When I come home to Connecticut one of my first stops is to Joe’s Pizzeria on Locust Ave in New Canaan. Sure I may be a touch biased because I have been eating there since I could chew solid food. Or it could be that I grew up with owner/pizza sculptor Lorenzo Colella. Those two facts aside, Joe’s makes one of my favorites pizzas anywhere. Joe’s has been a fixture on the New Canaan food scene since 1967 when doors opened as Village Pizza on Cherry Street (New Canaan’s first pizzeria). In 1973 Joe moved his establishment around the corner to Forest Street and changed the name to Joe’s Pizzeria. Joe’s would make one final move in 1995 to its current location on Locust Avenue.
The Pizzeria’s namesake, Joseph Colella was born in the city of Caserta, Italy. At the age of 18 Joseph boarded a ship bound for the United States. His mother was born in United States but returned to Italy when she was five years old. As a result of immigration laws at the time Joe would automatically become an American citizen if reached the States before his nineteenth birthday. After landing on America’s shores, Joe made his way to Pennsylvania to live with relatives. Speaking no English, he worked various jobs as a laborer and eventually made his way to Stamford, Connecticut. Following his move to the “Nutmeg State” he opened a pizzeria with a partner but had to keep his day job as a painter to pay the bills. Joe wanted to strike out on his own and a fall from a ladder was the catalyst to hang up his paintbrush and start his own Pizzeria in New Canaan. In 2003 Joe retired and has left the tossing of dough to his son Lorenzo.
When you step into Joe’s, you are greeted by blackboard style signs that hover over the counter detailing standard pizzeria fare, pizzas, pastas and grinders. After a closer look at the printed menu begin to get the idea that this is not your typical pizzeria. Under appetizers you will find some outside the box creations like mac-n-cheese bits (6) $5.99, cheddar pints $5.99 and a foot-long hot dog (rolled in dough) $2.99. Lorenzo also serves up 5 different paninis $8.99 on a 10-inch ciabata bread, The Buffalo Chicken, Rueben, Chipotle, Harvest (turkey, dried cranberry, cranberry horseradish mayo, swiss, baby spinach) and Locust Ave. Panini ( grilled chicken, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes).
The main attraction at Joe’s is of course the pizza. I hate to admit it but in all the years I have been going to Joe’s I have very rarely wondered outside the safe confines of my sausage and hot pepper pizza. Sure sometimes I get crazy and have them toss some pepperoni or bacon on my pie but I have been such a fan of their pizza that when I come back to Connecticut I only have pizza on the brain. In my defense, since departing Connecticut Lorenzo has certainly let his stomach lead the way in adding new and creative items to the menu.
In addition to a plain old fashion pizza with your choice of toppings, Joe’s also serves up 14 “signature pizzas” ranging from $10.99 for a small to $22.50 for a 20-inch XL. A few pizzas that veer way off the beaten path are the Potato Skinz Pizza ( potatoes, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, bacon, scallions and a side of sour cream) Salad Pizza (crispy crust topped with mixed greens, tomato, olives, cucumber, red onion, mozzarella and a side of house dressing) and Clams Casino (white pizza, garlic, clams, bacon, ricotta cheese).
The day I visited, Lorenzo made a pizza that was another creation of his appetite and wide wondering food imagination. The Gator Steak Sauce Pizza is not officially on the menu yet but if you mention it, Lorenzo will make it for you. He began by spreading a special Gator Sauce (a peppery vinegar sauce with plenty of spices) over the dough along with some BBQ sauce, followed by thinly sliced and cooked marinated steak. Griddle fried onions, shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese was sprinkled on top of the meat then covered with a blanket of provolone . After some seasonings graced the pizza, it was tossed into the rotating oven and I anxiously watched the pizza turn, drooling like a fox pacing in front of a hen-house. When the pizza emerged from the oven, the smell and looks of this pizza hinted that it would fall nothing short of amazing. When the slice hit my tongue, it confirmed that my eyes and nose were not liars. The first sensation I felt was pain as my greed would not allow the pizza to sufficiently cool. After forging past the pain, I was immediately struck by the mix of the spicy sauce and the bbq sauce. Next the blend of the tender steak and the melted cheeses danced in my mouth with an onion crunch that was unusual on a pizza but tasty.
I have always been a fan of Joe’s Pizzeria because their cheese pizza alone has the ability to keep my attention. The dough is always just right, the sauce and cheese a high quality and there is a little bit of brown oil that has an excellent taste. Lorenzo is carrying on a tradition his father started over forty years ago as hopes and dreams of an Italian immigrant. Everyday you can find Lorenzo engaging his customers in conversation and laughter, then sending them away full and happy, just as his father did for decades. He continues to strike a great balance, serving Italian classics while adding his own flavor to new ideas. Tasting the Gator Streak Sauce Pizza convinced me that I need to slowly back away from the sausage pizza and try some of the exciting items Lorenzo has added to the menu. I plan to work my way though the menu my next few times home and will report back.
BEFORE YOU GO:
– Joe’s is take-out and delivery only but there is a high counter with a few stools and couple benches outside to enjoy your slice
– Gluten free entrees available