t wait!