Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: DeLorenzo's The Burg - Levittown, PA

I got to know Trenton NJ during the 1980s, which in retrospect were the glory years for Italian dining options. The city's Chambersburg section was bursting with a full range of Italian restaurants from the homey and casual to the elegant upscale options. 

And of course, Trenton was still full of many great tomato pie joints: Papa's, Joe's, DeLorenzo's on Hudson Street, and the "rival" DeLorenzo's on Hamilton Avenue. Around 1985, I scoffed when a Pizza Hut opened in Trenton. Who would buy a chain pizza in this iconic tomato pie town?

Trenton, though, has long been a city of new immigrants. The Italian and Polish neighborhoods began to change in the 1990s as the second and third generations took on new interests. Today's Trenton is home to a new wave of Latin American immigrants, and just about every Italian restaurant and tomato pie joint has closed or moved to the suburbs. You can track the new bodegas and everything else in this evolving town at the wonderful website Hidden Trenton.

Casual booths, in front
Papa's Tomato Pies and the Hudson Street DeLorenzo's are prospering in Robbinsville, NJ. There is also a brand-new Pennsylvania outpost for that same DeLorenzo's in Yardley, and we found it to be very much equal to the Robbinsville location.
Fresh out of the oven
Back when both DeLorenzo's were in Trenton, I always felt that the pies from Hamilton Avenue were a distant second to the square-cut pies on Hudson Street, my favorite all-time pizza. If Hudson Street was a 10, Hamilton Avenue was a 6. 
A sausage slice
I'm lucky that a long-time colleague and friend from the Trenton region alerted me to DeLorenzo's The Burg, which is a restaurant that opened in suburban PA in 2017. There, a nephew of the Hamilton Avenue DeLorenzo's is fashioning the same tomato pie. I was skeptical that I'd like it any better than the original, but my friend was consistent in his praise.
A pepperoni slice
I stopped in around lunch time to get a pie to take home for dinner. After confirming that their sausage topping is properly applied raw, I ordered a large tomato pie with half pepperoni and half sausage, which came to about $18.
Good color and texture underneath
The restaurant, housed in a brick strip mall on New Falls Road, has a cheery casual dining area in the front and a surprisingly large formal dining room in the rear. The staff was particularly friendly, too.
Box features the iconic "Trenton Makes" bridge to PA
On my recent visit to the (Hudson St) DeLorenzo's in Yardley, I took the same approach of ordering a pie at lunchtime to reheat for dinner. Despite years of experience in re-heating pizza with mostly good results, I found that I had dried out the very thin crust. But because I had been so familiar with the pie, I knew the fault was mine and not that of the pizzaiolo.

Because it's probably been 15 years or more since I had tried a (Hamilton Ave) DeLorenzo's tomato pie, I needed to sample this one fresh from the oven. I took the pie to the car, placed it in the trunk, and grabbed a slice to sample. 
Formal dining room in back
Just two bites, and it was a revelation. Even though this tomato pie was a little bit overloaded with sauce and cheese, the thin crust had an ideal snap and it held up to the payload. I was instantly transported to the glory days of Trenton tomato pies by the sweet red sauce commingled with the cheese.

I can't explain why I was never impressed with the Hamilton Avenue DeLorenzo's, but my thoughts after two bites in the parking lot were "the best Trenton tomato pie in 2018 may be in this strip mall in Levittown." There was a brightness and freshness to this pie that are hard to find.
Strip Mall location on New Falls Road in Levittown
The pizza remained in the box in the trunk until 6pm, when I heated it for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees on a perforated pan. I'm sad to report that I once again dried out the crust on a tomato pie. Its flavor was intact, but it was dry and crunchy where it had been crackly and chewy right out of the oven. Again - entirely my mistake.

As I noted, the fresh Italian sausage is added in chunks and it cooks on the pie. The sausage here was generously applied and it remains the premiere pizza topping when done right, like this. The red sauce is sweeter than the sauce at the other DeLorenzo's, but it works perfectly on this pie.
"Not Just Pizza"

The pepperoni was the one less-than-stellar feature. I'd love to see these thin-cut standard pepperoni circles replaced with smaller but thicker "spicy cup" pepperoni. This is a very minor quibble, because this tomato pie was close to perfect in taste, texture, and balance. 

Can you judge a pizza by two bites?  Indeed I can. This is spectacular tomato pie. For 35 years, I never had any doubt that Hudson Street was superior to the pie made by cousins on Hamilton Avenue. I need to eat them side by side to know which is best, but let's say just that people in Robbinsville, Yardley, Levittown, and Hamilton cannot go wrong visiting any DeLorenzo's. The cousins remain past, present, and future kings of Trenton Tomato Pie. 

De Lorenzo's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

2 comments:

  1. You have to eat pies in the location baked---fresh from the oven. You can't fairly judge it by taking it home and eating it lukewarm, and you especially can't fairly judge it by ordering it at 12 N, leaving it in your car for 6 hours and then reheating it! Otherwise I like your history of the "Burg", etc. (I am also from Trenton and know a good tomato pie!)

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    1. You are of course correct! That is why I took the time to eat a slice right in the parking lot. But now that I live an hour away and needed the pie for dinner, I figured that a reheated Trenton tomato pie is still better than 99% of the conventional pizzas near me.

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