Here are my reviews:
My last slice of Pepe's a few months back was one of the best slices I've ever had. The outer rim was inedible, but the rest of it was thin, with a little bit of puff, great tomato and great cheese. I've talked about Pepe's/Coal consistency issues previously, and about how it seems as though different trips produce different products. Well, on this trip, I was seeing wildly different crusts on the same order.
The motz pie wasn't burnt on the rim, but it was all very rigid and dry- almost like the exterior of the slice (rim and undercrust) was stale. It wasn't a tasteless underfermented same day dough that you'd see at Totonno's, but the texture was off- way off. This texture bore no resemblance to the motz pie I had tasted a few months back.
The chicken tomato pie was surprisingly good, the crust still had a little bit of that stale quality, but it was better, especially towards the tip. Other than chicken parm, I normally hate chicken and tomatoes, but this was an amazing combo. The chicken seasoning seemed to work wonders at transforming it into something far more compatible with the tomatoes and the tomatoes were abundant and flavorful. In a million years, I never dreamed that just tomatoes on a crust could be that good.
Nick (gabaghool) talked about how the legendary places had earned a right to be inconsistent, and while I agreed 100% that the inconsistency was obvious, I can't really judge a pizza on what they're capable of, but, rather, what they're serving. While the tomato/chicken pie was impressive toppings-wise, the crusts ranged from slightly sub par to completely sub par, and no one deserves that kind of experience.
By far, the highlight of the Pepe visit was getting to talk Pepe's owner, Gary Bimonte. He's such a warm, outgoing, gleam in the eye, big teddy bear kind of guy, it's really hard not being star struck. We talked about the Blackstone and PM.com. Amazing guy.
If I was disappointed by Pepe's, Sally's was a crushing blow. I don't think I've ever had a worse tomato. It was starch-y, paste-y and cucumber-y. And the bench flour. I never thought it was possible to get that much bench flour to stick to the bottom of a pizza. The flour was caked on so thickly that when you tapped it against the side of your hand, the flour wouldn't come off as a powder, but, rather, in large flakes. The potato pie was a nice new flavor, but it didn't make up for Sally's failings.
And the A/C. We were told Sally's would be a sadistic experience, but this was really traumatic. Between the metal folding chairs, the sweat box and what felt like a 2 hour wait, the discomfort was so overwhelming that I could barely think about the pizza. If I go back to Sally's (and that's a big if), it will never be with more than 4 people and never during the summer.
Zuppardi's as Barry mentioned, challenged my paradigm. Nick had spoken about 12 minute bake times, and, while the loquacious tipsy elderly gentleman who was talking my ear off distracted me from filming, I think the bake time on Wednesday was 10 minutes. As expected, it's crispy, very crispy, but it's also pretty puffy, which was quite unexpected. I still prefer my 4-5 minute bake, but, I have to admit, I like this 10 minute bake a lot more than I thought I would, and, while I'm not a clam person, I did taste a very garlic-y bite of the clam crust, and it was pretty astounding.
Zuppardi's isn't a pure NH style pizza, more of a NY/NH hybrid, but, regardless of it's classification, it's much better than Pepe's or Sally's. The owner of Pepe's hinted that Pepe's might open in NJ. After that trip, unless I could figure out how to get a consistently great pie from them, I don't think I'd go there much. On the other hand, if Zuppardi's was local, I'd be hitting them all the time.
I'm still kind of mentally digesting Zuppardi's. I've been floating a crispy version of my pizza around in my head for a while- I don't think there's anything better on the crispy side for me to emulate.
In conclusion, Zuppardi's rocked my world, and, while Pepe's had some encouraging aspects, the negatives far outweighed the positives, and I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to that Sally's experience.