What many believe to be the best pizza in America is now right in our own backyard. Frank Pepe Pizzeria has just opened a brand new location at the Shops at Chestnut Hill, bringing their legendary pizza to hungry Bostonians. But before we serve up a slice, let’s order up a little history.
It all started back in the early 1900s when an Italian immigrant named Frank Pepe arrived in America. In 1925 he opened the original Frank Pepe Pizzeria on Wooster Street in New Haven Connecticut, where a massive coal fired oven baked simple pizzas topped with tomato sauce and grated cheese.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “Pizza, back in the day it was very affordable. It still is affordable. And so it was a good night out for people. Back in the 40s and the 50s it was the highlight of their week. ‘Oh Friday we’re going to go to Pepe’s for pizza,’ and it was great.”
Fast forward to today, and there are now nine Frank Pepe Pizzerias in the northeast, with more on the way. And Frank’s grandson Gary Bimonte oversees them all.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “I love meeting the people, I get a good feeling when they say ‘it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had’, and I hope my grandfather is looking down smiling on us.”
So what makes this pizza so good? Of course they have the best possible ingredients, like imported Italian tomatoes, big slices of high quality mozzarella, and fresh shucked clams on their famous white clam pizza. But a lot of what they use is kept secret, like the dough recipe.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “I really can’t go into the specifics of the dough because it’s proprietary.”
One thing that’s definitely not hidden is the oven. It’s a hulking fifty-two ton coal fired beast, painstakingly built to the same specifications as the original one back in New Haven. And it really is the star of the show here.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “The oven is the centerpiece. We design all of our restaurants so as soon as you walk through the door, you see the oven. Because that’s what cooks your pizza and we want everybody to know that it’s a coal fired brick oven. So the crust is charred, crispy, but yet chewy.”
And working the oven is serious business. Since it’s 14 feet deep, the pizza makers use enormous 16 foot long pizza peels to get the pies in and out. So everyone in the kitchen must know their role, and stick to their assigned spots.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “Oh, it’s like a ballet. The guys they’re moving in and out, they’re trying not to hit each other, it’s a show. Watching the guys work, it reminds me of being back in New Haven, back when I was making pizzas, and it’s a great thing, it’s beautiful.”
To truly judge any pizzeria you should start with a basic cheese pizza. And at Pepe’s, it’s in the imperfections where the beauty of this pizza truly comes out. There are air pockets, bubbles, some parts are extra crusty, some parts are extra soft. And the true signature of a Pepe’s pizza is the char on the crust.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “When they first look at the bottom, they’re gonna think the pizza’s burnt. There’s gonna be little char spots. There’s gonna be burnt farina stuck to the bottom. We try to educate the people that this is our product. If they want they can request it with no char and we will light bake it, but it’s not really a Pepe’s pizza. A Pepe’s pizza has a crispy charred edge and it might look crispy, but it’s still chewy on the inside.”
Pepe’s most famous pizza is probably the white clam, created by Frank Pepe himself back in the 1940s.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “We’re known for our white clam pizza. That’s what we’re voted number one, two years in a row, in the country. We use fresh shucked clams, fresh garlic, oregano, olive oil, the grated cheese, it just, something magical happens in the oven and it’s just a phenomenal flavor. It’s like a symphony in your mouth.”
But if you really want to kick it old school, order the original tomato pie.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “It’s just plain tomato, with grated cheese, made with a little garlic and olive oil. It’s phenomenal, you get the tomato flavor pops in your mouth, and it’s just the chewiness of the dough, it’s just, it’s very very good.”
And Bostonians couldn’t be happier to have this award winning pizza so close to home.
Gary Bimonte – Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria: “When we first decided to move, to expand into the Boston area, we were a little apprehensive. We didn’t know how we would be received by the Bostonians. We were received with open arms, and everybody who I’ve talked to, they’re saying, ‘it’s about time.”
199 Boyslton Street
Chestnut Hill, MA