When I was a kid growing up in the New York City area, I loved going on road trips to visit family up in New England. My favorite part of going up that way? You guessed it – the pizza.
Now while New England isn’t traditionally known for its pizza outside of some standout places in New Haven and Boston, suburban New England does have a style all its own: the bar pizza.
Bar style pizza is characterized by a thin, crispy crust and a blend of cheddar and mozzarella cheese that covers the entire pizza from edge to edge. This gives the crust a crispy texture and cheesy flavor as the cheese fries along the edges of the pan. The undercarriage of bar pizza gets its distinct crispy from baking in an oily pan, not a stone like a traditional pizza. This style of pizza is very popular in bars and family restaurants across suburban New England.
With all this being said, bar pizza is not monolithic or uniform across all restaurants, similar to most styles of American pizza. So in this way “bar pizza” is more of an umbrella term for all small, thin styles of pizza with blended cheese served in similar establishments across New England.
But rather than focus on the differences, let’s discuss what makes bar pizza unique and list some of the best examples of this tasty style of pizza.
Bar Pizza Is A Popular Thin Crust Style Of Pizza Served Across New England
Bar style pizza is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. “Guilty” may be too strong of a word, but I can’t help but to have a twinge of shame eating it knowing that my Italian family would have a small seizure if I ever introduced it to them.
This is because, by Italian standards, bar style pizza is an abomination. The sugary dough, the canned tomato sauce and low-moisture mozzarella are all very much against their sensibilities. And if that wasn’t everything, the super-greasy, edge to edge cheese blended with cheddar will be enough to send them over the top.
But I love bar pizza anyways. It may not be my first choice for pizza at this point in my life, but it’s always a welcome treat when I’m back in the region.
New Englanders will be familiar with this style of pizza from legendary local haunts like Monte’s in Lynn, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Café in Brockton, Massachusetts and Town Spa in Stoughton, Massachusetts. These are some of the giants of bar pizza that I have personally tried and loved, but they’re far from the only ones.
What Is Considered A Bar Pizza?
Like I mentioned earlier, bar pizza does not come in any kind of a standardized form. Like most styles of American pizza, bar style pizza can vary wildly from town to town and restaurant to restaurant.
But this also doesn’t mean that any kind of thin crust pizza with little to no crust is considered a bar pizza.
Bar pizza is cooked in an oily pan which gives its undercarriage a distinct and almost deep-fried crispiness. The fatty cheddar cheese that’s usually blended in mixes well with the tomato sauce and caramelizes along the edges giving bar pizza its characteristically crispy and tangy crust. Bar pizza is also rarely much more than 10 or so inches in diameter, making it perfectly suited for eating at a bar.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania have a very similar style of pizza called “tavern pizza”, which is also amazing, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on the New England variety that I’ve described above.
Where Is Bar Pizza Served?
Contrary to the name, bar pizza is not strictly served at bars. Bar pizza can usually be found at all kinds of working-class restaurants and taverns across New England. However, most of these places also have a bar attached which is probably how the style of pizza got its name.
Most of my experience with bar pizza, especially as a kid, was eating it in the family restaurants attached to the bar, often accessed through a swinging door or something similar. Many of these establishments are old-school style local working class haunts full of regulars who have been eating and drinking there for years.
Many of these restaurants serving bar pizza have been around for decades and the recipes have been swapped and shared among places several times over.
Some of the cooking and wait staff as well have spent decades bouncing around from one bar pizza joint to another and bringing their secrets and tips with them. This definitely has helped to establish a more or less standardized version of bar pizza within small areas, but there is still lots of variation.
Even some of the cookware like pans and ovens are decades old and carry with them the flavor and seasoning from thousands of bar pizzas over the course of the history of these places.
In this way bar pizza is much more of a local cultural tradition than it is a concrete recipe such as what we see in Naples with the VPN Association keeping everything standardized.
What’s The Best Bar Pizza Restaurant?
If you want to know where to find the best bar pizza in New England, ask one-hundred people and you’ll get one-hundred different answers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places that most people agree stand out above the rest like Town Spa in Stoughton and Monte’s in Lynn.
My first introduction to bar pizza was at a place called Town Spa in Stoughton, Massachusetts. When I first saw the pizza it looked a bit strange compared to the NYC style, and later Neapolitan style, that I had grown up with and become used to.
For one thing, the bar style pizza was so small. It reminded me of a personal pan-pizza at Pizza Hut, but much thinner and with little to no crust showing around the edges. But when I tasted the pizza, I was surprised at how distinct the flavor was and at how much I enjoyed it.
After trying Town Spa, I let my relatives know how much I loved it and they proceeded to take me on a bar pizza tour of southern New England. I couldn’t get enough of this distinct style of pizza and couldn’t wait to try more.
