You will find several iconic approaches to pizza along the East Coast of the United States. Many people enjoy the New York variation that allows you to fold a large slice into a sandwich. You can also find Neapolitan approaches along the entire seaboard.
If you travel about 70 miles south of Manhattan, then there is another fantastic variation of pizza that you will want to try. The Trenton tomato pie has a foundation based on the Italian approach to these saucy slices, and it is one that will leave you yearning to have them more often.
You won’t find much mention of the Trenton tomato pie outside of New Jersey. If you ask the average pizzeria for this dish, you might get a slice filled with tomato slices instead of its tasty sauce. That’s why knowing what this New Jersey style pizza is and how it gets made is essential information.
If there isn’t an establishment near you that can make it, then you can take the traditional approach to create one at home.
What Is Trenton Tomato Pie (New Jersey Style Pizza)?
The traditional tomato piece has its roots in Sicily. Families would make these thick-crust pizzas with oregano, Romano cheese, and a thin layer of sauce to bring all of the flavors together. This dough is closer to focaccia than it is to what most people think of as a pizza crust.
You would then allow the tomato pie to cool to room temperature before enjoying it. Once the pizza was ready, then it would be cut into strips or squares instead of triangle slices since a baking sheet or deep-dish pan would be responsible for its shape.
The Trenton tomato pie makes a few refinements to create an American twist on an Italian delicacy. It offers a thinner crust that is closer to what you’d see at a classic pizzeria anywhere in the United States. This design change creates a crispy crust without any sagging. That’s because the sauce is on top of the cheese instead of the other way around.
This New Jersey style pizza approach is also popular in places like Utica, Providence, and Philadelphia.
What Makes Trenton Tomato Pie Unique?
The distinction between a Trenton tomato pie and a standard pizza is in the process used to make the final product. Instead of using a thicker square like Italian versions of the same dish, the New Jersey style pizza is circular with a thinner, crispier texture.
This tomato pie places the cheese, which is usually mozzarella, and the desired toppings underneath the sauce instead of it being on top.
The benefit of taking this approach is that you can receive a guaranteed flavor of basil, tomato, and oregano with every bite. It elevates the sauce of the New Jersey style pizza to a starring role in the dish.Why Do People Love Trenton Tomato Pie (New Jersey Style Pizza)?
People love the Trenton tomato pie because many of the recipes that you encounter along the East Coast are over 100 years old. The pizzerias and bakeries that offer this dish use the same small-kitchen approach that their great-grandparents used in the generations before to introduce this intensely flavorful approach to a slice.
There are several other reasons why this New Jersey style pizza is famous for many people across the United States.
1. It offers a crispy crust.
When the sauce is the star of the pizza, it is usually on top of a dough that is very thick or extremely gooey. Since the Trenton approach to the tomato pie reinforces the crust with a layer of toppings and cheese before the sauce gets added, you get to enjoy a satisfying crunch instead of a chewy bite.
2. The cheese and toppings stay put.
If you take a bite from a standard pizza, then the cheese and toppings try to come off immediately. That makes it a challenge to get the mixture of flavors and textures correct since you’re managing a hot mess with each slice. The New Jersey style pizza lets the tomato pie stay more intact, even with the thin crust. You can get the flavor of the sauce with every bite.
3. There isn’t too much sauce on the pizza.
You could make the sauce become a star of any pizza if you add a couple of additional ladles to a recipe. When you choose the Trenton tomato pie, the sauce isn’t the only thing that the pizza offers. It won’t create a dripping mess when you take a bite, but it also doesn’t ignore this foundational ingredient. You get a nice bit of textural crackle while tasting more than a century of flavor development.
4. It is a unique take on eating pizza.
The New Jersey style pizza is a concept that was so popular when it was created that some restaurants ran out of wrapping materials. They would cover the slices in newspaper to protect them as a grab-and-go option. The finished wrapping looked like the tri-corner hats that George Washington used to wear, so there is a certain homage paid to the pivotal victory in Trenton to these pizzas.
5. You can make it with a chunky sauce.
You can find some Trenton tomato pie recipes with a thin, herb-infused sauce that spreads out the flavor evenly on each slice. Some restaurants prefer to use a chunkier version, utilizing the equivalency of diced tomatoes to create juicier bites.
6. It is available in a variety of shapes.
The classic version of the New Jersey style pizza is round with triangular shapes. Some restaurants are using the tray-based approach to make their recipe closer to the Philadelphia version that comes with a thicker crust. You can find some squares and a few rectangles out there, but this variety of slice styles all have something in common. You will cut the pie with a knife instead of a circular pizza cutter.
