Fact or fiction: New London style pizza
Hercule Poirot correctly identified murderers in 33 Agatha Christie novels. Sherlock Holmes was Sherlock Holmes. And Kinsey Millhone successfully worked her way through almost an entire alphabet's worth of fiendish crimes.
But none of these acutely astute sleuths — or any other real or fictional detectives, for that matter — ever tackled "The Secret of New London Style Pizza," a knotty puzzler rendered only slightly less intimidating by an omnipresent redolence of simmering tomato sauce and oven-bubbling mozzarella.
At the heart of this mystery lies the question: In the context that cities like New Haven, New York, Chicago and Detroit have respectively, culturally and organically developed their own styles of pizza, and are known for those styles, can it be definitively said there is a "New London style pizza?"
Hmm. Well, certainly, no one in New London advertises making "New London style" pizza, and yet there have been occasional and mostly ignored rumblings from, of all places, Massachusetts, where residents of Acton and Concord — a scant eight miles apart — have long trumpeted the deliciousness of "New London style pizza."
Back in 2012, David Huoppi, the brother of Peter Huoppi, The Day's director of multimedia, was driving from Boston to his home in western Massachusetts when he noticed a restaurant in Concord advertising "New London style pizza." Dave sent his sibling a photo, given that Peter works in New London.
Curious? Yes, but only mildly. Figuratively yawning, The Day posted the picture in an online blog asking if any readers were familiar with New London style pizza — and no one responded.
More recently, though, that the Concord restaurant is still in existence, and that a pizza place in Acton also claims to serve "New London style" pies, caught the attention of Day president and publisher Timothy Dwyer. He instantly demanded a Woodward/Bernstein-esque investigation to get to the bottom of whether A) New London style pizza is real and B) if so, what IS it and who invented it? Oh, and C) if this is a real thing, how quickly can the New London style pizza purveyors deliver several large pies to The Day newsroom?
Random and casual inquiries to a variety of local pizza chefs as to the existence of a style of pie indigenous to the Whaling City earned shrugged shoulders and typically puzzled responses — from longtime pizza chefs to relative newcomers.
"I haven't heard of New London style pizza," said Gert Dielli, assistant manager at Ocean Pizza, which has been crafting popular pizza since 1969. "There are two styles of pizza here in New London and New London County, your Greek style pizza and your Italian style pizza. I don't know what kind of pizza they have in Massachusetts, but probably what happened is (someone local) moved up there and opened their own restaurants."
Another old school New London spot is Mr. G's, which has been in existence since 1966. Owner Peter Gianakos said, "I don't think (New London has) the reputation like New Haven style or Chicago or New York style ... All the Greek-owned places around here use the same process and ingredients, but I don't think there's an actual recipe for New London style pizza."
And Ozzie Ozkan, owner of the relatively new College Pizza, serving Italian style pies, said, "I'm from New London and I know New York style pizza — Italian thin crust pizza — but I never heard of our own recipe here in New London."
But another source, Luigi Sferrazza of Luigi's Wood-Fired Pizza and former longtime chef at the Recovery Room, actually knew first-hand about the Acton New London style restaurant. "Two years ago, we were on a soccer trip in Acton with my daughter and I saw a billboard that says, 'Home of New London style pizza.' I was like, c'mon man, what's this?! New London, Connecticut?!"
Sferrazza and his wife decided to take the soccer team to eat there after their game, but the restaurant was closed. "So I went to the website and it says (they) worked in New London, Connecticut, came from Greece, and brought this concept of Greek style pizza to Acton. But I didn't get to try it!"
With that, a road trip to Acton and Concord was in order, and that's where more detailed bits of backstory trickled forth.
Though they wouldn't speak on the record, both Dino Bottos (Acton's New London Style Pizza restaurant) and his uncle Phillip Bottos (Concord's New London Style Pizza) chattily told similar stories about New London style pizza and their older relatives who opened the Massachusetts restaurants a half-century ago. Weaving together anecdotes from both men, it seems:
In the mid-60s, brothers Nick and Mike Bottos emigrated from Greece and stayed a while in New London. There, according to Dino and Phillip, the brothers were taken under the wing of a kindly, older Greek gentleman whose varied enterprises included making pizzas.
When Nick and Mike moved on from Connecticut and settled in the Acton/Concord area, each opened a shop featuring the style of pizza taught to them by the New London patriarch, whose name seems to have faded into the mists of history. In honor of that gentleman and the recipe they attempted to replicate, they called their pizzas "New London style."
Both founding Bottos brothers have died, but Nick's wife Cassie runs the Acton location with her son Dino. Phillip, who operates the Concord shop with his wife Afroditi Bottos, was Mike's brother.
Samplings by Day journalists of pizzas in both the Acton New London Style Pizza and Concord New London Style Pizza restaurants seemed necessary for accurate reportage and resulted in the observation that what was being billed as New London style is extremely similar to what New Londoners would instantly identify as Greek style pizza — that is, pizza with a thicker, oiled crust and the dough stretched into a perfectly circular pan.
After hearing the respective stories by Dino and Phillip, Day reporters were preparing to leave the Concord restaurant to return to New London when, almost as an afterthought, Phillip advised seeking out another family relative who, he said, was making the same style of pizza in Waterford at a place called Supreme Pizza.
Huh? New London style Pizza is connected to Acton- and Concord versions of New London style pizza through ... Waterford?
"Right! We are related. (Afroditi Bottos) is my aunt. She's my grandfather's first cousin's daughter," said Nik Matsas, one of three generations of the Matsas family that's been operating Supreme Pizza since 1979. He laughed. "Yeah, they own two places, in Concord and Acton, and they've been open over 40 years."
Given that connection, Matsas was asked if he was aware the two Bottos restaurants were called New London Style Pizza — and that it presumably indicates a certain recipe indigenous to New London.
"Of course, of course," Matsas said. "We don't make a big deal out of it ... because I just figured they're using it as a calling card. You say 'New London style' in Massachusetts and it's bound to draw customers because of the curiosity factor ... But, again, they're related to us, and it all goes back to Greece and most of the pizza places in this area have that connection. We started before them so it's New London style — not Acton or Concord style."
Shrewd investigators conclude that the Massachusetts folks coined the phrase "New London style" to describe, in mildly exotic fashion, a recipe approximation of a pizza they learned to make here in the big 06320. It seemed only logical to visit Pizzarama, which was opened in 1962 by George Dallas and is acknowledged to be the oldest Greek pizza restaurant in the city. If they were first, would they have a claim to inventing New London style pizza or at least providing the Greek style basics the Bottos brothers took to Mass?
When asked if he'd ever heard of New London style pizza, Anthony Teketas, general manager at Pizzarama — which was bought by his relatives, the Anastasiou family, in 1982 — Teketas said, "Yes, that's what we do. That's the traditional moniker of the pizza that we fix here. We've always been known for having crispy, flaky, not too thick/not too thin pizza. So the phrase 'New London style' would be best represented by the type of pizza we've been doing here for the last 60 years."
It's inevitable that all of the area Greek pizza places — and, for that matter, their Massachusetts offshoots — have their own twist and variances that make each distinctive. If, in fact, they're all creating a style of pizza that can be called "New London style pizza," the slogan probably isn't something the city council or a marketing outfit can simply proclaim and have the phrase take off nationwide. It's got to be organic.
Philosophically, Gianakos said, "Well, we're famous for quite a few things in this area — the Coast Guard Academy and Conn College, the Subase, Eugene O'Neill and more — so it's pretty neat to hear we're also making New London style pizza."