After several months of putting it off and procrastinating, I finally met a friend of mine for my first tomato pie at Trenton's famous De Lorenzo's on Hamilton Ave. I've heard a lot about the confusing history behind De Lorenzo's, and since I was on a spree of NJ pizza eating, I decided it was time to investigate.
Listen, I know Trenton..ites (?) get in your face when you call the 'tomato pie' a pizza, but let's get this straight: the Hamilton location has the word PIZZA on it's sign, so chill out. The De Lorenzo family first began making pizza in 1936 (or 1934. Or 1938. There are conflicting sources, it's been a bit of a challenge trying to piece together this history). Then in 1947, Alexander "Chick" De Lorenzo, one of four brothers, opened his own pizzeria on Hudson St. in Trenton in a converted row house that still operates today. Soon there after (again, no date), Americho "Rick" De Lorenzo, Chick's brother, opened a location on Hamilton Avenue.
The Rick on duty is Rick Jr., Americho's son. The Hudson and Hamilton locations have been a source of rivalry for over half a century. In fact, even though both restaurants are operated by a common family, I've been told that the only time two sides of the De Lorenzo family see or speak to each other are at weddings and funerals. Woof.
Classy fellas, huh? I have to say the service was excellent, though we were the only people in the joint save for one other couple. So what's a tomato pie? Well, it's a pizza with a different name. Typically it uses less cheese than a standard pizza, sometimes none, and commonly puts the sauce on top. My friend Chris pointed out that 'if it doesn't have 10 slices, it's not a tomato pie.' I'd be curious to figure out the history and reasoning behind that. Here's the plain piz- er, tomato pie that we ordered:
The pie came straight out of the oven, fully steaming. According to Scott Wiener, the tomato pie was borne out of the Depression era. In that day and age, cheese wasn't easy to come by, and certainly wasn't too cheap. However, fresh Jersey tomatoes were in abundance, explaining the tomato pie's famous sauce:cheese ratio. Did I just use 'Jersey' and 'fresh' in the same sentence?
Ironically, De Lorenzo's @ Hamilton now imports their tomatoes from California and their cheese from Wisconsin. The pizza itself wasn't bad... it just wasn't as killer as I thought it would be, having heard so much about this place both from locals and pizza bloggers alike. The crust was good and crunchy, but almost completely white.
That didn't bother me, it still tasted good. Even Chris admitted that he didn't think the pie was up to snuff. He was raised on this pizza, and not having eaten it in a few years, thought that the quality had possibly declined. Maybe the oven was having an off day?
At any rate, it was still a tasty, filling pizza; I was just expecting a little more considering the hyped-up pizzerias I've been hitting lately have been living up to their reputation. I'm not giving up on De Lorenzos- I still have to try the Hudson location, and maybe even the newer Robbinsville restaurant (an expansion of the Hudson spot, not Hamilton Ave.). It was just nice to have a slice of history... and rivalry.