In less time than it takes to watch, regret, then forget The Skulls, you can ride Metro-North to Union Station and explore New Haven’s culinary secrets beyond the Gog and Magog of cheeseburger and clam pie giants Louis’ Lunch and Frank Pepe’s. Instead make a pact with your palate to discover the gas station harboring a gourmet steakhouse truck and a national bakery chain’s unmarked test kitchen, hiding in plain sight on Chapel Street. Then, after dark, pursue mashed potato pies in a nightclub pool hall, the best cocktails between New York and Boston, and after-hours pastrami sandwiches, no password required.
Whether you arrive by car or train, refueling is essential, so satisfy your appetite and Zipcar all at once at The Meat Truck. Serving lunch at Science Park on Thursdays, cooking show-obsessed chef Jose Perez steers this mobile steakhouse to his friend’s Sunoco station at 350 Foxon Boulevard on Friday and Saturday afternoons. There, he composes eight heavyweight sandwiches inspired by his favorite meals at Craftsteak and Quality Meats, including the signature Steak House, which packs toasted garlic bread with thick-sliced griddled Angus beef smothered in sauteed mushrooms and more garlicky creamed spinach.
If you’re truly meat-obsessed, you might next seek out Meat & Co (116 Crown Street; 203-776-6328). While it’s easy to find a lunchtime seat at the counter for the beastly tongue-and-pastrami Rick Reuben, it’s just as easy to spot a line at the walk-up window when the after-hours crowd queues up for roast beef-and-liverwurst God Forbids until 3am. And God forbid you don’t eat meat, the veggie-inclined can take comfort in an onion-frizzed barbecue squash Garden Rustler, and the knowledge that this natural bounty’s locally sourced through Common Ground, a local high school farm initiative.
The crew behind Meat & Co take their own gardening seriously, too. Garnishes and infusions at next-door bar 116 Crown (116 Crown St; 203-777-3116) work their way into many of the 50+ cocktails on the menu, including a fennel, mint, and ouzo Lemonatha. Local honey sweetens the icy, spicy gin-and-bourbon Fourth & Clyde that’s fired up by liquid nitrogen and Salemme chili flakes.
Cold brew from The Coffee Pedaler (605 East Street; 203-777-2466) finds its way into 116 Crown’s cocktails, too, but if you want to limit your buzz to caffeine, head to this East Street cafe, where bike-obsessed owner Ryan Taylor literally hung up his bikes on the shop’s walls. He’s now devoting his time to grinding Alchemy beans into seasonal refreshers like an iced espresso ginger beer.
Another coffee option comes by way of Maison Mathis (304 Elm Street; 203-752-9779), and here, you can pair your drink to pastry: You’ll find two imported Belgian bakers rolling out loaves of ciabatta and multigrain baguettes, griddling salted caramel waffles, and composing croque madames. Scratch baking starts at 2 a.m. inside this airy all-day cafe from the guys behind Manhattan’s B Cafe and local dive of legend Rudy’s (1227 Chapel Street; 203-865-1242). In addition to Counter Culture coffee, the cafe pours basil lemonade and strawberry sangria for washing down your snack.
You should, of course, bend to your New Haven-style pizza craving, so a good way to spend a day here is to conquer the four corners of New Haven’s most uneven crusts. Start at Modern Apizza (874 State Street, 203-776-5306) for a brick oven Italian Bomb; the pie’s topped with sausage, pepperoni, and bacon, plus just enough mushroom and onion you can lie to yourself about its health benefits. It’ll fuel you for the mile walk over to Frank Pepe’s (157 Wooster Street; 203-865-5762) for the last of the summer’s fresh-chopped summer tomato pies, all oozing with mutz-coated basil and garlic.
Segue into seafood down the block at family rival Sally’s Apizza (237 Wooster Street; 203-624-5271) for a clam pie; you don’t want to miss this one — the 76-year-old parlor is currently up for sale. It’ll probably be nighttime by the time you’ve finished those, so head to pizza disco BAR (254 Crown Street; 203-495-8924), where quintessential bar snack potato skins are transformed to a bacony-cheesy midnight snack of thin crust pie.
If you’re a fan of novelty, make this your final stop. Yes, it’s a Panera Bread (1060 Chapel Street; 203-624-0873), but this one’s a little different. Panera Bread’s Chapel Street location is a test bakery for the rest of the country, and its cases are stacked with massive, fresh-baked pretzels and cinnamon buns, plus a chocolate brownie croissant bread pudding made from yesterday’s leftover fresh baked chocolate brownies and croissants. If there’s no room left in your stomach for it, there’s probably some in your car.