Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Tony Roni's Tomato Pie (Willow Grove, PA)

We've written several times about the definition of "tomato pie."  In Trenton NJ and New Haven CT, it means "pizza" with a thin crisp crust, with more emphasis on a chunky tomato sauce and less emphasis on the cheese.  But in the suburbs west of Philly (and in Philly, too) it often means a bakery-sourced square crust, light and airy, with a thick application of often-sweet tomato sauce, and no cheese or a mere dusting of Parmesan. That sounds like the square slice from Brooklyn's L&B Spumoni Gardens, except that tomato pie is often served at room temperature.

Click any pic to enlarge

I have really enjoyed the good tomato pies I've tried (Corropolese, Conshy Bakery, Wegman's, Morabito's from Costco), but I typically want to add cheese and heat them, essentially creating a terrific slice of Sicilian or the NY "Granma" slice.  Anyhow, the twitterverse has been buzzing about the tomato pie from Tony Roni's, so on a trip eastward, I had occasion to exit the PA turnpike to Easton Rd (611) in Willow Grove.  I swung by Tony Roni's to get some slices to go.
Tony Roni's Pizza Willow Grove on Urbanspoon
Tony Roni's is a small local chain, with 7 locations around Philly. The first one was "Tony A's" in Conshohocken. The Willow Grove location is in a converted gas station. I've seen such a re-purposing before when a Starbucks took over a closed gas station; somehow that old-style architecture works nicely with a modern restaurant.

I was in a hurry, so I asked the friendly counterman for some tomato pie to go. There were only two slices ready -- one plain, one with a couple of slabs of fresh mozz and a sprinkle of fresh basil. I took them both -- total of $4.75 -- and continued on my journey.

Nice browning underneath

Later that night, I ate the slice with cheese at room temperature (even though the counterman had offered to heat them for me).  The crust was both thinner and denser than other tomato pies I've had. It sported a beautiful raised cornicione that reminded me of Greek pizza. Its texture was solid, and it provided a sturdy foundation for the excellent sauce. The sweet-ish sauce had a nice dusting of oregano, and I could taste the garlic and basil in the sauce. I ate it in a hurry.

The plain slice

It was not until the next night that I ate the plain slice. This one, I heated in the toaster oven. While I enjoyed the pizza-like quality that heating brought, it lost something. The delicate crust seemed somehow less in balance with the sweet sauce. This was no shortcoming of the pie, but a failure of my method; I think perhaps too much moisture was cooked out of it in my oven.

Every pizza maker claims that "our pie is the best" but few can offer any credible reasons why. Founder Tony Altomare not only tells you the details about his sauce and crust, he shows you. This YouTube video is a good investment of three minutes: Tony Crafts a Tomato Pie. Tony Roni's is putting out some superb signature tomato pie, and next time, I will try the pizza. What is remarkable for me is that, despite all the world-class tomato pie I've eaten, this was the first one that really sold me on the room temperature approach. No wonder it is so popular for Eagles football tailgate parties. Destination pie? I can't say that for sure until I've had the pizza. There is a passion behind this pie; make sure you try it.

Tony Roni's Pizza Willow Grove on Urbanspoon


  1. Amen, this is the best tomato pie on the planet.

  2. After reading your review, I decided to try Tony Roni's for myself. Here is my opinion of it. After trying a piece (or 4) of Tony Roni’s tomato pie, there were a few things I noticed about the pizza.

    Unlike the other tomato pie I have sampled, Tony Roni’s has a far thinner crust, which allows the sauce to stand out more. I had the pizza while it was still hot which, I feel, enhanced the flavor of the pie. The crisp dough also prevents the pizza from getting soggy or flimsy, which I have seen happen to other tomato pies. Still, the most important aspect of the pie was the sauce. The sauce has a rich sweet taste that is complimented well by the crunchy nature of the crust. It is spread smoothly and evenly along the pie so that no one slice has too little or too much. A sprinkling of cheese adds a slight accent to the pie, giving it a final bit of flavor. Overall, the eating experience was enjoyable and I went back for seconds and thirds.