Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Palermo's III, Ewing NJ

For four years during the 80s, I lived in Ewing NJ, a suburb of Trenton. During that time, there was no pizza or tomato pie worth eating in any of the boroughs surrounding Trenton - Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, Bordentown. If you wanted the real thing, you went to Trenton's Chambersburg section.

But as Trenton evolves, the pie makers have taken to the burbs. The top three Trenton legendary pizza shops are now in Robbinsville or Hamilton, and others have begun making tomato pies outside the city. Recently, we had the excellent tomato pie across the river at La Villa (review HERE). A summer trip to the still-wonderful Trenton Farmers Market provided the occasion to stop for a tomato pie at Palermo's III in Ewing.
Palermo's III, Ewing NJ

Palermo's is a pie maker with three locations. The flagship location is in Bordentown. Palermo's II is in Roebling (the town that supplied the steel for the Brooklyn Bridge cables), and Palermo's III in Ewing. Most of the good things I had heard were about the Bordentown location, but I anticipated that a successful formula could travel to at least three locations.

I arrived in the early afternoon, and it was quiet in there. I think two other customers came by while I waited for the pie I had ordered, including an elderly gent ordering "Italian hot dogs."  The staff was friendly, and the gentleman at the counter explained to me (and showed me) the difference between their Sicilian pie (rectangular with a thick crust), pizza (round, thin crust, tomato sauce, cheese) and tomato pie (round, thin crust, crushed tomato, cheese). 

He explained that they could do almost any of their specialty pies in the tomato pie style. I was intrigued by the "Vince" which featured spicy sausage and potatoes. Sausage is my preferred pizza topping. The potatoes were a bold choice, but I've enjoyed potato-topped pies at Jules Thin Crust (review HERE) and especially at Sally's Apizza in New Haven (review HERE). 
A Vince divided, minus one huge bite

Still, I feared that the potatoes may be too wet and heavy for a tomato pie crust, so I asked that instead of a pie covered in sausage and potatoes, that the sausage go on one half and the potatoes on the other. 

My plan was to take the pie home, about an hour's drive. That's not the best or fairest way to evaluate a pizza, but in my experience a thoughtful reheat at home on a perforated pan restores a pizza to 98% of its fresh-outta-the-oven glory. Sometimes, if the pizza is improperly cooked or overloaded with wet toppings, the re-heat can substantially improve the pie. Still, I felt compelled to take a few bites from a sausage slice as I placed the box into my trunk. The crust was a bit droopy but the few bites were salty, spicy, savory, and overall delicious.
The sausage side

Later on at home, I re-heated two sausage slices and two potato slices, in my standard method of 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees on the perforated pan.

The sausage slice had a crust that was thin and certainly well cooked (originally and by the re-heat) yet it was limp for the first few bites. Probably a bit too much sauce and cheese for that crust. The tomatoes had a bright and fresh flavor. The sausage was generous chunks of real Italian rope, and the entire slice was seriously spicy, as advertised. I'm not certain if the fire came from the sausage or the liberal coating of red pepper flakes. The cheese was a role player, and there was a bit too much for a tomato pie, but it was in harmony with the other toppings.
The potato side

The crust, however, disappointed. It was constructed and cooked properly, but it was low on flavor and character. Crispy outside, but little chew inside. It was little more than a vehicle for the excellent toppings. In fact, I suspect it's the exact same crust they use for their ordinary-looking pizza, and may even be mass-sourced. I'm a so-so pizzaiolo and I can make a better crust in my 550 degree home oven.
Well cooked

What about the potato pie? Of course, the crust and cheese and tomato were identical to the sausage side. The potatoes were a significant letdown. They were cut thickly (might have been much better on that gent's Italian hot dog), they were wet and heavy and lacking flavor. Not only did they add nothing to the pie, but they detracted from it. I quickly removed the potatoes. When I reheated the other potato slices, I filled the void with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, BBQ beef, asiago, and garlic. Much improved!
Potato slice at Palermo's III with oversized slices
Potatoes on pizza done right, at Sally's in New Haven CT

Conclusion? Ordering the potatoes on the pie was my mistake, but the crust was the real failing here. Because it was an attempt at tomato pie and the sausage and crushed tomatoes were excellent, this is still an above-average pie. Far from destination pie, however. Still, it's fixable. Change the recipe or the supplier for that dough; the toppings and technique are on target.
Doctored-up on the re-heat

The crust gets a 5, the cheese a 6.5, the tomatoes a 9, the sausage a 9.5. Not gonna hold the potatoes against them; Vince and apparently others must enjoy thick slices of potato on a tomato pie. Overall, this pie gets a 6.5.
Palermos III on Urbanspoon


  1. Stopped at the Bordentown, original location in July. Had the tomato pie...the tomatoes were as sweet as candy; the crust just ok, as you report.

    With Delorenzo's and now Papa's in "Robbinsburg", I see no reason to return to Palermo's.


    I don't like sugar in my tomato sauce. Tomatoes are for balancing acidity, and sugar detracts from that..even if done moderately.

    Went to Modern in New Haven this week....still love their's no. 2 on my "ranking"....hierarchy..and the best of the New Haven family for me.

  2. BH - I have few occasions to get to New Haven, but I surely want to try Modern again. Palermo's was a place that some Trenton folks had praised, so I had expected more there.