You can tell a lot about an area by its food, and as this is our inaugural issue of Northeast Meetings + Events, we have a lot of ground to cover.
For that, we decided to seek out signature foods throughout New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. We weren’t disappointed. We found tomato pies and Sloppy Joes in New Jersey; cheesecake and pastrami sandwiches in New York; white clam pizza and lobster rolls in Connecticut; and so much more.
It’s safe to say, we’ll have plenty to write (and eat) about going forward. And we can’t wait to share it with you.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria
Frank Pepe—an Italian immigrant from the Amalfi Coast—opened Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, almost 100 years ago as a bakery, personally baking his bread and delivering it around town in a cart. Due to his illiteracy, that plan fell flat and he decided to start a business for his customers to come to him. That decision was a smart one, as the bakery evolved into what is now the renowned Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven.
“Guests enjoy indulging in classic Pepe’s pizzas,” says Gary Bimonte, co-owner of the restaurant and grandson of Frank Pepe. “It’s an approachable food everyone loves so it’s perfect for gatherings. The décor is traditional pizzeria and it looks timeless when all dressed up for an event.”
There are nine locations across Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, but the New Haven location can hold anywhere from 20-75 people, depending on configuration, and typically includes pizza service, salad and beverages. Guests can even learn how to make an original Frank Pepe pizza.
While Pepe’s pizzas are famous nationally and abroad, one variety stands out among the rest—its white clam pizza. Born from the area’s penchant for white clams, Pepe took the local favorite and put it on a pizza. The ingredients are simple: fresh clams, grated cheese, olive oil, garlic and oregano.
“You don’t need to get fancy to be outstanding,” says Bimonte. “Quality ingredients are used and the relaxed atmosphere makes dining enjoyable.”
Town Hall Deli
In 1927 two South Orange, New Jersey, locals opened Town Hall Deli. But the Sloppy Joe— their infamous sandwich that put them on the map—wouldn’t hit the menu until the 1930s when the mayor of Maplewood traveled to Cuba, ate a sandwich he fell in love with and requested the then-owners of the deli to recreate it. The result? A sandwich with two meats and Swiss cheese on Pullman rye bread with dry coleslaw and Russian dressing.
Eventually, the sandwich became a local phenomenon, due in large part to the card games and parties the mayor would throw with the sandwich as an hors d’oeuvre. While many New Jersey delis claim they originated the sandwich, Town Hall Deli is the real deal.
Now owned and run by Matt Wonski and his father (who purchased the restaurant in 2001 from the children of the original owners), Town Hall Deli boasts a sandwich that stands out. The biggest difference is how they cut the Pullman rye (as opposed to regular rye). Instead of a rounded loaf, they use a square mold, cut it in half and slice it lengthwise to create eight squares (eight squares are used for one sandwich or one “whole Joe”). As opposed to a wet slaw, they use dry (made in house just like everything they offer). Without it, the sandwich would be soggy and slippery.
“It’s called sloppy, but it’s a very neat sandwich,” he says. “Competitors certainly make a mess of it.”
While the 24-seat Town Hall hasn’t held private events yet, it’s something Wonski would consider. For now, it focuses on catering, typically handling between 60-100 people. Every Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and the night before the Super Bowl, Wonski and his team stay up all night making sandwiches—the total number can reach 500.
These late hours sound rough, but Wonski wouldn’t have it any other way, especially with the history surrounding the restaurant and its food.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than making people happy with food,” he says. “The best part is when you tell people the story of how we do things.”
S&P Oyster Co.
As its name suggests, S&P Oyster Co. is known for its oysters, the freshest in the area. The relationship the general manager and chef have with their distributors is key to their ability to handpick the best oysters found in Connecticut.
“Our oysters are sourced through local wholesales and oyster farms” says Allison Socha, director of sales and marketing. “Our kitchen team is exceptional with the handling, inspecting and shucking of the oyster to maintain a superior product for the guest experience.”
But it’s not just oysters the Mystic, Connecticutbased restaurant has perfected. Chef Cobena serves up soups, sauces and salsas that enhance the handpicked lobster, chicken and beef found at S&P. Favorites include shrimp scampi over risotto, lobster tarragon with an avocado salsa, and seared yellowfin tuna with a white miso ginger soy sauce.
Private events are held upstairs in the Captain Room, which can accommodate 42 people for a seated event and 60 for a cocktail-style event. The Riverview Room, which accommodates 70 for a sit-down dinner and 100 cocktail-style, is another alternative.
Connecticut has a number of excellent seafood restaurants, but the relationships S&P Oyster Co. cultivates with its patrons and the continued education it provides to employees is what differentiates them.
“Our commitment to the guest is on a personal level to make our guests feel as if we are inviting them into our home for an experience they cannot receive elsewhere,” says Socha. “The insatiable drive from our owners and manager to improve upon our product, facility team and overall guest experience makes us stand out.”
When Harry Rosen set out to open his first restaurant in New York, he knew it had to have great cheesecake. He even went around New York to taste test all the cakes he could find, took notes of what he liked and conducted baking experiments of his own to determine what he thought was the best.
All that work paid off. Sixty-seven years later, Junior’s is still revered as having the best cheesecake around. In fact, in 1973 New York Magazine named it the best in a blind taste test, and they’ve held the top spot ever since. The recipe hasn’t changed a bit. “We use the recipe I was given,” says Alan Rosen, a third-generation owner. “I’m not going to be the guy who changes it.”
The ingredients are simple: cream cheese, fresh eggs, sugar, heavy cream and a touch of vanilla all baked in their specific way. And while the restaurant is known for its cheesecake, the 200-plus items it has on the menu also stand out. At each restaurant, you can order anything from corned beef, salmon or even something simple such as potato pancakes.
Junior’s has five restaurants—three in New York, one in Boca Raton and another at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Each restaurant has different event specifications. Capacity for all range from 450 seats at the original Brooklyn location to 200 seats at one of the New York City locations. It’s also open 365 days a year.
“The restaurants have a Brooklyn comfort foodtype of environment,” says Rosen. “People feel comfortable in that environment and not intimidated in any way.”