Who Knew? And Then, There Was Pizza


Someone's gotta do it

‘Who Knew?’ is sponsored by Walter Stewart’s Market.

The worst pizza I ever had was in a former Eastern Bloc country where I was shooting a TV commercial. A miscommunication (my fault) with the friendly set caterer meant that my slice arrived with no sauce, a greasy slick of Edam cheese, and a single, uncut, lurid red hot dog.  It was undercooked, visually startling, and, if I’m being honest, not that bad. 

Even bad pizza is still pizza, which is, by definition, good. 

But, for a concept so patently indestructible, pizza is also subject to some 900-degree opinions. Variables in its production, like geography, water source, flour type, leavening, canned tomato brand, olive oil, mozzarella provenance, and oven fuel, each engender some intense debate, and millions upon millions of food journalism column inches have been dedicated to their impact. I’m not necessarily here to add more, as I’ve had pizza of all stripes, thicknesses, and levels of purism that have done the pizza trick at the right time. But New Canaan has six pizzerias, 20,000 residents, and some very tribal opinions around who deserves the G.O.A.T. title. It requires investigation.

You know where I’m going with this, right? A half dinner party, half laboratory, mostly unscientific pizza tasting to uncover a fundamental psychological truth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Pizza.


Sample Size & Eligibility criteria

The restaurant must have the word “pizza” in its title to be considered a pizzeria. Unorthodox, I know. This narrowed the consideration set down to a list of six pizzerias:

  • Joe’s Pizza
  • New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria
  • Pinocchio Pizza
  • Dante’s Pizza
  • Best Pizza Shop
  • Locali Pizza Bar


Our dining room was the site of some very important research


  • Ten pizza volunteers
  • Twelve pies (one cheese and one on-menu meat kind)
  • Negronis
  • Chaotic semi-blind tasting
  • Red Wine
  • Three dogs actively scheming for dropped crusts
  • The world’s best pizza playlist you can listen to here, thanks to Andrew
  • A followup Google survey 



New Canaan pizza has a wealth of options, and as participant Sloan Alexander put it, “All of the pizzas fit some sort of need.” There’s no reason to declare a Greatest of All Time because time itself creates what I’ll call different pizza need states, because I’m really committing to this scientific researcher cosplay. These can correspond to each pizza joint’s offering. Need a date night spot? A large sausage pie the size of a monster truck hubcap? A wide range of topping options? Friendly, reliable delivery? The latest eighth-grade gossip? Then boy, do we have a pizza place for you. 


Joe’s Pizza

Joe’s. Credit: Michael Dinan

New Canaan’s first pizzeria opened in 1967, and it might just be our town’s soul. Everyone has a heart-warming story about Joe’s; second-generation owner Larry Colella makes stews to feed first responders during snowstorms, donates pies by the dozens to the Open Doors shelter, and the Joe’s Pizza name has adorned youth sports jerseys of generations of New Canaanites. For my husband and me, a large Joe’s Special was our first meal in our new home, consumed among ten thousand boxes the night we moved in, and I smile at the memory every time I pass the store. New Canaan native and intrepid pizza researcher Julia Stewart summed it up perfectly: “Joe’s Pizza tastes like New Canaan to me.” 

Joe’s Special really is quite special.

The pizza lives up to the love. Generously sized, with an open-crumb crust you can grab onto like the steering wheel of a Chevy, we all found it to be well-flavored and thoughtfully constructed. The crust has delightful little crunchy bits at the bottom, presumably cornmeal, that give it a familiarly crispy bite. Toppings on the Joe’s Special (for the uninitiated: green peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, pepperoni, meatball, bacon, and house-made fennel sausage) come judiciously applied and almost melted into a crust that stands up to their heft. Joe’s also does a brisk by-the-slice business, and I was mightily tempted by their Reuben pizza, made with corned beef and Russian dressing sauce, for St. Patrick’s Day. 


New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria

New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria. Credit: Michael Dinan

Tucked behind Bon Fleur and a private fitness training studio I should probably consider visiting after all this pizza research, you’ll find this little gem of a restaurant slinging tacos, wings, and Greek-style pizzas to a crowd of diehard fans. Greek pizza is a uniquely New England phenomenon, and it varies from the Italian version in that the dough is proofed and cooked in a shallow metal bowl rather than being stretched by hand. This process results in a lofty and, if you’ll pardon the scientific jargon, somewhat floofy crust that lacks the shattering crunch of a Neapolitan-style stretched-thin crust but puffs uniformly upwards. If your pizza is a perfect circle, or if you can spot evidence of the pan around the bottom edge of the crust, it’s Greek. New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria does Greek well, with a richly tomato-ey sauce and judicious toppings. Says Robin Bates-Mason, “it’s the closest to Post Corner Pizza. As a former Darienite, I still make the pilgrimage to PCP, but it’s good to know there’s a closer option.”

