"Gooey," that's what my late great mother craved in her pizza, and this woman loved food more than any person I've ever known. ("Don't talk to me," she would admonish. "I'm eating."}
Well, Mom would have devoured the pizza at Stamford's Hope Pizza, maybe the best of the thirty some Greek pizzerias hidden throughout Fairfield County. What makes Greek pizza gooey is what distinguishes it from the more heralded Connecticut Italian pizzas. Bearing no New Haven char, Colony heat, Batali chic, much less any passionate defenders or detractors in the food press or blogosphere, Greek Pizza flourishes under the radar, boasting few fancy frills, though, admittedly, more oil.
Panos Triantafyllos, who along with his younger brother George, runs Hope Pizza, told us that the goo comes from two sources: the cheddar they blend with mozzie for the cheese topping and the oil which they lightly coat onto the pans so that the crust won't cling to the metal. Unlike Italian pizzas, Greek pies are not fired on bricks, but pan baked at 600 degrees in a standard oven.
That's not the only difference. In contrast to Neapolitan thin or cracker crust, the Greek shell has a slightly thicker, but less dense texture, surrounded by a raised edge. "We keep the dough warm so the yeast can do its work," Panos explains, "After it rises, that's when we hand roll it into the pan. You don't throw the dough like the Italian style." Unlike other Greek pizzerias, Hope’s cooks don’t use a roller machine, but stretch the dough out with their fingers. Panos demonstrates, his fingers spreading the imaginary dough like he was enlarging a picture on an Ipad.
The result is an amazingly airy, yet crisp, biscuit crust, which stands up to the cheese and myriad toppings on the menu. Rather than serve triangular slices, Hope cuts their large pies in squares. We ask if that's because the crust doesn't fold. Panos shakes his head. "Tradition," he says.
Indeed. Greek Pizza has been part of the region's “fork lore” for generations, a style almost exclusively found in the broad swath from Boston to New York. Because of this regionality, the unique pizza has earned the label of "New England" Greek and it’s not found much in other parts of the country. In northern Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Greek pizzerias often bear the name "House of Pizza" – code words that signify to locals that they won't find thin crust brick fired pies inside.
Hope's own lineage goes back two generations, A mainstay of the working class neighborhood of Glenbrook, northeast of downtown Stamford, it was founded by Panos and George's immigrant parents back in 1979 and is still at the same location, but twice as big. When you enter the clean, brightly lit restaurant, with its ample booths and tables, it's easy to mistake the pizzeria for a large, bustling Greek Diner. Families abound, and the menu carries a load of typical diner fare: gyros, grinders, salads, and hamburger hamburgers. But look around the tables; the star of the show is the pizza, sitting center stage on raised platform trays. Not only is every table taken, but long lines snake out the corridor waiting for take out. (Panos claims Greek pizza travels better than Italian because the crust doesn't get as soggy from the steam.)
One of non-pizza specialties of the house is Chicken Rice soup, made from the family's secret recipe. Hope Pizza is also known for their oversize and delicious salads. "For lunch," Panos says, "a nice salad or soup instead of a pizza, that's what many of our customers like."
But for dinner, pizza reigns supreme. An assortment of over 35 toppings is listed on the menu, and choices range from pepperoni to pineapple. Many regulars recommend a "well done" pizza, so that the cheese bakes into the perimeter crust. However, I prefer the regular, because the shorter baking time brandishes a golden finish to the crust and the cheese.
Seeking a classic Greek pizza like you might find in Athens? The Triantafyllos boys will substitute feta cheese, stud the pie with imported Kalamata olives, and top it all off with authentic souvlaki. Order a cheap carafe of white, red, or rose, and Kalí óreksi, bon appetite, My Big Fat Greek Pizza.
OK, Hope isn't Tarry Lodge, Frank Pepe, or Colony. No renowned pizzas here. But rumor has it that Greek Pizza is a secret addiction of many, including someone on the CTBites team who loves food almost as much as my mom.
Hope Pizza 230 Hope Street Stamford, CT 203 325 3660