In Connecticut, where old-school pizza overwhelms and New Haven symbols Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza proceed to sling their coal-fired showstoppers, Nana’s Bakery & Pizza is pulling off what feels like an enchantment trap. Nana’s, which opened in Mystic last October, is making marvelous Connecticut pizza that tastes both recognizable and brand-new. The clam pizza (known as the New England) at Nana’s is a tasty and transporting riff on clear Rhode Island clam chowder. The cream-free pie, cooked at 650 degrees in a gas oven, brings out roadside seafood shacks with its combination of local clams, bacon, potatoes, and garlic butter. The lean sourdough crust is pleasantly chewy and a little crispy, with a smooth tang. All the pizza dough is bulk fermented for 24 hours. At that point the sourdough is shaped and proceeds to ferment. There’s also koji in the habanero ranch you can order as a dip for the crust. Another dip, born out of Nana’s chef Corey Lein’s affection for za’atar, is a za’atar crunch that gives the thought of chili crunch an herbaceous Middle Eastern twist.
Besides thin-crust pizza, Nana’s has thick-crust pizza (counting square cuts) that’s a gesture to the grandma pies in nearby Westerly, Rhode Island. Nana’s also serves made-to-order sourdough donuts together with sourdough bagels, breakfast sandwiches, simmered local vegetables, Maine Grains salads, chicken wings, meatball subs, pizza rolls, kombucha (made in-house with koji and local produce), and small-batch Canyon Coffee refreshments. In expansion to crisply butchered meats, Grass & Bone offers cheeseburgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, tacos, Asian noodle bowls, rotisserie chicken, steak fries, chicken curry, neighborhood line-caught tuna aguachile and a “butcher’s shop poke” made with local Seacoast mushrooms and local kelp.
I know Connecticut’s famous for its pizza, down in New Haven for sure,” says Nana’s chef-owner James Wayman. “We’re doing something that’s very different from that.”
In numerous ways, Nana’s resembles incredible all-day bakeries and restaurants like California’s Tartine Manufactory and Gjusta more than it resembles Connecticut pizza places. It begins with the flour. Nana’s, a waterfront destination in a former seaport town that’s domestic to the movie-famous Mystic Pizza, uses organic 00 flour from Utah’s profoundly respected Central Milling. Nana’s also gets local grains, from Connecticut’s Still River Farm and Maine Grains, and mills them in-house. Pizzas are naturally leavened, with fair amount of small yeast that stabilizes the dough and “gives a little bit of the classic yeasty flavor,” Wayman says.
“I’m a big fermenter,” Wayman says. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years. So anything that’s alive and living and wild, I love the funky flavors you get from that. It just adds this other depth and dimension. Also, long slow fermentation makes it easier to digest and tolerate.” At Nana’s, “it’s kind of ambient temperature, so things fluctuate,” Wayman adds. “We like it best around 48 [hours]. It depends on how hot it is, how humid.”
Wayman and Nana’s co-owner Aaron Laipply also run Mystic butcher shop and restaurant Grass & Bone, which makes the bacon Nana’s employments. Nana’s gets neighborhood Beriah Lewis Farm beef and Wild Harmony Farm Berkshire pork from Grass & Bone for a fabulous tomato-forward Bolognese pizza that includes cooking meat sauce for an hour-and-a-half to two hours. Wayman also includes a small-batch soy sauce business, Moromi, which makes shoyu with organic soybeans and Connecticut wheat. Moromi uses rice to make shio koji, an umami-rich seasoning that’s amps up the flavors at Nana’s. “It enables me to have a very simple pizza sauce,” Wayman says. “It’s just tomatoes, shio koji, water and salt. Koji makes tomatoes more tomatoey. We have been putting a little bit of tomato leaves in our shio koji this summer to kind of push that a little more.”
Wayman is fast to mention Lein, Nana’s baker David Vacca and other key players in his nourishment community, including koji master Rich Shih (the co-author of Koji Alchemy) and Moromi author Bob Florence. Florence at first, reached out when Wayman was running the kitchen at Mystic’s Oyster Club, a restaurant that opened in 2011 and has gotten to be a foundation of the town’s rising dining scene. Florence was making his own soy sauce and miso, and his relationship with Wayman started with him dropping a few off at Oyster Club. Florence afterwards, went to Japan and found mentorship at Chiba Shoyu, a soy sauce powerhouse that dates back to 1854. Wayman cherishes bringing worldwide impacts to Mystic, where he’s cooked since 1999. He believes there’s plenty of room for more innovation and numerous modern eateries. At the same time, he wants to honor local ingredients and local history, of course.
Both Nana’s and Grass & Bone happened since Wayman recognized a require for Mystic feasting that’s more casual but doesn’t give up the quality of the food. So he set out to open places that individuals would want to visit each day.
“I just want to see the scene and the area grow,” Wayman says. “When I came here, you’d see all these restaurants in one of the most amazing fishing areas in our country, if not the world, buying frozen cod from Alaska. It’s wonderful to see the evolution of farming and artisans and an amazing food community that’s developed in the last 10 years.”