Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Hudson St., Trenton NJ

Click any picture to enlarge
As woeful pizza cognoscenti are aware, January 15 2012 was the final day of operation for the Hudson Street location of Trenton’s legendary DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies. Owners Eileen and Gary Amico are retiring. Happily, other family members are churning out the same magical pies at their Robbinsville location, and they have hinted at a Pennsylvania location to come. But I needed to make one last visit for this superlative pie. DeLorenzo’s first opened in 1936 in Trenton, and I discovered it in 1983. It’s been my favorite for 28 years. (Note: there is very good pizza at the other Trenton DeLorenzo’s on Hamilton Avenue nearby, but it’s not the same place nor the same destination pie as Hudson Street or Robbinsville).

Lining Up For the Final Pies
The Interior as You Enter
It’s odd that this is my first blog review of my top pie, but like DiFara, this pie can be hard to get. In years past, they opened at 3pm most days. If you called at 3:05, the phone was off the hook because they had all the orders they could handle for the day. If you called at 2:30, they would not answer. I could occasionally call at 2:50 and get an order in after being scolded that “we’re not open yet.”  My best long-term strategy was to call for a pie on Thursday nights during Lent. I figured that so many others wanted pizza on Friday that Thursday would be relatively slow.

Happy Anticipation
In recent years, their hours of operation were reduced. Without that in mind, we journeyed to Hudson Street on Saturday, January 7, hoping to find a lull between the lunch and dinner crowds. What we found at 3:10pm was just about 8 folks waiting outside; opening time was not until 4:00pm! Our timing was pretty good on this unseasonably warm winter day, because the line stretched around the corner by 3:30pm.

The pie maker
How can they just give up a business where folks are lining up for the privilege of eating that superb tomato pie? Well, although Trenton and its Chambersburg neighborhood experienced a nice renaissance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Trenton is a city in decline. The better restaurants are fleeing to the ‘burbs, mostly Hamilton. The folks at DeLorenzo’s seem to have planned for this when they opened the Robbinsville location. One wonders what will become of this hallowed space.

Slices of the garlic pie
Anyhow, after our 50-minute wait, we eagerly filed in. Our group of five ordered 3 pies for the table and one pie to go. One veteran’s favorite was the garlic pie; mine was the sausage; our third pie was half pepperoni, half mushroom and onion.
A garlic close-up
Lovely char on the bottom
The garlic pie arrived first. I had not eaten DeLorenzo’s pie for nearly a year, and I’d forgotten how razor-thin the crust can be. This one was a favorite of my brother-in-law, and our party of five devoured it so fast we hardly stopped to take pics. The crust was absolutely crisp, even in the center, with no droop. It was heavy on the crushed tomatoes, and very light on the cheese. On every DeLorenzo pie, the crust shines, the tomatoes sing sweetly, and the cheese takes a supporting role.

This is great pizza, no crust flop
The cheese is just enough glue to hold it all together and to take on some lovely browning from the conventional gas ovens. FEEP (fellow enthusiast for eating pizza) Jr. observed that the cheese is simply commercial Sargento mozzarella. In past visits, I have observed that the “sauce” is simply canned tomatoes (not tomato paste or sauce). I have never seen them season the tomatoes, but I read somewhere that they do. The tomatoes have a fresh sweet tang that I haven’t found on any other pie.

The wondrous sausage pie
I’m not a fan, in general, of the Conshohocken PA version of “tomato pie” which includes no cheese at all, or a mere dusting of Parmesan. The DeLorenzo’s product is called tomato pie, but Trenton-style “tomato pie” is more like pizza than the Conshy tomato pie typically made in bakeries. Whatever you call it, DeLorenzo’s succeeds in an astonishing way by taking a minimalist approach with the cheese.

Two pies down, one to go
The next pie to arrive was the sausage, my personal favorite. I generally order sausage pie everywhere I go, and compare it to this pie. DeLorenzo’s uses big lovely chunks of genuine Italian sausage, and it keeps up with the quality of the crust and tomatoes. I really cannot think of a better combination of flavors and textures than DeLorenzo’s crust, tomatoes, cheese, and sausage, hot out of the oven. This was not the best pie I ever got on Hudson Street – it’s been a tiny bit better with more cheese and slightly thicker crust. But I quibble, because it is still amazing pizza, SO much better than the ordinary stuff people all over Chester County PA are eating.

