Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana offers a slice of New Haven in Delray Beach 

Frank Pepe is on US 1 next to Fresh Market,

Recently opened on Federal Highway at Linton Boulevard, this almost-century-old pizza eatery’s new location has a modern feel but offers old-fashioned tastes.

By Alan J. Wax

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by a recent first visit to the newly opened Delray Beach location of New Haven’s legendary Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.

Located next to Fresh Market on Federal Highway at Linton Boulevard in a space formerly occupied by Panera Bread, it’s a branch of a 98-year-old brand that originated in New Haven, CT. 

Founded by Frank Pepe in 1925, who immigrated to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Pepe’s Pizza claims to be the originator of New Haven-style “apizza,” characterized by its signature crispy yet chewy, slightly charred crust.

The new restaurant appears to be upholding the New Haven tradition, starting with the water used to make the dough. To ensure pizzas are on par with the original, Pepe’s uses a water filtration system that balances the water in Delray Beach to match the water in New Haven.

Moreover, Frank Pepe’s pizzas are baked in a 14 x 14-foot, 104,000-pound coal-fired oven, a replica of the original 1925 model, that cooks at 600 degrees. Pizzaiolos use paddles with 16-foot handles to manipulate the pies in the oven. You’ll see them working as you enter.

Making pizza at Frank Pepe’s.

The Delray Beach eatery, Pepe’s second Florida location following one in Plantation, we’re told features the iconic look and feel of Pepe’s original Wooster Street location. The 124-seat dining room is brightly lit with large windows. There’s a faux painted high tin ceiling that makes the room airy. Diners can sit in booths, or tables, or dine outside.  The walls are decorated with photo murals of the original store and reproductions of old photographs.

Friendly and attentive servers, not surprisingly, are attired all in black pants and tops, which seems to be de rigueur these days for many eateries.

To be sure, Frank Pepe’s is not the first New Haven-style pizzeria in Delray Beach. Ah Beetz, on Jog Road in western Delray, has been serving up flavorful charred-crust pies for more than a year and in April earned an 8.4 rating at David Portnoy’s Bar Stool Sports’ One Bite pizza reviews.

Meanwhile, a recent visit to Frank Pepe’s showed me that those accolades it has garnered over the years were merited.

Frank Pepe’s dining room.

While there are many pizzas choices on Pepe’s menu, a duo of friends and I at a recent lunch opted for Pepe’s most-famous pie, its white clam pie, made with fresh clams, Pecorino Romano cheese, a proprietary oil blend, fresh garlic, and oregano. We added bacon, which I think provides brings the flavor of the pizza ($32.75 for a medium) to another level. The clams were fresh and briny and the bacon atop, albeit slightly undercooked, was a plus for the smoky character it added.

I had been advised previously by a friend to pass on the personal-size pie, whose dough, he said, doesn’t get the same stretch as in the next larger pie. 

White clam pizza with bacon.

I followed his advice. Our pie was darned good with the crust, as expected, charred on the bottom, but surprisingly not the edges. The edge did not rise much above the rest of the pie, but I was nonetheless crispy and chewy.

To wash down all that dough and cheese you can try Pepe’s Vino Dulce, an Italian spin on sangria that’s mixed fresh in-house, or choose from a selection of Italian red and white wines by the bottle, glass, or carafe. There are also beers.  For me, however, New Haven pizza requires the accompaniment of a Foxon Park soda ($2.95 a bottle), an East Haven, CT beverage that’s been served at all Pepe’s locations since 1925. My choice, Foxon Park White Birch Beer, was a perfect foil for the pizza. 

I can’t wait to return to try the traditional red pie, or the summer special, a pie made with fresh tomatoes. I can assure you it won’t be long.

Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana

1701 S. Federal Highway, Delray Beach, FL


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