Once a year, I make a pilgrimage back from my adopted home in Asia to my actual hometown in the United States, Hamden, Connecticut.
It’s no easy journey, as it typically takes about 20-something hours of traveling time (often more than one full day from door-to-door). No matter whether I break it up with a stop in San Francisco and Sacramento for a week to see old friends or fly straight through to New York’s JFK airport (about 16 hours 40minutes!), it’s a hellish travel scheduled, compounded by the fact that the jetlag going west to east is brutal.
So, why do I do it each and every year? There are several reasons:
1) To see my mom, usually to hang out on her birthday and Thanksgiving
2) To eat my mom’s home cooking, usually adding another 5 lbs to my already post-Thanksgiving-like frame.
3) To shop for stuff that’s my size, since an XL in Asia is actually like our Medium and an XXL is unheard of.
4) To do all of my assorted admin and paperwork stuff like filling out forms for taxes, bank accounts, etc. etc.
5) To eat pizza.
6) To eat MODERN APIZZA.
You see, my hometown of Hamden sits on the outskirts of the city of New Haven, which is home to the art, architecture, and storied refinement of Yale University. (It’s also home to some serious crime and ghettos, but that’s another story.) And New Haven is known U.S.A-wide – no, WORLD wide – as having the best pizza you’ll find anywhere.
It’s not just my opinion or New Haven-ites bragging about their local cuisine; it’s actually well-documented that New Haven is probably the birthplace of what we know as modern pizza in America and now globally, and even better than you’ll find in New York.
In fact, New Haven is home to iconic pizza places like Modern but also Sally’s, Pepe’s, Est Est Est (the first place that served me alcohol when I was only 15), and more. Sally’s and Pepe’s, especially, get featured on all sorts of food shows and cooking channel features, and there are literally lines out the door and around the block on most days.
Thankfully, a best-kept-secret for us locals is that Modern pizza is just as good – if not better.
Located on State Street in New Haven, Modern has some seriously incredible pies (of the pizza variety), thanks to their signature cooking process in a 50-year-old brick oven and the lifelong pizza-making experience of its founder, Tony Tolli, who came over from Italy in 1911.
The pizza you’ll get at Modern is thin crust so don’t expect some soft, chewy Pizza Hut-like dough, and you’ll also notice that it’s charred black in many areas. But that just complements and sets up the taste of the sauce, cheese, and toppings, which is out of this world.
I used to live half a block away in a loft apartment for a couple of years, and it was absolute torture/heaven to have the smell of Modern’s ovens greet me every time I walked out my front door.
After years of experimenting, I get the bacon, eggplant, and thin-sliced fresh tomato pizza with extra cheese as a white pie (no red sauce). Absolute perfection. Drink it with Birch Beer or a pitcher of suds, and you won’t ever want to leave Modern.
The best part is that the lines are far shorter (it’s first come, first serve) and you can easily call in your order just to pick it up.
If you ever happen to be in New Haven, Ct, eat a piece of pizza history at Modern!