Skip to content

Trying Trenton Tomato Pie

November 6, 2013

Some will argue that if it’s not New York style that a crust with tomato sauce and cheese dare not call itself a pizza. For the record, I think that is absolute nonsense.

The wide and varied range of pizza styles that’s available around the country is magnificent. Each brings something special to the table, and each has something to love. Whether you are talking one of Wolfgang Puck’s West Coast style pies topped with duck confit, a Chicago style deep-dish, a sheet of Old Forge, a slice from a grandmother pie, a New Haven coal fired clam pizza from Pepe’s, or even an upstate tavern-style round, they all have earned the right to be called pizza.

No, you may not be able to fold a slice of them in half and eat them as you walk from the subway to your apartment. But that is simply the side benefit of one particular style of pizza. And that come from someone who loves NY style pizza slices more than your average bear.

Hopefully you can keep an open mind as I tell you about my latest discovery of Trenton’s famous tomato pies.

I have a lot more research to do. But I just came back from dipping my toe into the local pizza waters, and am quite excited by what I found.

The words “tomato pie” conjures up a very specific image in much of the northeast. For the most part, it defines a slab of foccacia dressed with a smear of tomato paste on the top, perhaps with a light sprinkling of herbs or grated parmesan cheese.

That’s not what they famously made in Trenton.

The Trenton tomato pie is a cracker thin pizza crust that has been covered with mozzarella cheese first, then a simple tomato sauce, and crowned with a scattering of additional mozzarella. It’s not New York style. And even though it may sound like COB (cheese on the bottom) pizza it’s really a different experience from eating that too. But as long as you take it for what it is, and don’t expect it to be something that it’s not, Trenton tomato pie an excellent style of pizza.

As far as I can tell, there are two pillars of this style. One is De Lorenzo’s and the other is Papa’s.

Both started out in Trenton’s Chambersburg neighborhood. And independently they both moved to the nearby suburb of Robbinsville. As is the case for many regional foodstuffs, the major competitors are a stone’s throw away from each other. I’m thinking about Pat’s versus Geno’s steaks in Philadelphia. Or La Carreta versus Versaille Cuban in Miami. Or Pepe’s versus Sally’s Apizza in New Haven. Or Gus’s versus Hot Dog Charie’s in Watervliet.

While I’ve always believed ordering pizza to go was just wrong, that’s what we decided to do in this instance. That way it would be possible to have the De Lorenzo and Papa pies side by side.

And there are some clear differences that are keenly available even in their takeout state.

De Lorenzo’s brings the char. I could smell their oven toasted crust bubbles from inside the box as I drove the pies home. It’s a great smell. Papa’s didn’t push their pizza nearly that far, although the bottoms of the crust did get some solid color from the oven.

I did like the more chaotic pie cutting employed by De Lorenzo’s rather than the traditional radians used at Papa’s. But Papa’s cooked down their tomatoes a bit further which gave the sauce a smoother texture and more concentrated sweetness. It’s hard to say from my first takeout experience if this made it better. But the two shops certainly take different approaches to Trenton tomato pie.

Clearly, I have more research to do. Now that I know I’m a fan of the form, i’m looking forward to going to each of these places to experience a pie hot out of the oven. There are others shops that are still making this regional classic as well. Perhaps while I’m at it, I will solve the riddle as to why Trenton pizza shops started putting cheese down on the crust in advance of the sauce in the first place.

I’d love to hear the story.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2013 12:01 pm

    Gotta get the mustard pie next time!

  2. November 6, 2013 12:13 pm

    Fatty cheese layer on top of crust prevents the watery sauce from soaking into the crust hence prolonging the crisposity of the crust. That is my hypothesis as to why cheese-bottom pizza was invented.

  3. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    November 6, 2013 4:23 pm

    I’ve got to get more in touch with the Schenectady version

  4. November 6, 2013 11:22 pm

    The image of “tomato pie” makes me think of, y’know, a tomato pie — a pie crust, filled with tomato, which is something I’ve never actually seen anywhere. But I imagine it’s the image that a vast number of Northeasterners would think of when they hear “tomato pie,” outside of those from New York City, perhaps.

    Pies are thick things, pastries with sloped edges and a thick layer of filling. Pizzas, however, are something totally different, a flat, bread-type thing topped with a relatively thin layer of toppings.

    This Trenton cracker-thin, double-cheese pizza does sound yummy, though.

  5. November 7, 2013 12:11 am

    KB: I have had your image of tomato pie in real life at Chaiwalla in Salisbury, CT ( and it’s delicious! I don’t know the origins of this savory pie, but you can make one yourself (next summer in tomato season) by consulting the Tomato Festival Cookbook,

  6. November 7, 2013 9:27 am

    The only one of the above that I dispute the use of the name “pizza” is Chicago Style. It’s delicious. It’s decadent. It is a craft that takes skill to perfect. But it’s something other than pizza, IMO. The rest of the styles you mention (including the tomato pie here), I would agree are similar enough to be categorized as pizza.

    As for the moniker, “pie,” I’m not sure where it came from, and I never thought of it the way KB explained it, though it is a solid argument. My brother in law (a Long Islander who now lives in Florida) used the term “slice of pie” when ordering a piece of pizza to suss out whether or not it will actually taste good. Florida isn’t exactly known for their pizza. :)

    • November 8, 2013 9:46 pm

      Revisiting this, I think of NYC pizza and Chicago pizza as the difference between pie and cake. Yeah, they are both desserts. Yeah, they are both delicious. They even have some very marked similarities. But they are two different things.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: