“A Hungry Heart” (NJPT-’16) Papa’s

As you may recall, I had a few objectives for my NJPT-’16.
First objective; find a good example of “Trenton Tomato Pie”.
I’ll wait a moment while you follow the links and familiarize yourself with “Trenton Tomato Pie”.

In summary:
“Trenton pie” (AKA “Tomato Pie”, or specifically, “Trenton Tomato Pie”) can be a wonderful thing.
Like most good pizza, Trenton Pie is about a wonderful marriage.
A wonderful union of crust, tomato, and cheese (sometimes toppings).
Like most pizzas (and marriages) there’s usually something that stands out, something that defines its greatness.
With Trenton Pie it’s the tomato (hence the “TOMATO PIE” moniker); tomato plays a very prominent role in the Trenton Pie.

Trenton Pie is also built a little differently than the ubiquitous “NY pie”.
Trenton Pie is built with the cheese on the bottom (under the sauce), similar to, but not exactly like, the COB pies you may be familiar with (as in, The RedFront, Troy – review post coming soon).

That cheese on the bottom accomplishes a few important things.
Number one; it protects the crust, creating a barrier from the wet tomato, allowing for a better bake.
Number two; It helps unify the pie.
Have you ever bitten into your “Friday-night-pie” and pull away all the cheese (and tomato) in one acrobatic bite?
Well, “Cheese on Bottom” helps to keep it all together.

But what really helps set the Trenton Pie apart is not only its tomatoey-ness, or the sequence of construction, but also its great crust.
You really can’t be a great pie without a winning crust.
Trenton Pie has a GREAT crust, not too thick, more on the thin, crispy side (some say “cracker” but I don’t think it’s quite there), and it’s very tasty.

It’s also worth noting that the Trenton/Tomato Pie is not about uniformity, every bite is not the same.
Your “Friday-night-pie” will be fairly uniform, each bite like the rest, an even distribution of cheese, “sauce”, and toppings.
Trenton Pie is a marvelous experience in diversity and variety.
Some bites will be heavy cheese, while some will be wonderful mouthfuls of pure tomato.

Each Trenton Pizzaiolo has a unique “tomato” signature that he applies to each pie.
Some will dollop, while many will put their version of “the swirl” into their tomato application.
You never know what each bite will bring.


I wanted an iconic Trenton Pie.
I researched myself into three possible spots, (to be honest I actually thought I could eat in all three).
I just couldn’t decide between:
1. DeLorenzo’s
2. Mamma Rosa’s
3. Papa’s

But fate placed her wise/knowing hand on my adventure and made my decision.
1. DeLorenzo’s wasn’t open for lunch on Saturday (WTF?) – strike one
2. Mamma Rosa’s was supposed to be open but wasn’t (WTF Trenton?) – strike two
3. Papas was meant for me. – grand slam
This was all very fortunate because I had a full day ahead; one Trenton Pie would be enough.

maybe I was just in a stupid, pizza deprived hunger but I stood there, looking at that sign, pulling on the door for 5 minutes. trying to comprehend why no one was there for lunch on a sunny Saturday.
maybe I was just in a stupid, pizza deprived hunger but I stood there, looking at that sign, pulling on the door for 5 minutes. trying to comprehend why no one was there for lunch on a sunny Saturday.


In the pizza industry many folks take pride in their own particular “first”, or “claim to fame”.
(I’ve been working on a future post about “Pizza Firsts” or pizzeria “claims to fame”).

For Papa’s, their claim is being the “Oldest Continuously Run Pizzeria in America”.
Of course there’s dispute…
NYC’s Lombardi’s, opened in 1905, technically the first to sell pizza in America.

Papa’s opened their doors in 1912.
BUT; (big important BUT), Lombardi’s closed for 10 years, between 1984 to 1994.

So no matter how you look at it. “Oldest”, “First”, Continuously Run”…
Papa’s has been making American pizza for like…FOREVER.
That’s huge, gang…

I would argue that Trenton Pie is THE ALL AMERICAN PIE (screw you Apple).

Hidden beneath that scrap of paper it says "2nd". I wish I was there when they realized the truth.
Hidden beneath that scrap of paper it says “2nd”.
I wish I was there when they realized the truth.

Like most of the OG pizzerias, Papa’s pie and Trenton pie have historical ties to the first Italian immigrants.
These people were just trying to feed each other, who knew they would have such an impact.
These original Trenton pies have an important, close cousin, across the river in Philadelphia.
In Philly they have their own version of “Tomato Pie”. But their tomato pie is a “bakery item”, a simple foccacio bread baked on a sheet pan, with a tick layer of tomato sauce (no cheese). Kinda like a Sicilian pie, but without cheese.
These slices are usually served room temperature, and historically (and currently) sold in bakeries.
There are a few pop-up, decent examples around here (sometimes Bella Napoli and sometimes Scubbers).
To be clear on the distinction between the two cousins, I like the term “Trenton Pie” (or Trenton Tomato Pie) for the NJ pizza, and “Tomato Pie” for the cheese-deprived slice in Philly..

So with today’s pizza genealogy lesson behind us….

On to Papa’s.
As fate would have it, Papa’s was a great start to my day.
Walking into Papas is like turning back the clock, Sinatra crooning from the speakers, low light, “Tiffany” hanging lamps, curtains drawn.
It was early morning on a sunny day but suddenly it felt like a cozy Friday evening in 1955 North Jersey, in a very Italian neighborhood.
This is an old school pizza joint.
I found a nice booth, with my back appropriately to the wall, facing the entrance.

can't you just hear Sinatra?
can’t you just hear Sinatra?

Ordering was easy. I was there for one thing.
One small Tomato Pie (and a drink). That’s what you say “one small tomato pie”…don’t say “small cheese”, or “small plain pizza”.
They’re not the “soup nazi” but have some respect for their craft and use the appropriate terminology.
I think it was about $14 for a 14″ pie and drink.

Within 15 minutes of entering Papa’s I had my pie.
It looked absolutely fantastic.
A textbook Trenton Pie.
Great distribution of tomato and cheese.
Wonderful smell.


Let’s eat.
Not only was a “small pie” the correct amount for me but the smaller diameter also meant the slices weren’t too long.
The length of the slice can be a very important factor (more on that another day)

Give it a very slight fold, first bite…dollop of tomato..bright tomato.
Then some cheese, (I can taste the chedddar/mozz combo, an old Jersey trick
– shhh, don’t tell anyone).
I eat past the inner point of the slice, getting to the outer half of the slice..
I start to appreciate that great crust, and the happy marriage.
As soon as I can, I turn that slice 90 degrees to my mouth so I can start attacking that ring, that Cornicione!.
The crust is so good.
The tomato is so good.
The cheese is so good.

A wonderful marriage of bright tomato, great cheese, fantastic crust.
The crust is crispy on outside, a little chewy on inside. With great flavor.

Papa's - "up/down"
Papa’s – “up/down”

Papa’s is getting it right.

If you’ve ever ordered extra sauce on your pie because you appreciate tomato, or if you’re looking for a pie that’s got real flavor, you should seek out a good Trenton Pie.
If you’re ever in central Jersey, I recommend giving Papa’s a try.

Back into the sunlight.
Hop on the turnpike and head north. There’s more pizza ahead.

Go eat some for yourself.

This post is part of my NJ Pizza Tour-2016
The posts are documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump back to the intro post
Click here to jump to Urban Fire. (coming soon)
Click here to jump to Star Tavern.
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA. (coming soon)

1 Comment

  1. Jon in Albany
    December 11, 2016

    When I toured some Trenton area pizza places, I liked Gennaro’s tomato pie the best, but I didn’t get to try DeLorenzo’s. It was a Sunday and they didn’t open until 4:00 so the timing didn’t work for us either. Looking forward to the rest of your trip.


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