Good Eats on the Road

Holiday Road Trip Part II: Visiting Ryan’s College Roots

Day two and day three of our Red Sox Holiday Road Trip were a blur of excitement and traveling. Ryan nicknamed our caravan “the tornado” because we came into a place and stirred everything up into a whirlwind of excitement. Our trips to New Haven and Worcester were so much fun with all sorts of crazy stops along the way. We visited fire stations, police departments, and 6 children’s hospitals. We toured ESPN Studios, read “Hello Wally” to preschoolers, and worked the Mass Pike Toll Booths for an hour! It’s been wonderful to see so many different groups in the New England area. This recap of New Haven comes in two parts, the first was our trip in October for the Yale Baseball Alumni Game and the second for our trip this week.

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Preface: New Haven is the home of Ryan’s alma mater and we make sure we travel by at least once or twice every year. Since we’ve been dating, I’d estimate we’ve driven through about a dozen times. For those of you that don’t know Yale or New Haven that well, there is quite a few restaurants with a lot of culture around campus. “Restaurant dynasties” if you will that have been passed down from generation to generation. The first 10 times we went to New Haven Ryan only took me to one restaurant. Restaurant might be a stretch. It’s an order out grinder shop that serves his favorite sandwich. Grinder in Connecticut = sub, sandwich, hoagie… insert the term of your choice. He is completely obsessed Alpha Delta and their buffalo chicken sandwich. It’s name is the Wenzel. I feel like the Wenzel is a part of our distant family now, as we drive out of our way to visit and eat it. I appreciated the nostalgia, but I don’t particularly like buffalo chicken or sandwiches. So when my fellow baseball wife Amanda Bailey, proud CT resident, was horrified that Ryan hadn’t taken me to the classic restaurants, I knew I’d made my case for our next trip to New Haven. THANK YOU AMANDA. And thus begins the story of our October trip to New Haven and the restaurant dynasty food crawl.

Part I: To start a New Haven food crawl you must enlist a good team of big eaters. As Ryan always says, “Jamie likes to taste two bites of lots of different things, I like to finish lots of things.” So we rounded up Ryan’s great friend and former Yale teammate Trygg to come with us. Trygg is about 6’7″ and an excellent comrade for an adventure such as this. With our team assembled we headed to Louis’ Lunch, the iconic burger joint of New Haven since 1895 and the creator of the hamburger. Louis’ Lunch is about the size of a master bedroom. It’s nearly impossible to get a table, so you’re best off eating on the run or eating on your feet. You have two options on the menu- cheeseburger or hamburger. They are served with the options of tomato and onions, and that’s about it. No ketchup, no french fries. The attitude is about as straight forward as the menu. Their claim to fame is their cooking method: broiling the burgers vertically and serving the burger between two slices of white bread. You have to try it to form your own opinions. As for mine… is it the best burger I’ve ever eaten? No, maybe not. But it’s definitely one of the better “classic burgers” I’ve had and the cultural experience is priceless.

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Part II: After Louis’ Lunch we headed to Pepe’s Pizza, another famous restaurant in business since 1925. Pepe’s has been owned and run by the Frank Pepe family since their opening. It doesn’t matter when you go, there is always a line for their piping hot, thin crust pizza. Our first trip to Pepe’s was with Trygg in October and our second was with the Red Sox this week. We started the day in New Haven by visiting the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital with Ryan’s teammates Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey. Craig is also a Yale-grad and the founder of the Strike 3 Foundation, a foundation that supports child cancer research at the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. We were fortunate enough to visit the ward that quite a bit of their money has gone to, and it was even more special to go with Craig. It is so inspiring to see children have such positive attitudes despite their misfortune. One little boy wheeling around the halls had his leg amputated only three days ago. He still had such spunk and curiosity. It was touching to see the kids smile for a few minutes and how much the players brighten up their days. After visiting the hospital we went to the New Haven Police Department for a quick hello and then it was off to Pepe’s.

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There is a historical debate of who serves the best pizza in New Haven. Some think it’s Pepe’s. Others would swear their allegiance to Sally’s (which has unfortunately been closed both times we’ve gone). If you are a tried and true Connecticut native, you probably claim Modern Apizza as the winner. I like both Pepe’s and Modern for different reasons, and here’s why. Pepe’s has a big, open kitchen right when you walk into the restaurant. For me it’s the ideal, authentic pizza atmosphere. You see the huge coal fired oven and heat exploding from it’s surface. That’s the key to perfect thin crust pizza: hot ovens and quick cooking. I like Pepe’s because their menu sticks to very simple flavor profiles. The original tomato pie with mozzarella is just three toppings- tomatoes, mozz, and a bit of fresh basil. If the quality is pristine it won’t need anything else. Their other famous dish is the white clam pizza made with fresh clams, grated cheese, garlic and oregano. Simple and savory, exactly what I think a pizza should be. The portions are enormous, so don’t let them talk you into ordering one pizza per person unless you want to try a few flavors and take home lots of leftovers.

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If you’re up testing the rivalry for yourself, head over to Modern Pizza for round two. Modern also serves brick oven pizza and has a slightly larger Italian menu. Here you’ll find a larger number of toppings and specialty pizzas. We went with a nearly certified pro to Modern who ordered EIGHT PIZZAS for our group. His favorite is the spinach and eggplant pizza. It was crunchy and creamy, salty and full of garlic. Delicious even if I don’t always enjoy fried eggplant. The toppings are a little more plentiful at Modern, so if you like cheese pizza in the extra cheese sort of way, then this might be your place. After many years of Chicago deep dish pizza I know one thing is for sure, I am definitely a thin crust kinda girl.

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Our week in Boston and New England has been so memorable. We’ve met tons of Red Sox fans who are all ready for baseball season to begin! Now that it’s December 1st, there are only two quick months before we head out for Spring Training in Fort Myers. There’s an excitement and optimism for the upcoming season that’s very contagious. It’s a great time to be in Boston. We head home tomorrow, but are already looking forward to coming back later in the winter!

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1 thought on “Holiday Road Trip Part II: Visiting Ryan’s College Roots”

  1. Hi Jamie and Ryan, Nice article. Sounds like the “Food Channel” !!! Been to New Haven many times especially as a young kid. Cousin lived in West Haven. Another place to try is Jimmy’s of Savin Rock. Great sea food and plenty of it. Went to Sally’s after returning from a Yankee game. Couldn’t wait that long at Pepe’s. Cousin worked at Yale in the sports equipment room years ago. Meeting this Saturday in Manchester with former Silkworm SID, writers, media people, GM and Tim F. (Ryan’s host family). take care and have a great holiday.

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