Half pepperoni, half onion/mushroom
Our third pie was half of FEEP Jr’s favorite (mushroom and onion) and half pepperoni, the preference of EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese). Appetites undiminished, we scarfed it down rapidly. FEEP Jr. loved her veggie half (I found it very good, but the onions were cut too large and cooked too little, compared to the sublime onion pie at DiFara in Brooklyn). FEEP Jr. is not very fond of pepperoni, but she noted that the thick chunks made it the best pepperoni pie she’s had. Because she generally picks most of the cheese off regular pies, EPBAC loved this pie.

We were smart enough to order a fourth pie to go. I’ve generally found this to be pricey pie, but the tab for four pies and nine sodas (Birch Beer on tap!) came to $76. That’s an astonishing bargain to provide world-class pizza for five with a pizza to take home.

Eileen Amico at the register
I now have half a pizza in my freezer and half a hole in my heart. I really can’t mourn too much, because Gary and Eileen Amico are getting a well-earned retirement, and the demise of the neighborhood is beyond their control. The pie lives on in Robbinsville, and there is promise of a PA location. The king is dead; long live the king!

DeLorenzo’s has reaffirmed its place as my all-time favorite, and I will long cherish this final visit to the flagship location. You certainly CAN mention other pies in the same sentence, and I will: DiFara, Denino’s, Lee’s Tavern, Patsy’s (East Harlem), Frank Pepe, Forcella. But DeLorenzo’s Hudson Street is numero uno.


  1. Great obit...and one of the best pix of Elaine ever (some would say she's the weak link in the Delorenzo armor). Like you, since 1985, this has been at the top of my list.

    I am "local" to you; the father of a Dumbo, too.

    Email me at stuartnlaw@gmail.com. Been to many of those on your list. (Think Modern is way better than the cardboard crust at Pepe's, though.) Have given up locally. Would love to discuss, as pizza is my "holy grail" of eating and cooking.

    Thanks for the pix. Decided to forego one last trip (and queue)...and stick with the memories. (And, it's Sorrento, not Sargento...:)

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Replies
    1. No, "Dumbo"; ask your daughter.

      Give me a shout when you are interested.
      Would be happy to share thoughts.

      p.s. Is that "Harvey in the Morning" with you in the pix? If not, it's someone who looks an awful lot like him.

    2. I loved listening to Harvey in the Morning on WIOQ and I'd gladly take him with us for tomato pie. However, that is not Harvey, who looked like that 25 years ago when last heard on Philly radio... :-)

    3. Oh, well...a dead ringer to what Harvey used to look like. Same grin, too. Then Howard Stern came along...and.....Harvey was History.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. There was seldom a line on Thursdays in the year before DeLo's announced the closing... once, before the announcement, we were the only ones in the place. DeLo's was empty at 7:30 PM, on a Thursday in December, 2011! Shortly after the December 16 announcement, forget it. Yobbos attracted to Trenton like iron filings to a magnet. Crowds galore, crazy traffic, even tow trucks! Not representative, and not worth it for the regulars (folks that had been coming every week)... Not to disparage the pies. Always ranged from at least very good to mind blowingly awesome. The place sucked on big sports nights - that's when you had waiting lines, and the customers sitting in the restaurant were not given priority over carry out orders. At such times, it took well over an hour to get a pie after Eileen took your order! Maybe that is what killed it with the regulars.

  5. Do you have any idea what size pizzas De Lorenzo's sold on Hudson St.?

  6. LPM,

    Great question, maybe someone else knows. I always ordered a "large" without knowing if they had other sizes. But I don't remember seeing any smaller pies when I ate in the dining room....

  7. Chester County Pie Guy,

    I read on the web they might, or might not use different dough balls sizes for their small and large pizzas. I wonder if someone visits and watches what they would see.