We had never eaten New Jersey pizza, at least I couldn't remember ever having done so. Given the number of Italian-Americans in the Garden State and our relatively close proximity (we live on Long Island), it's kinda odd that we hadn't sampled any.
Lillian, her dad, and I had journeyed down to Northern Virginia to visit a relative. I remembered reading about the 'tomato pies' of Trenton, New Jersey in Ed Levine's book, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, and suggested a little detour on the way home. Lillian was in a magnanimous mood. Her dad, who is not as big a pizza fan as we are but who is a good sport (in fact, if you look up the term "good sport" in an encyclopedia you will probably find a picture of him), agreed as well. So at some point we got off the NJ Turnpike and headed for Trenton.
I wasn't going to convince either of them to go to more than one place to sample Trenton's version of pizza, so we settled on the historic DeLorenzo's. I happened to have a copy of Levine's book with me (don't leave home without it!), so the address was no problem. And thank heaven for GPS.
Trenton, at least the part we drove through, looks a little down-at-the-heels. When DeLorenzo's opened in 1947, the neighborhood was Italian, but it appears that DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies is one of the few holdouts in what is now an Hispanic area. We've heard of a place called Papa's but didn't get to sample their wares.
The decor at DeLorenzo's is late forties too. Lots of wood, dim lighting. We took a booth and ordered a large regular pizza. I stepped over to watch the pizzaiolo work.
What makes a "tomato pie" different from just about every other pizza on the planet? The cheese goes on before the sauce. Here's what I watched: One guy stretched the dough, massaging it throughout with his fingertips, to a cracker-like thinness. He passed it to his partner who then covered it with mozzarella (regular, not fresh mozz). Then the tomatoes, then more cheese. On one pie made with sausage (not for us), he put the crumbled sausage on right after the first round of cheese, before the sauce. DeLorenzo's is very narrow, so I couldn't stay and watch for long. I took a look around at the pictures on the wall. Of course, Frank Sinatra. Also Pavarotti and Yogi Berra. Nice place, except they had no bathroom.
Our pizza arrived at our table, accompanied by a waiter. The crust was wafer-thin and very crispy, with a nice char but without tasting particularly burned. There was plenty of mozzarella. I didn't think it was overcheesed, but Lillian disagreed; we'd been eating pizzas lately that were very light on the cheese. The tomatoes were sweet and ever-so-slightly tangy. Lillian said all it needed was some romano or grana padano and some basil. I don't think it needed grated cheese, but still there seemed to be a little something lacking.
We agreed that it was a very fine pizza, but that we wouldn't have driven any further out of our way for it. Still, if you find yourself in Trenton any day but Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday (they're closed on those days), DeLorenzo's is a New Jersey pizza worth eating. But use a bathroom somewhere else before you go.
NOTE:This DeLorenzo's location will be closed as of January 15, 2012.