If the world of New Haven pizza were an ecosystem, BAR might be its platypus. A strange animal that seems difficult to categorize, this brewpub/dance club/pizzeria is undoubtedly distinct from its traditional coal-oven cousins, yet it cranks out thin-crust pies that place it right up there with the best of them. While Sally’s and Pepe’s have an old-world mystique to them, BAR is the youthful underdog. With its throngs of Yalies, handcrafted microbrews, and iconoclastic mashed potato pizza, it doesn’t aim to mimic the venerable palaces of Wooster Street, but it still threatens to top them.
We arrived at the Brü Room at BAR (the hip-looking pizza-and-beer room) on a Wednesday night, and as usual the place was packed with young people. First-time visitors could easily think this place is all about the atmosphere: the cavernous main dining area is packed with gleaming bronze brewing equipment, grad students chat over pitchers of brew, and the soundtrack is a mix of rock and pop, including, on our visit, the Spice Girls and Enrique Iglesias.
But a glance toward the towering stacked of logs above a brick oven at the far end of the room revealed the truth. With its wood-fired oven, BAR is serious about its pizza.
Sitting down, we ordered drinks. While Margo and Stephen opted for sodas (sadly, not Foxon Park sodas but rather $2 cans of Coke and Barq’s root beer), I asked for a personal favorite, BAR’s Damn Good Stout. According to the BAR menu, this hoppy American-style stout has a “smokey espresso scent” and “coffee/cocoa finish,” but what really distinguishes it is a creamy mouthfeel and a deep, malty complexity. BAR also offers the Toasted Blonde (a toasty and lager-like ale), the AmBAR Ale (dark but fruity, a nice fall beer), and the Pale Ale (hoppier than the Blonde), but nothing matches the complexity of the Damn Good Stout.
In keeping with NHPP dining protocol, we ordered two pies: a red pie with mozzarella and the house specialty, which at BAR means the mashed potato and bacon pizza, served on a white pie (no sauce). We ordered ours with onions as well, a popular variation.
The standard red with mozzarella was the first to arrive. Biting into still-molten slices, we were overwhelmed by the pizza’s robust tomato flavor, which had a depth that suggested über-concentrated oven-roasted pomodoro. In the midst of this tomato explosion, however, other flavors like cheese and garlic played a clear secondary role. Garlic was almost nowhere to be found, and a thin layer of cheese lacked the milky unctuousness and heft that one associates with greater pies. The crust, characteristic of BAR pizza, was New Haven’s thinnest: uniformly cracker-thin, even at the edges, it was crisp and not at all charred. But pizza eaters who enjoy a chewier and more substantial crust would do well to look elsewhere.
We were much more excited about our second pie. With its chunks of crisp and meaty bacon, savory dice onions, and smooth lumps of mashed potato, this showstopper was the hit of the night. The mashed potato and bacon combo creates a wave of textural contrasts, in which the chew and crunch of the bacon is offset by the rich mouthfeel of the potatoes. Add onions, which at BAR are slightly undercooked and aromatic to say the least, and the resultant flavor bomb is truly intense. Wash it down with a Damn Good Stout or AmBAR Ale, and few things are better.
As we continued eating, we noticed that none of us had any interest in the plain red pie with mozzarella. Partly, of course, this was due to the raging success of the mashed potato pie, but the observation was also cause for alarm. When the red pie cooled off, it simply wasn’t that great. Room temperature reveals the flavor nuances that heat masks, and the relatively lackluster cheese quality of BAR’s pizza began to show through. To put it differently, the cheese pie was still good, but by New Haven standards, it was middling.
In conclusion, BAR makes an astounding mashed potato pizza, but its red pie with mozzarella falls short of New Haven pizza perfection. We give BAR pizza a ranking of three stars on our five star scale.
BAR 254 Crown St New Haven, CT 06511 (203) 495-1111