It’s a Tuesday tradition. At some point during the 4 o’clock hour, the Instagram accounts of Olmo and BAR send out photos of pizzas that are so uniquely appealing it makes driving into New Haven during rush hour seem like a good idea. It’s “BAR Olmo Pizza” night.
The weekly mash-up between the two Elm City restaurants began about five years ago when friends Jason Sobocinski, owner of Olmo predecessor Caseus, and BAR manager Max Toth had a brainstorming session. Sobocinski’s knowledge of specialty cheeses is off the charts and Toth and the people at BAR know a few things about making a top-notch pie. Toth took the idea to BAR owner Frank Patrick, who gave it his blessing. Tuesday, a notoriously slow day in the restaurant industry, was the logical choice.
When Sobocinski stepped away from Caseus a few years ago, chef Craig Hutchinson took over and transformed the fromagerie into Olmo Kitchen, a more traditional restaurant with less emphasis on cheese. He was faced with the decision of whether to keep the collaboration going. “It was a no-brainer,” Hutchinson says. “It’s so cool. It’s such a cool way for us to get to make pizza, even though we aren’t actually making the pizza. We get to make all the toppings.”
Every Tuesday Hutchinson makes the trek from his Whitney Avenue location over to Crown Street with containers in tow. He’s already spent most of the day prepping the various ingredients for whatever the weekly special happens to be. Hutchinson strolls into BAR, greeting the employees as he makes his way to the oven. He explains the details of the preparation for the pie to those who will be making it that night as he adds the toppings onto rolled-out pizza dough and slides it into the oven.
In its simplest form, the idea is to take a great dish and put it on a pizza — chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs. The chicken and waffles pie features country fried organic chicken, buttermilk sourdough waffle pieces and Welsh cheddar with a Thai bird chili spicy maple syrup drizzle. Thirteen different cheeses are used to make the mac and cheese pie, along with housemade pasta and bread crumbs from Olmo’s bagels. (Hutchinson pivoted and turned Olmo into a bagelry and marketplace when the pandemic hit.) And even for the most strident detractors of the practice, the spaghetti and meatballs make it OK to eat your pizza with a fork.
“It’s two restaurants trying to come together culturally, and to make a product that you as a guest would be super pumped to know that on Tuesday night you’re not gonna get the leftovers in the kitchen,” Hutchinson says. “You’re not gonna get the B team. You’re getting the best possible product that two different restaurants are putting together in one night.”
Patrick’s personal favorite is the brisket. “They’re great,” he says. “Most of them are. Every now and then they get one that’s not a huge hit, but they’ve developed a following for it now.” That occasional miss may be due to Hutchinson’s ambition and creativity when coming up with new ideas. He admits the pizza pros at BAR sometimes have to reel him in. “I wanna do the chef pizza,” Hutchinson says, “and they’re like, well, we wanna do the college-kid pizza.” He says he’s finding the balance between going crazy and playing to the masses.
One of the most popular pies recently is right in Olmo’s wheelhouse, the Lox with Love pizza taken directly from the bagel sandwich section of its menu — smoked salmon, scallion schmear, tomatoes, red onions and capers topped with everything-bagel seasoning. “It sounds weird to have it all as a pizza but it is delicious,” Hutchinson says.
I made three Tuesday trips into New Haven for this story, and I’d be happy to make 30 more. My first BAR Olmo Pizza experience was cacio e pepe (housemade mafalde, smoked black pepper, pecorino cheese sauce and truffle pecorino), followed by Boston beef (thin-sliced roast beef, barbecue sauce, mayo, frizzled onions, shredded iceberg, tomato, pickles) and the chicken and waffles. Hutchinson says the Boston beef was inspired by what he lived off of when he was a resident of Beantown, and it’s my favorite of the three and one of the greatest singular pizza experiences of my life.
During our interview, Hutchinson offered Connecticut Magazine the chance to create a pie and have our own little BAR Olmo Pizza Tuesday. We decided on an homage to one of our favorite New Haven lunch spots, the Long Wharf taco trucks. So, on Dec. 1, Olmo and BAR will be firing up pizzas with chorizo, diced white onion, cilantro, taco cheese sauce and broken taco shells.
‘BAR Olmo Pizza’ at BAR
254 Crown St., New Haven
BAR: 203-495-8924, barnightclub.com
Olmo: 203-624-3373, olmokitchen.com
Tuesdays, 4:30 p.m. until sold out