10 years ago my wife and I moved to Florida from the New Haven area of Connecticut. We've both grown up on Wooster St. pizza and it's our favorite style. Pepe's, The Spot, Sally's. Here in Florida, or at least where we are in Florida, you can't get good pizza. So I've spent the last 10 years trying to come as close to Pepe's as I could. Here are some observations now that I've come so close I think you could sit one pies next to a Wooster St. pie and not tell one from the other with daily variations that you do see on Wooster St. pies. I worked on dough, ovens, and ingredients all at the same time, here are my observations.
Several years ago I decided to venture into a wood fired oven after using an electric at 550 for the first 7 years thinking it was necessary for the high temps. 3 years after making pizzas in both electric and WFO with virtually infinite variations of dough my personal opinion is that a WFO is not the best for making Pepe's style pizza. When using high gluten flour and striving for the thin, stand out straight on it's own chewy slice, I have not had good luck in a hot (750-900 degree) WFO. As many others have noted "00" is much better suited to the hot WFO, I agree and have had similar better results with "00" in the WFO, but not achieving my desired crust characteristics. While traditional Neapolitan (made to the spec) pizza is wonderful, (I've made many in the WFO) it's not what I've been after. My best luck has been with high gluten based dough (Sir Lancelot) made 24 hours in advance and spending overnight in the fridge and cooked in the electric oven at 550 on a good porous stone.
For those who have been to Pepe's you'll know that the ovens there and at The Spot are coal fired. You may also know that cook times are in the 6-7 minute range, not WFO times/temperatures for sure. You'll also know that they use very high moisture content dough, just watch pizzas being made, no tossing anything in the air. Try to toss that dough and you'll wear it. The fire boxes in the ovens are also low and to the side of the cooking chamber of the ovens. In my opinion the coal fired nature of these ovens does not contribute in the same way that a traditional WFO operates, at higher temperatures with a sheet of flame on the dome. If you cook a pie in a 750 floor, 850 dome WFO without a fire in the dome the top of the pie is undercooked. So I believe that these big ovens, Pepe's, Spot, Sally's, do not rely on traditional WFO cooking principles and given the cook times also don't use the temperatures of WFO's. Also they all use high gluten flour, you can see it laying around in 50 lb. bags.
In a 550 electric oven, on a porous cast pizza stone, I get a perfectly cooked pie at 6-7 minutes which is typical of Pepe's pies. The crust just starts to blacken in places and the bottom is mottled with some dark spots, and with two ingredients or less, with or without cheese, a slice will stand out on it's own when held from the crust.
I think my claims are further supported by another New Haven area pizzeria, Zuppardi's in West Haven. In business since 1934 they make pies very similar to Wooster St. but they use standard electric ovens, heat is heat with this style pie I believe.
High gluten flour (I understand they use bromated flour, or used to anyway, I don't see any difference in the end product I've made without bromated flour)
Very wet dough
6-8 minute cook times
"No fire in the dome" oven technique, in fact no fire in the cooking chamber of the oven at all
So unlike some suggestions that I've seen I don't believe that a WFO or temperatures are necessary to create Wooster St. pies, and in fact I think it's very difficult to do so in a WFO.
One more note is on cheese, if you've never tried Boar's head Mozzarella, sliced in a deli section to your order, you must, it's the standard for Wooster St. pies, you'll never use any shredded mozz again if that's what you've used. The creamy taste and texture is unmatched. For tomatoes I use Pomi chopped, right out of the box, one box is good for four 12 inch pies.
I look forward and comments and discussion, there's always something new to learn!
Best Regards, John in Florida