Monday, May 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Tomato Pies

I had the incredible good fortune to sample two exceptional examples of the tomato pie-making art a while back, and it was almost too much of a good thing. That might explain why it's taken me so long to write about it.

While on a brief business jaunt into Philly one day, I made a side trip to the Conshohocken Bakery in, of course, Conshohocken,PA, to grab some of their famous tomato pie. Back in 2007, I wrote about the bakery in a Daily News article about the variations of tomato pie that exist in the Philly area, and Conshohocken's falls into the category of "bakery tomato pie", the room-temperature sheet pan pie topped simply with slightly chunky tomato sauce, olive oil and a dusting of grated cheese.

Conshohocken's pie is, to my taste, the best of the lot, in a field that includes the famous Marchiano's in Manayunk, Coropolese Bakery in Norristown, Michaelangelo's in Warminster and Gaeta's in NE Philly. I had sampled Conshohocken's tomato pie only once since I wrote the Daily News piece, and the bakery's arrival on Twitter and its tempting Twitphotos of their breads and those tomato pies had me determined to arrange to bring it home. The folks at Conshohocken set aside a large pie for me, owing to my late arrival, and I added some of their rye bread and a large loaf of Italian bread to my bag. This is a dangerous place in which to linger: before you in their small retail store sit shelves full of fresh rolls of every size, loaves of crusty bread, pastries in a pastry case, and sections of tomato pie, white pie and variations of both. The aromas of freshly baked good swirl about the place. It can be, for a bakery fanatic like me, overwhelming.

But the tomato pie is worth it. A crunchy, airy crust, glossed with olive oil. A tangy sauce spiked with basil and oregano. Fresh pecorino scattered on top. Heady stuff at room temperature. Warmed in the oven, its fragrant sauce fills the room and the cheese expands its salty nuttiness. Intoxicating stuff, and why, to my tastes, it's the region's best bakery tomato pie.

In Trenton, however, tomato pie is a religion. It is a basic Neopolitan pie composed in reverse order: dough, olive oil, mozzarella and crushed tomatoes. Baked in a hot oven to a crisp char, it melds into a thin crust with streaks of red and pale yellow, as good to look at as it is to eat.

No one does the Trenton tomato pie better than Delorenzo's of Hudson St fame, and its newer location in Robbinsville, NJ.

After a long abscence, we stopped into the Robbinsville Delorenzo's early on a busy Friday and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table, a huge booth actually, and were quickly brought drinks and an impressive antipasto plate (below), crowded with cannelini bean salad, sweet sopresatta, fresh mozz, prosciutto di Parma, artichokes, roasted red peppers, stuffed cherry peppers, green and black olives, bread sticks and salad greens. Given the time it takes for the tomato pies to arrive after ordering, this is a terrific, brilliantly composed diversion:

The kids were a little sleepy from the drive to Robbinsville, but Sophie perked up with the breadsticks, a rare cup of birch beer and some olives. We ordered two large pies, a classic plain tomato pie and one topped with pepperoni and sweet peppers. I continue to be amazed at Robbinsville's owner/pizzaiolo Sam Amico's (a Delorenzo grandson) skill at creating an impossibly light and crispy crust that holds that perfectly judicious amount of mozzarella and crushed tomatoes, as his dad and grandfather before him. Sam has not missed a beat in Robbinsville, and he may have elevated the pie. It is as good as it has ever been.

Pepperoni & sweet peppers pie
A sausage topped tomato pie

Robbinsville owner/pizzaiolo Sam Amico

We live amid an embarassment of tomato pie riches, we do.

1 comment:

learning pizza maker said...

Hi Rich,

I have been on the journey to replicate a tomato pie like De Lorenzo/Robbinsville. I think I succeeded recently in my Blackstone Pizza Oven.

Thanks for your great photos and posts!