Americana: Do you like your pizza soupy? 01

Soupy Pizza from The Pizza Lady

One of the hazards of traveling with friends or extended family is that their tastes and diet may be quite different from what I prefer.

On a recent trip with Jeff’s sister and her husband, Lynda and Barry Baxter, we all at least agreed that we wanted to try local fare wherever we went. We also agreed that we didn’t want to spend much on food. Just to complicate things a little further, I am trying to eat very healthfully to control my cholesterol.

The second night we were in Mystic, Connecticut, we nosed around for a place with a local flair that wasn’t too expensive. Mystic Pizza of movie fame didn’t have great reviews, and lots of other eateries were either chain restaurants or pricey.

So Barry searched “best places to eat” on his phone. High on the list was “The Pizza Lady” in nearby Pawcatuck, Connecticut. The online blurb said the place was the best place in the region for “soupy pizza.”

Is that supposed to be a good recommendation? Were they saying that the Pizza Lady succeeded most often in failing to make edible pizza? If you Google “soupy pizza” it tells you to heat your oven to a higher temperature, precook some of the wetter vegetables and to dice stuff smaller. But how could a restaurant earn a handful of stars serving a dish that is most certainly not supposed to be soupy?

Curiosity, and the fact that it was getting late and we were famished, won out. Pawcatuck turned out to be a quaint village area that is part of Stonington, Connecticut. The area is replete with church steeples, a winding river and photogenic brick buildings.

David Terranova is the owner of the business, named after his aunt Mary. She used to make pizzas at home and have her extended family sell them in the town.

The current store on Liberty Ave in Pawcatuck exuded a mouthwatering scent that made our bellies growl. We ordered a large “soupy pizza” with a side of questions.

It turns out that “soupy” is the name of the Italian sausage or salami. It is an American adaptation from the Calabrese sausage called soppressata. It can also be spelled suppi, soupie or zuppi. It’s made of ground pork, salt, black and cayenne peppers and paprika.

Italian emigrants brought the recipe with them when they settled in Westerly, Rhode Island, across the Pawcatuck River from Stonington. The recipe morphed into a local specialty with sausage makers competing for awards.

Though the Pizza Lady doesn’t have a dining room, the prices were reasonable. We hunted out a nearby riverside park with picnic tables while we waited for our pizza to bake. Swans on the river fished and floated near a restaurant full of outdoor diners on the Rhode Island side of the river.

We were back on the dot when the pizza was promised. While Jeff paid, the counter girl explained that family and friends gather in local homes, mixing the ground pork and spices in 100-pound batches each winter. The filled casings are hung in chilly, local basements or attics, where it can be kept at about 45 degrees to develop the complex flavors and cure the meat.

The sausage-making parties are family traditions as much as a task. Hosts serve food, including soupy sausage, wines and other treats, with each person, old or young performing their specialized task.

I carried the steaming pizza box to the car. It weighed heavy and hot in its box, fresh from a fiery oven. The smell tortured our good manners as we returned to the park.

There was nothing squishy, soggy or soup-like in the delectable rectangular pizza. The soupy sausage was spicy enough to leave a little bit of an afterburn in the mouth, but pleasantly meaty. The flavor is more robust and distinct than traditional pizza toppings. I’m sure there are a few secret ingredients to add to the pleasant complexity of the sausage. The toasty cheese complimented a crust with just the right amount of bread.

I forced myself to savor it, remembering my cholesterol. But a splurge like a soupy pizza every once in a while is worth it. At least I’ll die happy.

If you’re in eastern Connecticut, try something soupy.

Only in America, God bless it.