Examples of Well-Known Restaurants Serving Trenton Tomato Pie
When you reach the intersection of Cass Street and State Route 129 in New Jersey, you’ll find a block of abandoned factories on one side of your vehicle. There’s a massive prison on the other side of the road. When Chambersburg was at its prime, then it was the capital of Trenton tomato pies in the United States. It was alive and electric.
There are only two old-guard pizzerias left in the state that are serving the Trenton tomato pie. You can also find a handful of newcomers that are working to revolutionize this recipe, just as Washington once did when the American colonies sought independence. All of them are well-known places where you can pick up an excellent slice of this New Jersey style pizza.
1. Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ.
Papa’s claims to be the oldest continuously operational pizzeria in the United States. They opened in 1912, and it has stayed in the same family at the same location. It only closed once for about a week after a fire. Joe Papa had a passion for pizza, opening his first restaurant when he was only 17. The foundation of his recipes involved a coal-fired oven and making the dough by hand with love. They have moved from canned tomatoes to fresh ones, but the rest of the approach remains the same.
2. De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ.
This Trenton landmark restaurant spent 66 years on Hudson Street before closing its doors. They now operate in Robbinsville, which is just a few miles west of their previous location. The founder of this establishment, Alexander De Lorenzo, was one of 12 children from parents who had immigrated from southern Italy in the early 1900s. The family opened their first tomato pie restaurant opened in 1936, but Alexander decided to strike out on his own in 1947. The thin-crust, New Jersey style pizza that you can get today is the same one you could purchase 70 years ago.
3. Maruca’s Tomato Pies in Seaside Heights, NJ.
You will find giant slices of pizza waiting for you when you try a Trenton tomato pie at this restaurant. This take on the New Jersey style might be a bit of a compromise with the chain stores out there, but the quality of the recipe has not varied. You’ll enjoy a mild cheddar, a dusting of mozzarella, and a slow spiral of sauce that merges all of the flavors. That’s why there is a bit more oil on the top of this pie than the other examples you can find. The unique look means that everyone on the shore knows where you stopped to satisfy your hunger.
4. Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, CT.
This restaurant might have become famous because of their Neapolitan-style pizza, but its take on a Trenton tomato pie is also excellent. What makes this stop so unique is that the coal-fired oven doesn’t always receive a thorough scrape, so you can always find some variation in the finish. It isn’t a tidy slice by any stretch of the imagination, but the combination of mozzarella and tomato speaks of historic recipes. You’ll want to stop at the one on Wooster Street to enjoy the character of the original.
5. Marzilli’s Bakery in Fall River, MA.
Traditionalists will not like the idea of the square Trenton tomato pie, but the medium-thin crust still has a nice bit of crunch if you ask for a little extra baking time. You’ll find Mediterranean flavors waiting for you when you walk into the establishment, but the results are distinctly part of the New England atmosphere. This restaurant is the place where you come to sit with the family to enjoy an entire tray without bringing home any leftovers.
6. Roma Sausage and Deli in Utica, NY.
This restaurant destination is another square version instead of one that’s round. The crust is also a bit thicker than what you might find in New Jersey. When you experience the interplay between the crust and sauce, you’ll know that they got the flavors right. There is no seating at the establishment, so be prepared to enjoy your slice in your vehicle or while exploring the neighborhood. Homemade sausage is an excellent toppings addition. If you decide to try New Jersey style pizza here, come early because the establishment runs out most nights.
Classico Tomato Pies in West Windsor, NJ.
This newcomer to the Trenton tomato pie industry earned the award of serving the best pizza in 2017. It also won the USA Today 10Best Reader’s Choice Award in 2018 for the best tomato pie in New Jersey. You can dine-in or take advantage of their free delivery in the area. What makes this destination unique is that you’ve got the option to try a 12-inch gluten-free pizza if you prefer.
Because the only two defining characteristics of a Trenton tomato pie are the sauce on top and a thin crust below, the name tends to be more of a marketing ploy than a revolutionary culinary guide.
Families who have enjoyed this New Jersey style pizza for decades would disagree. The combination of saucy flavors and crackle in the crust is a textural component that no other recipe offers in the United States.
National delivery chains make pizzas by the hundreds in Trenton and the surrounding area these days, so their market share has transitioned the traditional slice into a world of fast food options. New pizzerias that use traditional recipes and cooking techniques have an opportunity to bring value back to this fantastic dish once again.
Even some of the older New York-style pizzerias further north are crushing tomatoes on top of their cheese to market themselves to the tomato pie crowd.
Some people say that there is no difference between a pizza and a tomato pie, but people from Trenton would disagree with that sentiment. This New Jersey style pizza is a recipe unto itself.