Before Bobby and Bourdain, only Julia Child was a more bien-connu chef than Jacques Pépin — one of the pioneers of food television in America. Pépin has been working in professional kitchens since the 1950’s, was a personal chef to Charles de Gaulle, and showed the world how to make the perfect omelette. Never has the simplest of dishes looked so goddamned seductive. For the hell of it too, he also got his M.A. in 18th Century French literature from Columbia University in 1972, before receiving the CHEVALIER DE L’ORDRE NATIONAL DE LA LEGION D’HONNEUR in 1997— the highest commendation the French government can bestow. In other words, the dude is an absolute stud. Another little known fact about Monsieur Pépin — the legend mows Alforno pizza on the regular.
Alforno’s Trattoria is straight-up the least hyped, yet decidedly world-class pizza on both the Connecticut Shoreline and Greater New Haven Metropolitan Area. World-class seems hyperbolic, but don’t forget the exalted region we inhabit. You put Alforno in another location, in another state, and the place would be near the top of every foodie’s pizza list. And it’s not saying that Alforno Trattoria isn’t at the tip of the tongue for pizza lovers in Connecticut, it’s just that the surrounding competition is famous and fierce. As such Alforno’s, for the quality of pie it produces, is a bit under the radar. In this way then, it’s retained a profoundly warm and familial atmosphere, even with the high level pizza and pasta it produces.
Alforno’s has been open since 1992, despite the drab and rather useless strip mall it inhabits. Benny’s, to the absolute devastation of my wife, went bankrupt a few years back and left Alforno as the last business standing in a vacant lot. Yet entering the restaurant, you’ll quickly forget the scene outside. Bold and bright artwork adorn the walls, a long grand room provides ample space for dining, with a massive wine collection directly to the entrance’s right, which imparts a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. Recently Alforno blew out their space and created a a fashionable new bar, with some extra high top seating, and a badass piece of contemporary art that hangs by the take-out area. As I wait, nay salivate, to pick up my weekend pies, it’s a welcome companion preceding a proper feast.
Alforno’s works for three reasons — it’s pizza is incredible, it’s breads and pastas are made from scratch, and their menu is both authentic and focused. Every meal starts with dark crusted white Tuscan bread made in-house, which sets the tone for the meal. Bolognese is touted as the centerpiece at most Italian restaurants, but it’s rare when the famous dish is executed properly. Ample chunks of meat scatter their version, with the sauce truly absorbed into the paparadelle. It’s a clinical representation. Their gnocchi, when available, is dreamy and an homage to what Italian dumplings should be. Airy, fluffy, light, and tiny — they were draped in a balanced parmigiana cream sauce and the single biggest hit at a table of four. Lastly their Wild Boar Ragu with Pappardelle — a quintessential Tuscan dish found on nearly every menu in Siena, Lucca, and Florence — is bang-on. The Wild Boar builds a richer, earthier, and yes, slightly gamy, base for the dish and, like it’s Bolognese counterpoint, is decadent with lumps of boar throughout.
It’s the pizza though that’s makes this family-run Trattoria tick for over a quarter century. Alforno’s is certainly New Haven style pizza, but there are two components that make it stand out. The first is the dough and crust. The core of each slice is thin, yet the crust itself has some weight to it. Comparing Alforno’s crust to say Pepe’s or BAR, this is a prominent difference, but a feature that is a definitive value-add. Slight hints of oil, combined with the interplay of chewy and crispy, make the crust at Alforno unreal. Their tomato sauce too is wonderful. Zippy, zesty, and acid-forward, it’s a distinctive characteristic to their pies. For me, it’s their “famous pizza” with perfectly charred chicken as a go-to, but their Pizza Napolitano Vera — a legitimately certified Neapolitan pizza in the tradition of that mecca’s 250 year old legacy — is worth a shot too. If you need a white pie, the Bianca Ala Romana — thyme, mozz, caramelized onions, and pancetta, is a deliciously fine choice.
Living in Connecticut can be the butt of many jokes, but eating our state’s pizza is something the haters can’t fucking touch. My neighborhood pizzeria is like top 100 in the country year after year and it’s so goddamned good that Jacques Pépin stands with me both physically and metaphorically as I nurse a hangover and wait for my Alforno’s pizza to be served. Who can front on that?
Strengths: Wonderful Pizza / Homemade Pasta / Tuscan Bread / Simplified Menu /Newly Renovated Bar
Weaknesses: Pizza and Pasta are Alforno’s forte. While their entrees are fine, they are really top-class purveyors of fine carbohydrates. Stick to the old reliables if you’re trying the restaurant for the for the first time.
Tips: Alforno has a “frequent pier” rewards program. I use it! If you are in the area, it’s a nice incentive to make Alforno your go-to pizza shop.
FEAST: Bianca ala Romana for pizza OR Gnocchi crema di parmigiana for pasta if it’s available.
FROTH: Extensive Wine Collection. Though their new bar has a decent little tap list if you prefer beer.
FEAST: 9/10 – FROTH: 7.5/10 – PIZZA: 9/10