Saturday, October 1, 2011

Papa's Tomato Pies

I woke up today (Saturday) without any immediate plans. Thus I figured, why not add another great pizza adventure story to my collection? Having usually gone towards NYC in my pizza explorations, this time I decided to go south, to Trenton, although of course I had to tread carefully in that town. Trenton is known for a particular type of pizza named a Trenton Tomato Pie, in which the cheese is placed on the dough first, followed by the sauce. This sauce is generally very thick and chunk with fresh tomatoes, and is supposedly the most memorable part of the pie.

My destination: Papa's Tomato Pies on Chambers St. This restaurant was opened in 1912, and is, according to its owners, the oldest continually operating pizzeria in the country. Lombardi's in Manhattan (which I still have to go to) opened in 1905, but was closed for ten years between 1984-1994, which technically makes Papa's the oldest still running.

Excited, I got into my car and drove, in the rain, on the US-1 South to the not-so-pleasant town of Trenton. About 30 miles of driving, but hey what's the fun if it's too easy to get? Had trouble finding parking, but managed. Then it was pizza time. My first glance:

Entering, I saw a quite interesting sign on the door, claiming these guys take their pizza history seriously:

Trenton isn't exactly the most polished, clean, safe city in the world, so I wasn't expecting a fancy restaurant. I was expecting fairly standard, unimpressive decor inside. In fact, I was hoping for it; I have generally found that the less stuffy, more hole-in-the-wall the place, the better the pizza. There are exceptions, of course.

My waitress was nice and friendly. It was mostly locals, and they had quite a few customers, but surprisingly I could still find seating immediately. I ordered a large garlic tomato pie. While seated down, I saw even more evidence that these guys were really serious about pizza. Their menus included this tidbit of history:

In case you cannot read, this is a timeline of some famous historical American pizzzerias. The ones listed are: Lombardi's in Manhattan (opened in 1905), Papa's (1912), Totonno's in Coney Island, Brooklyn (1924), Pepe's in New Haven, CT (1925), Pizzeria Regina in Boston (1925) and John's on Bleecker in Manhattan (1929). Of these listed, I've only been to Totonno's (which is a GREAT story, but that is for another blog post). I intend to visit all these places at sometime, of course.

The pie arrived, it looked delicious:

And then, it was eaten. Foldable, like any decent thin-crust pizza:

My thoughts: they definitely aren't kidding when they say the most noticeable feature is the chunky tomato sauce. It's definitely excellent and the best part of the pizza. The crust and cheese are good as well, but definitely not as spectacular as the sauce. All in all, it's a slightly different style from the New York Neapolitan and New York classic pizzas, which have a bit more evenness between the cheese and sauce. I guess it depends on your personal tastes. Me, I am a crust person, so I prefer places which emphasize that, but it's a matter of taste.

Had a great meal, and the prices were very reasonable (16 dollars for the large pizza). On the way back, I stopped at Princeton and had ice cream in Palmer Square to seal the deal.

A fun night!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When I Became Serious About Pizza: Jon Stewart and Denino's

This blog is about my adventures in seeking out that one staple of food which never grows old: pizza. As it turns out, I live in Central New Jersey, part of the New York Metro Area, a staple of pizza in the country and world (in my opinion).

I had always eaten pizza. I had always enjoyed it. But I had never truly savored it, valued the experience and seriously compared different pies. I had been meaning to since I moved to this part of the country, but work and life got in the way.

Finally, I was reminded why I had been meaning to in the first place by Jon Stewart: .

I consider the moment I watched this video the moment I really started getting serious about pizza. Something about Jon Stewart speaks to me. And, though I hate to be a spoiler if you haven't watched the video, but Jon Stewart himself mentions a great number of excellent authentic fine pizza cuisines in New York City.

I resolved to myself that I would start by trying to visit every single restaurant that he mentioned, which would get me immersed in the pizza culture.

The first pizza place Jon Stewart mentioned that was on my list: Denino's. The original Denino's is on Staten Island, however the family has opened a second location in Aberdeen, NJ. It is all family run, and by all accounts and reviews, the pizza is exactly the same. Granted, you would ideally like to visit both locations to be sure, but for a start, going to the Aberdeen location, which was closer, would do to get serious about pizza.

And my, was it special. OH MY LORD! I realized how much time I had wasted not savoring and seeking out great pizza. I ordered a margarita pizza my first time, and I have since then also ordered a white pie and a clam pie at various times.

My favorite part of Denino's is their crust: crunchy, yet chewy and foldable. And most important of all, as Jon Stewart says, "They got the bread crumbs on the bottom..." While most places use cornmeal to line the pizza, they use homemade, high quality ingredient breadcrumbs. In fact, all their ingredients are high quality (which is of course a necessity to be an upper tier pizzeria), and I could definitely taste the difference.

Perhaps I'm biased since this has been the first pizza I ate as a serious lover, but I still find it my favorite pizza ever.

I'll leave you with this picture of a half clam pie, half margarita from Denino's. If it looks good, it's because it is.