New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria is charmingly authentic to what you think a little New England pizza joint should be, in that there’s an enormous pizza oven with some serious mileage on it, a friendly guy making a big batch of fresh tomato sauce behind the counter, and handwritten menus everywhere boasting of Mexican, Italian, and American food you can order. 

I’ll see you soon, gorgeous. Image used with permission from José Gutierrez from New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria

I loved their veggie pizza; zucchini, fresh tomato, and plenty of garlic gave off pasta primavera vibes that felt fitting, as spring was springing that weekend, with peeper frogs singing their seasonally horny little frog songs in the background. In hindsight, I think the championship move would have been to order an Al Pastor taco pizza, allowing the restaurant to combine its two specialties into a genre-bending explosion of Mexi-Italian flavor. But that’s what tonight is for. [Editor’s Note: Try an eggplant-and-onion pizza from New Canaan Pizza & Taqueria—a personal favorite local pizza since Tommy worked behind the counter.)


Pinocchio Pizza

Pinocchio Pizza & Italian Restaurant on Main Street. Credit: Michael Dinan

Before walking into Pinocchio Pizza to place our order, I felt the urge to check my hair and make sure I looked okay because, on a Friday afternoon, every table was the cool kids’ table, with large, mildly terrifying groups of boisterous middle-school students. I then remembered that I’m actually 46 years old, not 12. Secure in my middle-aged invisibility, I busted out my reading glasses to study the menu. 

I served it with an arugula side salad because I’m not a monster

Pinocchio has the family thing DOWN. Said participating pizza critic Sara Bakker, “friendly delivery in an hour when I have two hungry kids at home? Yes, PLEASE.” Pinocchio also has an incredibly reliable slice you can sink your teeth into; with a slightly thick crust, you can fold a cheese slice in half and house it on the sidewalk in a New York Minute if that’s your jam. I found myself wishing they’d be open at 2 a.m., then, once again remembering that I’m 46 years old and haven’t been awake at 2 a.m. on purpose in quite some time, I revised my position. Their cheese slice tied for first place in our experiment, with deep-seated brand loyalty and a slightly sweeter sauce cited as what gave them the edge. Said Carl Mason, “Pinocchio’s is our family go-to, purely out of deeply ingrained habit. I wanted to be wowed by new pizza places, but I cannot stray.” 


Dante’s Pizza

Serving as an anchor for Pine Street Concessions since its opening in 2017, Dante’s Pizza has an excellent word-of-mouth reputation for making winning, wood-fired pizzas equally beloved by kids and their parents. The toppings list is more limited than you’ll find elsewhere; there’s no barbecue chicken or even green peppers. But it’s carefully curated, and I’ll wager that Dante’s specialty pizzas can go toe-to-toe with any gourmet pizza in the state. We sampled the Bee Sting, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy salami, cherry peppers, and hot honey.

That, friends, is a good-lookin’ pizza. Photo use with Dante Mirafiore’s permission.


Here, you’ll find a crisper, thinner crust that develops a nice char on the edges, which themselves aren’t too bready, just strong enough to lift a slice but not leave you with a leftover bagel’s worth of carbohydrates to hand out to your begging dogs. Bummer for them, but all the better for the humans among us. Dante’s tied for first among cheese pizzas, with its thin crust and beautifully balanced, flavorful sauce, and the Bee Sting got big props in the non-cheese category. The balance of ingredients and the spicy sweetness of hot honey drizzled over salami gives you a few considered bites. The thinness of the crust makes you feel less guilty about going back for more. 

My only quibble with Dante’s? The radiologist’s hours the team seems to keep. The counter closes between 3 and 4:30 P.M., and they call it quits at 8 P.M., which probably serves the young families of New Canaan perfectly, but might freeze out the just-getting-home-from-the-city crowd. Of course, being canny restaurateurs, he and his wife Miyuki more than account these lapses with a stunning array of pizza oven-baked cookies. The chocolate chip ones have restorative powers. And now you know. 


Best Pizza Shop

Best Pizza Shop’s Girl King

A newcomer to the New Canaan pizza scene, Best Pizza Co. took over the old Vicolo space in late 2022, and word began to spread that their Detroit-style (rectangular, ultra-thick-crust) pies are worth a try. It’s a delightful pizza style, and if you’re a fan of the caramelized, cheesy edges you find at the corners of a lasagna, I recommend you hop on the Detroit-style party bus and order their Italian Hippie, with the profusion of delicious sauces (pesto, vodka, tomato) that top it. We also enjoyed the Girl King, with mozzarella, tomato sauce, fresh garlic, purple onion, loads of pepperoni, and honey sriracha sauce. The restaurant evens out the bread-to-other ratio with a little sidecar of dipping sauce, which I hogged to myself throughout the night. 

