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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Follow along as Conn.'s pizza makers head to D.C. to make New Haven the (a)'pizza capital'

    New Haven — U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, is staking her claim in the nation's capital that the country's pizza capital actually is 300 or so miles north in New Haven.

    It's a distance 110 New Haven apizza chefs, owners and entrepreneurs, along with a smattering of politicians, media and even apizza filmmakers and branding experts, will be making to Washington, D.C., in a chartered Avelo jet to support the declaration Wednesday.

    They headed down from Tweed New Haven Regional Airport to join DeLauro, D-3, on the U.S. Capitol steps to passionately declare that New Haven is the Pizza Capital of America — and celebrate DeLauro reading into the Congressional Record a statement, delivered on the House floor, declaring as much.

    "For more than a century, New Haven has been home to some of the most famous pizzerias in the country, known for everything from a plain sauce to white clam to mashed potato," the declaration reads. "Earlier this year, Governor Ned Lamont declared New Haven to be the pizza capital of Connecticut — I rise today to claim New Haven as the pizza capital of the United States."

    The traveling New Haven apizza roadshow began bright and early Wednesday as several cheerful apizza enthusiasts waited to board the plane.

    Folks dined on the plane on "panuozzi" breakfast sandwiches prepared — from pizza dough, of course — by Sally's Apizza. The dinner versions of those newish sandwiches are something Sally's now serves at all of its restaurants except the original on Wooster Street.

    Some of the more adventurous travelers even will drink New England Brewing Co. beer on the way, said pizza historian and trip organizer Colin Caplan of Taste of New Haven.

    The trip will include a trip for lunch to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana's Alexandria, Va. restaurant, as well as a trip to the Vietnam War Memorial, designed by Yale University graduate sculptor Maya Lin, Caplan said.

    Why is this happening?

    It's not just because they all think New Haven and Connecticut have the best pizza in America.

    It's about our heritage, said DeLauro. It's about all the generations of people who have spent their lives crafting New Haven apizza into what it is today. It's about what unites us as a community, she said.

    DeLauro got the idea back in February when she, Gov. Ned Lamont and Mayor Justin Elicker joined some of the most legendary New Haven pizza makers and pizzeria owners to try their hands at making pizza at a National Pizza Day event at Ernies Pizzeria on Whalley Avenue.

    At that Feb. 9 event, Lamont proclaimed New Haven the "Pizza Capital of America."

    But DeLauro's declaration on the House of Representatives floor is even more enduring and official. It will be broadcast on CSPAN and archived in the Congressional Record — and then live on in the Library of Congress.

    It's similar to something she did a few years back proclaiming Louis' Lunch in New Haven, which has served hamburgers cooked in upright cast-iron ovens since 1895, "Birthplace of the Hamburger."

    DeLauro's pizza declaration reads in part, "In my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut there is a specially crafted food that draws people from across the country to the City. It is called apizza — which is pronounced 'ah-beetz' — and is the original way 'la pizza' was pronounced in Southern Italy."

    DeLauro even acknowledges those other pizza capital wannabees in the declaration.

    "While there certainly are other communities, like New York or Chicago, who have transformed pizza into their own local traditions, New Haven alone is home to more than 75 pizza-making establishments, supporting thousands of jobs and over $100 million in sales, feeding 2 million customers annually," she said.

    On a state level, Connecticut has more than 1,200 pizza-making establishments, producing more than 150 million pizza and $3.5 billion in sales per year, according to the declaration.

    The declaration also states Connecticut has the most pizzerias per capita and the most family-owned pizzerias of any state.

    DeLauro said Tuesday, that the Congressional Record statements reflect and preserve important reflection's of people's districts.

    "It is a historical record in the archives of Congress and it preserves the commentary," she said, adding it's a "proclamation of the longstanding debate" over who makes America's best pizza.

    But does that mean people — even those in New Jersey, New York and at proud 104-year-old joints like Vito & Nick's Pizza on the South Side of Chicago — should believe it just because DeLauro says so.

    No, DeLauro said.

    "It's not just because I say it," she said. "There's so much evidence. My saying it just reinforces it."

    If you're a doubter, you need only "witness all these restaurants outside of Connecticut talking about" and trying to replicate New Haven-style pizza, DeLauro said.

    "This is about the history of pizza in Wooster Square, going back to the early part of the 20th Century," said DeLauro, whose late father used to play basketball with the late Sal Consiglio, of Sally's, when they were kids.

    "I think pizza in New Haven is not just a celebration of small business — which it is," DeLauro said. "It's a celebration of Italian-American culture."

    She went down the list of people "who have come from far and wide to taste Connecticut's pizza," including Ted Kennedy Jr., Bill Murray, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton — who first ate apizza on Wooster Street when they were Yale Law School students — and even Frank Sinatra.

    Competing pizza cities aren't happy

    Attempts to reach several of DeLauro's congressional counterparts in New York and Chicago were not immediately successful.

    But over at Vito & Nick's in Chicago — a place where South Siders make fun of Chicago's more famous pizza-in-the-pan tradition and call it a North Side gimmick for tourists — the pizzaman who answered the phone showed some respect for New Haven pizza. But he didn't think his boss, Vito & Nick's owner Rose Barraco George, would agree with New Haven being proclaimed the pizza capital.

    "I'm in no position to speak for the owner," said Vito & Nick's cook Dave Sobek. "But I think I've got a pretty good idea what she'd say: She'd probably say that's nonsense."

    Nevertheless, from what Sobek has seen of New Haven apizza, "it does look pretty good," he said.

    "I'm very familiar with the New Haven pizza ... especially the one with the white clams," Sobek said. "It's something unique, and unique is good. I especially like the fact that they use what they've got."

    New Yorkers argued that the pizza title should go to them, the New York Post reported.

    "Even Italians when they come here, they say the pizza of New York is better than the one in Italy right now," Mohamed Ali, of Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in Manhattan, told the New York Post. "Connecticut — how many people live there? It's New York, Manhattan!"

    Kevin Jackson, the general manager of John's on the Village's Bleeker Street, conceded that Connecticut can cook a mean pie, the New York Post reported.

    "They're very good — but they're not New York," he told the outlet. "Once you come to New York, you won't go back to New Haven."

    New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker acknowledged the article as he joined trip organizer Colin Caplan on the intercom Wednesday morning, speaking to a plane full of Connecticut pizza enthusiasts as they were taking off to the nation's capital Wednesday morning.

    "I understand there's a New York Post article and New York is very upset," Elicker said. "What they need to understand is that it's not about quantity of pizza joints, it's about quality. And clearly New York crushes us when it comes to quantity of pizza joints, but we crush New York when it's about the quality of our pizza joints."

    "New York's got a lot going for it — but pizza?" Elicker said moments later as he sat on the plane. "It's not about quantity. It's about quality — and New Haven's got the quality, hands down."

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