Welcome to New Jersey Pizza Week on Good. Food. Stories., where we’ll cover two of the many regional styles that sauce up the state. New Jersey’s got a few surprises up its sleeve when it comes to food, from being the second-largest blueberry producer in the country or the lauded inventor of salt water taffy (read more about the state’s quirky culinary charms in my latest iVillage piece on classic New Jersey foods.) But today we’re talking pizza, and we’re taking it to Trenton.
When traveling through Trenton, the two magic words you need to know are “tomato pie.” A golden, crunchy, olive oil-brushed crust is first topped with mozzarella cheese and then a vibrantly red sauce, so brilliantly colored because it’s made from canned crushed tomatoes that haven’t cooked down for hours. Seasoned lightly, the tomato sauce doesn’t taste raw but simple and fresh, its bright acidity shining through even after the pizza’s brief stint in the oven. Tomato pie is often finished with an extra drizzle of olive oil, along with any toppings of choice.
For pizza lovers raised on doughy Sicilian or floppy New York-style slices, it’s a whole new way of looking at a pie. But which tomato pie do you try first? Though Trenton used to be lousy with mom-and-pop pizza shops, only three remain as purveyors of the original tomato pie: Papa’s Tomato Pies calls itself the oldest family-owned pizza restaurant in the country (and has a host of evidence to stake its claim) because it’s been continuously operating since 1912.
DeLorenzo’s Pizza on Hamilton Avenue is the upstart by comparison, not having opened its doors until 1938. (The first DeLorenzo’s, opened by the older brothers of the Hamilton Avenue location’s founders in 1936, closed its original branch on Hudson Street in January 2012 and now only runs its more modern restaurant (i.e., this one has customer restrooms) outside Trenton in Robbinsville.)
Take your pick and plot your route to Trenton, but know before you go: hours for lunch and dinner at the two in-town locations are so idiosyncratic that I’ve included a comprehensive list at the end of the piece on who’s open when; no slices are served, so you’ll have to go with a whole pie; and the wait for a table at peak hours can be the stuff of legend. Don’t be ashamed to roll up for an early bird dinner at 4:00 pm; by 4:30, you’ll be joined by a half-dozen other diners and by 5:30, every seat in the room will be filled.
A perfect day in Trenton (yes, it can happen) would be an afternoon at the Trenton Thunder ballpark scarfing Chickie & Pete’s crab fries while watching bat dogs Chase and his son Derby adorably working the field, followed by an early dinner at DeLorenzo’s. I’ll take my tomato pie with black olives, extra garlic, and a shake of red chili flakes, but it’s not a shame to eat it plain.
Papa’s Tomato Pies
804 Chambers St., Trenton, NJ
Monday-Saturday: 4:00 pm-8:30 pm
Lunch on Fridays only, 11:30 am-1:30 pm
Sunday: 4:00-8:00 pm
1007 Hamilton Avenue, Trenton, NJ
Tuesday-Thursday: Lunch served 11:00 am-1:30 pm; Dinner 4:00 pm-8:45 pm
Friday: 11:00 am-8:45 pm
Saturday: 3:00 pm-8:45 pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays
2350 US Highway 33, Robbinsville, NJ
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 am-2:00 pm
Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday, 4:00 pm-10:00 pm