Best Pizza Shop’s XL cheese is, indeed, XL

But where I was most pleasantly surprised was their cheese slice. The XL-sized, New York-style pizza was big enough to feed a freshman dorm, and the cheese was lightly flecked with oregano. It was on the bready side, but in a good way; sturdy, chewy, with good flavor. The sauce has a little punch, making for an overall balanced, bright slice that wasn’t as boring as cheese pizza might suggest. For me and for my husband, Best Pizza Shop’s slice was tops in the cheese category. I love that they make a heart-shaped pizza, too–next time you’re in the market for a romantic gesture, remember this. 



Belive me, you need these seasonal pizzas in your life. Image used with permission from Locali.

Locali isn’t just another unassuming small-town pizza joint. At least it hasn’t been since 2021 when a pair of TikTok celebrities were spotted on a date at the corner table. A subsequent flurry of fans occupied the table for weeks, and the rest of us learned never to underestimate the power of Gen Z’s endorsement. And honestly, good for all of us, because this little industrial-elegant spot on the corner of Forest and Locust streets takes big swings, with veggies like pesto-tossed kale (delicious!) butternut squash with fig vincotto (ditto!) atop seasonal, personal-sized pies. Said Julia, “I will always pick Locali on a warm day for their outdoor dining and great wine list.”

They also know their way around a meatball, and if you need to borrow that sentence for your dating app profile, I won’t mind. 

Locali’s Margherita pizza is a perennial happy place. Image used with permission from Locali

The 3AM was an overwhelming crowd-pleaser. With San Marzano tomatoes, pepperoni, Calabrian chilies, smoked mozzarella, and sliced garlic, it had the requisite amount of snap for a roomful of hopped-up grownups. We also noted that it had an excellent crust-to-toppings ratio, which can be problematic with personal-sized pizza. I want to see toppings reaching the edge of the pizza, not crowded into a tidy little pool in the middle, and Locali turned my dreams into a reality. Like several of the pizzerias we sampled, Locali offers gluten-free options, which is welcome news for celiac sufferers. They’re thoughtful to ask you whether it’s an allergy, an intolerance, or a preference, which helps them gauge the risk of cross-contamination. We tried the GF Queen Margherita option, and while it’s a great option for anyone who can’t have wheat flour, I think we all felt some level of gratitude for our gluten tolerance. The chew you get from their regular crust is top-notch. Locali’s sauce does a Margherita pizza particular justice: it’s simple, tangy, and gives you the very essence of tomatoes. 


In Conclusion

Much like our favorite tales of organized crime, loyalty matters when it comes to suburban Connecticut pizza. Being a Joe’s Pizza or Pinocchio family is a bit like being a Yankees or Mets fan, a system of identity, inclusion, and respect for specific traditions. I hope New Canaanites will find ways to support each of these pizzaiolos when the pizza need state arises, and I assure you, it will. 

As (my husband) Andrew Ault said, “Six pizzerias and seven days in a week gives me one day to mix in a salad.”


I’ll leave you with the most important question from the Google survey:

5 thoughts on “Who Knew? And Then, There Was Pizza

  1. We so lucky to have many good pizzerias in NC. I would add in two pizzas that are from full-menu restaurants: Sole’s prosciutto with arugula, and, my absolute fave, the Homemade Fennel Sausage and Broccoli Rabe pizza at Cava.

  2. Thanks again for another home-run submission from the talented Laura Ault! Glad you included the comment from Sloan as I agree that all the options in New Canaan fit a need. Our house definitely mixes it up depending upon the situation or mood. We’ve tried everything except the newest offering from Best Pizza Shop as we are not big deep crust fans, but Laura’s post has us thinking we should give it a try. Also agree with Toddy that some of our other restaurants offer some good options as we have had those and agree they are great. Hmmmm, what should we have for dinner on this cold and rainy night? :). And Andrew’s playlist is spot on perfect!

  3. Laura, while reading your column is always a much-anticipated event in the Gilbert household, we were particularly excited for your latest edition of Who Knew. Because pizza. Predictably, I loved every bit of it. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge and humor with all of us. Always a joyful part of my day. Also, the tune from the Godfather to kick off the playlist. Andrew, if you’re reading this, you nailed it. I obviously had to save it to my Spotify library for the pizza eating that will be happening in my near future. Grazie mille!

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