You may have heard of Pepe's for several reasons, it has been mentioned in Doonesbury comic, it was a favorite of President Clinton in his Yale days, and it is the pizza place that actually has a line going out the door.
There are many authentic aspects of Pepe's - it is a good pie, it smells wonderful and they use a HUGE brick oven -the kind necessary to make the kinds of pizza pies associated with Wooster Street, the Italian section of New Haven. It gives the crust an amazing crispiness. Waitresses run around like mad delivering pizzas.
As a proviso, I have not been to Pepe's within the last year or so, so I could be wrong. But I have lived here my whole life and have been going to Wooster street for years and have seen a decline when it was passed on to younger generations over a series of numerous visits.
They serve pizzas on a giant tray for your table, (you do not get a plate large enough to hold a slice, be prepared to be friendly with those you are sitting with). While the pizza is not "gooey", and you pick it up and with a small fold at the top, if you are not used to eating pizza this way, there is not much elbow room at the booths to use your fork and knife. Once, several years ago, they charged extra for the grated cheese jar, a feature I was not fond of. They explained kids like to play with the cheese, but I was not a kid and did not have kids in my party.
There is little to eat in the way of an appetizer, so you wait in line for sometimes over an hour, then order, then wait what feels like an eternity for your pizza, sans appetizers. If you go just at 5, you might slip in before the line starts. They serve liquor, as well as Foxon Park soda, a local retailer of a sweeter variation with less of a carbonated "bite" to it - some of the Italian type such as birch beer, a sweeter orange without being too sweet, etc.
Now there are several varieties of some unusual pizzas done well, clam with white sauce, etc.
If you have never been to Pepe's, and there is not too long a line or can do take out, then you may enjoy the pizza as a nice authentic variation. It is authentic Wooster Street, as is Sally's (less than a block or so from Pepe's) However, if you went to Pepe's in their hay day, when it was the original Frank, then you may be in for a disappointment, as it is not the quality of pizza, service or ingredients that Frank prided himself upon.
I would certainly be pleased to have a Pepe's pizza if there was not a line or someone got it for take out and brought it over, but I would no longer wait in line for it as I once would. However, whenever I have gone, there are never leftovers even though we always over-order out of hunger and anticipation. It is hard to find a pizza that is the nice crisp brick oven fire taste without being burnt and too crispy to taste the dough.
When guests come to visit from out of town, they frequently want to visit local places they have heard about, and I am somewhat disappointed at their choosing a Pepe's as I no longer feel it lives up to the hype. I do not wish to speak ill of them, but no longer consider them 'vacation destination' event sort of material, and at times feel my guests have left disappointed after hearing so much about Pepe's.
I would not recommend Pepe's for a date. I always felt alittle sorry for couples on what appeared to be an early date in their relationship. You spent at times, over an hour standing in line in close quarters not conducive to talking, and it seemed that by the time the couples get to sit and order and then have to wait for their pizza, they have run out of conversation and things seem awkward and they can't even talk about their food because it isn't there yet. If you have a mischevious streak, you may enjoy people watching and picking out these couples while you wait for your pizza. It is also quite loud, making chatting difficult.
But if you do not live in the area and have never had Wooster Street Pizza, you could have a good time. I would also recommend taking a walk down the street to the Italian Pastry shop, sit in the bistro like table, get expresso the way it was intended, and choose a lovely pastry or authentic Italian Ice in flavors that are done best in this sort of setting - lemon, cherry, and vanilla, which is a sweet italian vanilla.