It was high time we got there.
When it comes to pizza, tensions run high in this state- and the Southern section is no exception. We’ve heard it all: from New Yorkers who swear there’s none worth eating in all of Jersey, to “bennies” who visit every summer that claim the boardwalk’s got the best, to those who turn up their nose at anything that isn’t “brick oven”. But out of all the claims, recommendations, and general ballyhoo, one name would keep coming up for us, over and over: De Lorenzo’s. You gotta try De Lorenzo’s.
De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies has been in business since 1947- that’s a continuous 64 years of one family making pizza. The original location on Hudson Street in Trenton that “Chick” and Sophie made into an institution is still there -so old it’s grandfathered and, therefore, immune to the requirement of having a bathroom; but it still does good business . The shiny new Robbinsville location (with bathrooms), however, is frequently mobbed, with claims that not only is it the best pizza in Jersey hands-down, but maybe in the country. One of the reasons, I would venture to guess, is that they do nothing else. Nada. A meatball Parm? Zip. A side of wings? Zilch. OK, they do indulge you in a salad, if you’re interested, and a soft drink to go with it. But that’s it, kids. All of the energy gets focused on the pies.
But, oh, what pies. “Tomato pies”. One of the secrets is in the sauce-or rather, the lack of it. The “sauce” is made on the pie as it cooks: a specific, but unnamed California (canned) tomato is crushed by hand, and garlic, herbs, and olive oil are added. The crust is a what I consider absolute perfection: thin, not crackery, crisp, but also chewy. We ordered one plain and one with sausage and onions-and for the first time in my life, I preferred the plain. By far. The shocker was when I learned that these babies were made in a -gasp- plain old gas pizza oven. I was formerly one of those above-mentioned brick oven snobs; while there was decent pizza to be had around these parts, the best was always found in North Jersey, out of a coal-fired brick oven. But in talking with Sam Amico, the grandson of “Chick” who runs the Robbinsville location, the method of fuel doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the exact timing and temperature that dictates the pizza’s outcome, a skill that comes about by years of practice. He shared how his grandfather originally started with coal ovens, then switched to the more convenient gas ovens with a stone inside back in the mid-1950’s-and they haven’t changed a thing since. “I don’t know how the flavor gets in,” he commented, “it must be the ingredients.”
We did have a salad that day. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to comment much on it, but we were impressed. It was wonderful, simple, and seasonal (at the time it was Fall) : fresh greens, shaved high-quality prosciutto, artisan mozzarella, and gorgeous figs, dressed with a homemade vinaigrette. Who needs more than that?
So keep on arguing people. As for me, until I get to good old Napoli someday, De Lorenzo’s will be my one and only true love. For pizza, that is, John.