What is the attraction of Colony Grill in Stamford? What creates almost a cult-like fascination, while simultaneously evoking harsh criticism? Why do regulars protect their turf so dearly? And most importantly, what is a Hot Oil pie?
Colony has a pizza reputation that extends for decades. The walls are adorned with numerous Military and team photos from the 50’s and 60’s plus other local heroes. Twelve stools, six booths, four TVs and two video games occupy the room with a long and always occupied bar, while the second room contains ten booths and twelve additional seats around tables. The kitchen is in the back where you can see a stack of oven-ready pies, each awaiting the requested toppings. The bar offers four beers on tap plus other varieties in bottles housed in the refrigerator behind the bar.
Colony ONLY serves pizza. Upwards of 1,000 in-house and take-away pies are created on a normal Saturday or Sunday, a staggering number. The dough and sauce are all made on premises. The toppings include pepperoni, sausage, meatball, onion, sweet peppers, mushrooms, cherry peppers, stinger peppers, hot oil, olives and anchovies. As I took my seat at the bar for my lunch visits, I was surrounded by several passionate and loyal patrons commenting negatively about the “newbies” as they chatted with the bartender. Nonetheless, the staff treated me warmly, answered a few questions and was pleasant, and several other newbies shook hands and exchanged names with the bartender.
On my first visit I ordered a “Hot Oil, with Half Pepperoni and Half Meatball” and, on the subsequent visit, I chose a “Hot Oil, with Half Pepperoni and Half Sausage / Sweet Peppers.” Now it was up to the kitchen to prove its reputation and lineage.
The mysterious “Hot Oil” is oil infused with Jalapeño pepper (the “Stinger”), which is subsequently drizzled over the pie. To remind the patron, a Stinger takes a seat of honor as the centerpiece on the pie before baking. The pies are baked in sided, round pans; in which the dough, sauce and toppings are stretched to reach the edges of the pan. If they recede from the corners, the ovens give a slight burnt edge to that area of dough. The underside arrives with a golden brown tinge and is not charred like the blast-fired pies of New Haven. The sauce is a bit sweet with a nice consistency. The cheese is a thin layer and as it smolders in the oven, it bubbles and leaves “pock marks” across the pie. The requested toppings sit nestled on top of the cheese. The Hot Oil is then drizzled over the top and proceeds to slide through the slice-cracks; when the pie arrives in six pieces on a metal pizza-plate it is bathing in a small amount of the Hot Oil. You need plenty of napkins; they are not an option in eating a Colony pie.
As my pie cooled, I bravely tried a little piece of the Stinger. It was hot but not excruciating; nonetheless I removed the larger piece from the pie. I first sampled a slice of the pepperoni side and the pepperoni reminded me of my previous visits, flavorful with just a touch of heat and perfectly complemented the Hot Oil. The cheese needed to cool a bit before the flavors were developed, and the sauce was a bit sweet, without being overpowering. The dough was a feat. It was thin, and while it sat in a small pool of oil, it maintained its crispiness throughout the meal and remained a simple canvas to the flavors on top.
After a few bites, I thought there was something missing, so I grabbed a sip of water to clear my palate and thought about the flavors. Thinking…cheese, tomato, something was needed to enhance the flavors…salt. Although the pepperoni had a touch of salt, it did not intensify the flavors of the tomatoes and the cheese. Fortunately a salt-shaker was within reach, and a little sprinkle of salt increased the flavors of the sauce and the cheese to the desired levels. Overall the pepperoni side was a success; now onto the meatball side.
The first taste brought a single thought to my mind. Why didn’t I order the sausage? The meatballs (term loosely used) were unseasoned ground meat tossed on top of the cheese, absolutely flavorless and not suitable for pizza. After adding salt (to no avail), I finally decided to remove all of the meat. But there was a positive consequence. Many people frown on the plain pizza at Colony and here was my chance to sample a plain (Hot Oil only) pie. While the earlier addition of salt improved the flavors of this recreated pie, I can still only call this side fair.
The next visit brought a smile to my face when the half sausage/sweet pepper and half pepperoni combo arrived. I immediately added a touch of salt to the pepperoni and it was as good as my previous visit. But, I was here for the sausage and peppers. The sausage was flavorful with a touch of heat, nicely seasoned. (I later found out that it is actually sourced locally from across the street at De Yulio's Sausages.) The sweet peppers were equally flavorful and perfectly cooked, just crossing from crunchy to soft. These were both great additions to the Hot Oil and this combination was one I really enjoyed and I think others would as well.
Colony Grill serves a very good pie. I thought the sauce and cheese were good, but not great, but I really enjoyed the pepperoni and the sausage/sweet pepper toppings. What differentiates the Colony pie from others are their dough and Hot Oil. The dough is unique with a consistency between cracker and chewy and is served without any end crusts, while the Hot Oil heightens the flavor of all of the toppings. Other pizza parlors might duplicate a hot pepper infused oil, but I am not convinced other places could replicate the Colony dough to remain crisp while sitting in a pool of oil. We are very fortunate in Fairfield County, and throughout Connecticut, with our pizza choices, each with a loyal and vocal following. Pizza is a passion and pizza opinions lead to rumbles under I-95, so I did not compare Colony to any other pizza in Stamford or in the surrounding towns. I suggest that people visit Colony Grill with an open mind and sample a unique style of pie, one that adds to the amazing pizza landscape of Connecticut.