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New Haven has an affinity for the old. This is, after all, a nearly 375-year-old New England city, with all the usual hallmarks: an Ivy League university (Yale); a spacious Puritan-constructed downtown “green,” or grassy town square; graceful if peeling Victorian architecture; even a nickname after trees (Elm City). Fortunately, that respect for the past extends to the historic city’s cuisine, defined as it is by a handful of old-school, family-owned, working-class businesses that keep tradition alive. There’s pizza, of course, an institution here ever since a Neapolitan immigrant named Frank Pepe began cooking “apizza” in his bakery on Wooster Street, igniting a trend—not to mention a distinct and delicious style of pie—that continues to draw legions of fans today. But other businesses—other remains of a once-larger Italian community, other beloved local products, even the country’s original “hamburger sandwich” purveyor—are likewise still run by third- or fourth-generation family members in New Haven. This is a town that values authenticity and tradition, a fact so obvious the minute you engage anyone behind a counter. It’s a long-ingrained love you can taste, too.
The city has gone through a rough patch of economic downturn and high crime in recent years, but increasing signs of revitalization—a stronger-than-ever restaurant scene, an eclectic new co-op market, a shiny new Apple store—are afoot. We can only hope that the old keeps up with the new, and New Haven’s unique brand of family, tradition, and honest homecooked food survives for another hundred years.
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