The next place we went was the Lynwood Café in Randolph, Massachusetts. This place had a similar kind of out of the way, tavern-like atmosphere of Town Spa mixed with a family restaurant. In fact most of these places you would never guess serve amazing pizza from looking at it on the outside.
Lynwood Café bar pizza is very similar to what I ate at Town Spa. I’m sure local aficionados will be able to spot lots of difference between the two pizzas, but to me they tasted very much the same – in a good way.
The next stop on my bar pizza tour took us to Monte’s Restaurant in Lynn, Massachusetts, just north of Boston.
This is a similar and non-descript family style restaurant that is often pitted against Town Spa for the title of best bar pizza in New England.
I found the taste of this pizza to be very similar to the rest but with the cheese that was slightly more browned and bubbly and a slightly more exposed outer rim of crust. And while this could have been my experience, it appears to be the norm based on the numerous photos found of this pizza online.
Unfortunately I’m not local enough to judge if Monte’s is better than Town Spa, but I will gladly eat either one if given the opportunity.
Another amazing place in the halls of legendary bar pizza I got to experience is Cape Cod Café in Brockton, Massachusetts. This is another family restaurant and tavern combination that are found all over the Northeastern US. And the bar pizza definitely did not disappoint here either.
My verdict on the best bar pizza in New England is basically to say that all of the popular places serve really good bar pizza. It’s very difficult to go wrong, especially if you’re not used to eating it every day like some of the locals do.
How To Make Bar Pizza (Recipe)
Now well into my adulthood and I’m somewhat of a homemade pizza aficionado, I’ve managed to recreate the essence of bar pizza at home. This is a great way for me and my taste-buds to take a walk down memory lane to those youthful days eating bar pizza with my extended family in southern New England.
For this recipe, I’m not attempting to mimic any particular bar pizza from a specific restaurant. I’m really just looking to create something similar that incorporates all the key characteristics of traditional bar pizza while also using some relatively clean ingredients where possible.
I think this recipe will get you most of what you’re looking for in a bar pizza but you’ll notice I don’t call for any special kind of dough or tomato sauce. Bar pizza usually calls for a sugary dough, but I just use my regular no-knead Neapolitan style pizza dough and it works fine as long as it’s the correct size and the pan is properly oiled. Just be sure to weigh out the dough balls into 185 gram balls instead of the usual 250 grams for Neapolitan style.
I also just use regular crushed tomatoes seasoned with salt and oregano to taste. I know lots of bar pizza places use a simple canned tomato sauce, but I prefer to use something cleaner and I don’t think it adversely affects the flavor at all.
- 185 gram ball of pizza dough
- Olive oil
- Low-moisture mozzarella cheese
- Cheddar cheese (preferably white cheddar)
- Dried Oregano
- 10-12 inch round baking pan
- Crushed tomatoes, or tomato passata, seasoned with salt and oregano to taste
- Take your 200 gram dough ball out of the fridge and give it 1-2 hours to reach room temperature.
- Once it reaches room temperature, take the dough ball and gently hand stretch it on a clean counter until it's relatively flat.
- Grease your baking pan with a generous amount of olive oil, including around the edges.
- Place your partially stretched pizza dough into the pan and continue to shape it until it reaches the edges of the pan without springing back. If you have trouble with this step, cover the pan with plastic wrap for 10 minutes and try again once the gluten has relaxed.
- Poke the dough 3-4 times with a fork and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough proof again for about 1 hour.
- Place 1-2 ladles full of sauce on the pizza dough and spread right to the edges of the pan. There should be no exposed dough.
- Sprinkle 2 pinches of dried oregano on the sauce. Crush it between your fingers to release extra flavor.
- Mix a blend of shredded low-moisture mozzarella and white cheddar cheese and spread it all over the pizza, making sure to cover everything right up to the edge of the pan. How much cheese is up to you but generally bar pizza is loaded with cheese until you can't see much of the sauce peaking through.
- Bake the pizza in a preheated over at 500F (or whatever the maximum temperature us) for approximately 15 minutes. I bake mine on the bottom rack for an extra crispy bottom, but your oven might be different.
- The pizza is ready when the cheese reaches a golden or slightly orange color. There may be some brown bubbles, but it shouldn't be to the point where all the cheese is brown and crusted over completely.
- Use a fork or a spatula to unstick the cheese from around the edges and lift up the pizza to check it. It should be a light golden brown color and feel crispy to the touch.
- If the bottom is still very pale in color, you can leave it in the oven longer. But if the cheese is done, you can always place the pizza in a hot frying pan for a few minutes to crisp the bottom while not cooking the toppings any further.
- Remove the pizza from the pan and let it sit on a cooling rack for 2-3 minutes before cutting. Enjoy!