Casting an A-list movie star in a film oftentimes results in a big opening at the box office. You’ve seen their work, you appreciate their talent, and you’re ready for more. Chef Tim LaBant — who you may know from the blockbuster Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton — is back on the red carpet again to celebrate Parlor, his casual, family-friendly, faster-paced pizza place showcasing his take on Neapolitan pies.
The Schoolhouse has been a success since premiering in 2007, but LaBant wasn’t out simply to cash in with a sequel. “I just wanted another place in town, selfishly, that my friends and family could go hang out at that was a little less serious,” says LaBant, whose new pizza hangout opened in October. Obsessed with Neapolitan pizza from time spent in Brooklyn, LaBant studied and experimented until he found what to him was the perfect pie. That doesn’t mean his education is over. At the time of our interview he was preparing to fly to Las Vegas for the International Pizza Expo.
Parlor pies are an amalgamation of what LaBant loves the most about all the pizza he’s enjoyed since his childhood days of making the 45-minute trek into New Haven to dine at Pepe’s. He also mentions BAR and Colony — in addition to several New York City pizzerias — as places that were unknowingly providing inspiration for a final product Wilton locals have welcomed with open arms, and open mouths. LaBant speaks about flavor profiles, saltiness, char, crust, chew, the way a slice pulls when you bite into it.
He knows taste and preference are subjective and that the debate over who makes the best pizza will continue in perpetuity for as long as there’s enough water to make dough. “I love listening to people argue about it. My goal was just to get in the argument,” LaBant says. “If somebody that loves Pepe’s says that I suck, hey, at least I’m in the argument.”
Our visit on a Tuesday night in February is met with a full house and a five-minute wait — an excellent sign for a chilly, early-weekday evening. To put it simply, high expectations are met. The pies are superb, indicative of an accomplished chef putting his energy toward perfecting a new craft. There’s one size only, which LaBant says helps to ensure quality. Our group of four orders a pie apiece, swapping slices like schoolchildren at the lunch table.
Both the margherita and plain cheese are simple yet flawless. And, as expected, a little fine-dining flair has traveled 2 miles down Route 7 from the Schoolhouse. The sausage pie comes with braised fennel and red onion, and the clam is accompanied by lemon and broccoli rabe. In addition to eight pizza choices ($14-$18), there are three “quick bites” ($3.50-$5) and five salads/vegetables ($8.50-$10). We share chips and dip, which is housemade potato chips and an excellent onion dip served with full rings intact, and roasted butternut squash with ricotta, pumpkin seeds and sage honey. The meal is capped beautifully by a chocolate mousse ($7) with salted caramel, orange whipped cream and hazelnuts. Roll credits.
5 River Road, Wilton
Hours: Tue.-Sat. noon-11 p.m. Sun. noon-9 p.m. Closed Mon.