By Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
“I only do Pilates so I can eat pizza,” a wise woman once said.
Arguably, there’s no better place to indulge than New Haven. The city had five pizzas on The Daily Meal’s 2014 list of America’s best pizzas, and rumor has it that top-ranked Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is looking for real estate around Boston. So this would be a good opportunity to see whether Pepe’s famous white clam pizza really is all that, or if you prefer Sally’s Apizza (No. 5, the tomato pie, no cheese), or No. 12, Modern Apizza’s Italian Bomb. The other two New Haven pizzerias that made the cut were BAR (mashed potato and bacon pie, No. 24) and Zuppardi’s (the Special, with mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage, and marinara, No. 50). For the record, Boston had two pies on the list, Santarpio’s (No. 15, mozzarella, sausage, and garlic) and Regina (No. 29, melanzane.)
Even if you’re not into carb loading, you’ll find a lot to like in New Haven, Connecticut’s second-largest city and home to Yale University. The museums and theaters are first-rate, the campus is handsome, and the food scene (even if you skip pizza) is vibrant — all good reasons to cosy up to Harvard’s major rival. And here’s one more good reason: from June 12-27, the city hosts the 20th annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas (www.artidea.org), a 15-day extravaganza of performances and conversations featuring artists (including Darlene Love, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Lucinda Williams) from around the world. More than 80 percent of the festival events are free.
Achieve pizza nirvana at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (157 Wooster St. and other locations, 203-865-5762, www.pepespizzeria.com, large pie from $17). It’s practically the law to order the famous white clam pizza with grated Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, and oregano. Pepe’s is a local institution, as is Louis’ Lunch (261-263 Crown St., 203-562-5507, www.louislunch.com; $6), which claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger. Founded in 1898 by Louis Lassen, who slapped some ground meat on bread for a customer in a hurry, as the story goes, this tiny spot is now helmed by great-grandson Jeff. Others may make the “first burger” claim, but you can’t dispute the tastiness of these “hamburger sandwiches.” Made from a blend of five varieties of meat, they’re cooked to order on the original upright broilers, topped with a sharp cheddar cheese spread and served on toast, just the way Louis did it. The Travel Channel named it one of “the tastiest places to chow down in America.” Get your veg on at Claire’s Corner Copia (1000 Chapel St., 203-562-3888, www.clairescornercopia.com; from $5.95), a kosher vegetarian organic eatery that’s been around since 1975. The place is open all day, but brunch rules, especially her tantalizing baked goods. Hearty deliciousness reigns at Consiglio’s Restaurant (165 Wooster St., 203-865-4489,www.consiglios.com; entrees from $17), a mainstay for Southern Italian cooking. Fuel up with hand-rolled cavatelli, veal saltimbocca, eggplant rollatini, and other classic dishes, served with a friendly, old school vibe. Make it an eating/shopping two-fer at Caseus Fromagerie Bistro (93 Whitney Ave., 203-624-3373, www.caseusnewhaven.com), a one-off shop featuring more than 100 different cheeses and specialty foods from small-batch producers.
DURING THE DAY
Get into the “Boola boola” spirit on a Yale University Campus Tour (Mead Visitor Center, 149 Elm St., Mon-Fri 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., Sat-Sun 1:30 p.m., http://visitorcenter.yale.edu, free), lasting about an hour and 20 minutes and led by a Yale undergrad. You’ll want to spend some time exploring Yale’s museums, especially the Peabody Museum of Natural History (170 Whitney Ave., 203-432-5050,www.peabody.yale.edu, $9), known for its Great Hall (dinosaurs!) and exhibits dedicated to mammal evolution, Native American cultures, Connecticut birds, and more. The Yale University Art Gallery(1111 Chapel St., 203-432-0600, www.artgallery.yale.edu, free) is the oldest college art museum in the country, and holds more than 200,000 pieces. Current shows feature James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Romantic Art from 1760-1860. Another option: the New Haven Museum (114 Whitney Ave., 203-562-4183, www.newhavenmuseum.org , $4; on the first Sunday of the month, free from 1-4 p.m.) focuses on local art, history, and culture spanning 375 years.
Even nonshoppers appreciate the combination of prose and pastries at Atticus Bookstore & Cafe (1082 Chapel St.), a Yale hangout. To encounter more retail temptation, meander down York Street to Broadway. More than 50 shops line the streets, from usual suspects like Urban Outfitters to Fashionista Vintage & Variety (93 Whitney Ave.) for thrift couture, and English Building Market (839 Chapel St.), which bills itself as a “vintage department store.” Meanwhile, Lesley Roy (845 Whalley Ave.) sells her signature lines of ceramic and glass tableware, made on site. Looking for crafting inspiration? Check out Eco Works(open 2d and 4th Saturdays of the month, 134 Haven St., 2d floor, 203-675-8812; www.ecoworksct.org), where the motto is “garbage can be fun.” They sell industrial scraps, such as pieces of Corian, old maps, leftover fabric, depending on what’s been donated — to teachers and artists for creative reuse.
New Haven is home to three professional theater companies. The 1,600-seat Shubert Theater (247 College St., 203-562-5666; www.shubert.com), celebrates 100 years as a cultural hub of the city, hosting plays, musicals, opera, and dance. On the waterfront, the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theater(222 Sargent Dr., 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org) boasts more than 30 productions that have transferred to Broadway or off-Broadway, including “Wit” and “The Gin Game.” Meryl Streep is among the many luminaries who got a start at the Yale Repertory Theatre (September-May, 1120 Chapel St., 203-432-1234, www.yalerep.org), affiliated with the Yale School of Drama, where eight productions have received Tony awards after going from here to Broadway.
It’s basically a small room with a stage, but the good acoustics, cheap drinks, and live acts draw music lovers to Café Nine (250 State St., 203-789-8281, www.cafenine.com, sometimes a cover charge of $5 and up, sometimes not.) It feels dive-y, but it’s clean, and you won’t feel out of place. Then again, maybe you want a swanky setting and a sexy cocktail. New Haven’s go-to spot for that would be 116 Crown (116 Crown St., 203-777-3116, www.116crown.com), a sleek and gorgeous space with master mixologists and an intriguing tapas menu.
New Haven is, depending on your route, 140 to 150 miles southwest of Boston. (depending on which route you take.) For information, visit www.visitnewhaven.com or www.infonewhaven.com.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.