Our protagonist, Trevor Tack, stands in the blazing hot kitchen at “Sally’s Apizza”, a favorite haunt of Sinatra’s that’s been churning out New Haven, Connecticut’s signature pizza since 1935.
“Get outta my way, Oklahoma! I’m burning pies over here,” the pizza chef yells at Tack with a thick east coast inflection. Tack’s black sweater is covered with flour-white handprints from being simultaneously embraced and pushed around Sally’s tiny kitchen.
Trevor Tack, corporate executive chef of the McNellie’s Group, was here on a pizza pilgrimage, researching New Haven’s famous Wooster Street pizzerias for The McNellie’s Group newest downtown venture – Elgin Park.
New Haven is a hotbed for a unique style of pizza – or, “apizza” pronounced “ah-peetz.” Italian immigrants settled the area in the early 1900s, and blended classic Neapolitan-style pizza with a few tricks of their own. After his visit, Tack spent three months developing his own take on New Haven style for Elgin Park Pizza.
The two major differences between a New Haven pie and a run-of-the-mill pie are the crust and the sauce. The New Haven dough isn’t rushed to rise and tossed around like New York style. Instead, it is allowed to ferment longer and gets a whole night of cold proofing before coming back up to room temperature, when it is stretched gently into its signature oblong shape and put into a coal-fired oven.
“It’s a looser dough,” says Tack, who uses two types of flour to get “the crumb, the chew and the crunch” while the specialized oven adds a nice char.
“I think of a pizza sort of like a six pack. You gotta have at least three or four slices, right?” says Tack. “So I wanted this crust to be nice and light.”
Tack takes a New Haven approach to the pizza sauce as well.
“The sauce isn’t pre-cooked. We build our pie by putting tomato sauce down first, then fresh ground garlic, oregano and olive oil. We build layers of flavor, which makes it very fresh tasting. It’s not muted. You’ve got a lot of sharp flavors in there.”
The New Haven pies don’t always have a tomato-based sauce, and mozzarella, or “mootz,” doesn’t come standard. The New Haven Traditional “red pie” takes the signature dough and layers it only with their fresh tomato mixture and a dusting of pecorino. The red pie is a strong departure from the pizzas to which Okies are accustomed; but even without heaps of mozzarella, the pizza packs nuanced flavor. However, don’t let this barebones pie give the impression that Elgin Park can’t go hard in the mootz.
“When the pizza is brought to your table, you have to give it five minutes to settle. That’s the key, to let all that cheese come back together,” says Tack. “Otherwise, cheese just goes everywhere and it’s like a…like a cheese orgy!”
The New Haven Potato Pizza is an example of a traditional “white pie,” which starts with a layer of olive oil, rosemary, onion and garlic that is topped with thinly sliced red potatoes and pecorino. This pizza is an unexpected homerun, delivering savory complexity, while the chew of the crust with the delicate crunch of the potatoes is a revelation.
Other than the potato pie and the white clam pie, which is a New Haven mainstay, the rest of the menu features familiar favorites, like the BBQ Chicken with pineapple and onions, or you can build your own pizza with classic toppings, like pepperoni and Italian sausage.
“I didn’t want to get too chef-y with this menu. I wanted this to be a family-friendly, neighborhood pizza spot downtown,” says Tack. “It’s an everyman pizza, but a lot of care has been taken in making it by the time it gets to you. Even though it’s just pizza, I feel like simple things done well can be really soul satisfying.”
Though the New Haven pizza has its roots in rustic buildings, Elgin Park inhabits a sleek, beautiful space directly across from the ONEOK Baseball Field. Tack says it’s “a nod toward sports without screaming SPORTS.” Several large booths swathed with baseball-glove inspired leather, soft leather-bound drink menus and 50 televisions inhabit the open, repurposed warehouse space.
Long communal tables and a sizeable bar, where old school trophies are fashioned into pulls for the bar taps, are surrounded by huge mechanical windows that can be opened wide, bringing downtown action inside and creating a primo spot for watching those post-game fireworks.
Elgin Park is also a brewery, using the expertise of Eric Marshall of Marshall Brewing to help develop the recipes and build the brewery itself, which functions as a design element in the space, too. Though they like to have fun with the names, like Slam Dunkel, Barry Blondes and Performance Enhancing Pils, these are serious beers that are perfect for washing down a slice or four. You can also purchase growlers of their special brews to enjoy in your own home.
Outside of pizza, the Elgin Park menu has something for everyone, including several hoagies, pastas, burgers and desserts (hello, churros!). With specials like Monday Night Food-Ball, where $20 gets a pitcher and a small pizza, it’s sure to become a favorite spot to watch the big game or a great place to grab a quick slice before exploring the Brady District.
Elgin Park is open at 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and stays open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They also serve a brunch menu on the weekends, have specials on their delectable wings on Wednesdays and offer takeout pizza and growler combos on Thursdays.