Residents of the Elm City and nearby towns flocked to the downtown area this weekend for a slice of the action at the annual New Haven Grand Prix, an annual bike race. For many viewers, that wasn’t the only slice they enjoyed over the weekend.

At the fourth annual Apizza Feast in downtown New Haven, adjacent to the Grand Prix race route, students and residents paid $5 for access to the closed-off section of College Street between Elm and Chapel streets, where food trucks and vendors served pizza and other cuisine.

“A pizza festival [at the New Haven Grand Prix] was seen as an element that was so New Haven and is so attractive to so many other people too,” said Colin Caplan, the organizer of the Apizza Feast. “We are known as a pizza town. We are one of the pizza capitals of the United States. We serve, in my opinion, the best pizza in the world. … Every year we’ve grown, having more than pizza, but marking it as a pizza festival gets so many people’s attention.”

Although, as the event’s name suggests, pizza was the star of the show, the 21 vendors included a wide variety of cuisines and specialties. Beyond pizza, options ranged from Spanish to Jamaican food. To round a meal off, specialty vendors sold beer, wine and lemonade in addition to five dessert options including Italian ices, donuts and cupcakes.

Scott Wiener, who runs pizza tours in New York, attended the Apizza Feast for the first time this year and served as one of two expert judges in a tasting toward the end of the evening.

“A lot of people outside of New Haven — and in New Haven — don’t realize this city’s pizza history,” Wiener said. “This event is something to really put a pin on the timeline to remind everybody that this is one of the oldest pizza cities in the United States. … The pizza here is physically different.”

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which is still located on Wooster Street, was established in 1925, making it one of the nation’s oldest continuously-running pizzerias.

Locales throughout the country have developed their own variations on pizza, and New Haven is known for a style that is close to, but still distinctive from, other nearby metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Unique even in name, Elm City’s pizza goes by the neapolitan name apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz,” which has gone out of fashion almost everywhere else in the U.S.

Apizza’s defining characteristics, according to Wiener, are that it is served as a whole pie, not by the slice, and baked directly on the floor of brick oven to produce a singed bottom and dense crust. The outermost edges of apizza crust are thin and flat, in contrast to the puffy outer ring of their close cousins in New York.

Apizza vendors at the Feast included local favorites such as Zuppardi’s in West Haven and Bar pizza, located just down the street from the feast on Crown Street. But the feast’s offerings extended beyond traditional Elm City favorites. The Rolling Tomato came from Groton, 50 miles east of New Haven, to set up shop with a full brick oven. In the taste test, Wiener and his co-judge both chose Zuppardi’s.

The feast encouraged families to attend by waiving the $5 dollar entry fee for children. Among Friday’s attendees were Tessa and Sander Herberich and their 2-year-old son. The family moved to downtown New Haven from the Netherlands for work-related reasons a month ago and have enjoyed the city’s pizza offerings ever since. Before they left the Netherlands, the family often enjoyed traveling to Italy, Sander Herbrichs said, and, like Italian pizza, New Haven’s signature apizza style appealed to them because of its thinner crust.

John Alston, chief of the New Haven Fire Department, explained that all the city agencies collaborate for safety measures at widely attended events like Friday’s feast. Alston attended the event in his official capacity, monitoring conditions and needs, but also enjoyed the food selection and crowds at the event.

“I’m enjoying the fact that people are out having a great time on the Green today,” Alston said.

“The weather’s perfect. The races are exciting. This is what makes New Haven a very unique big, little city.”

Angela Xiao |