Suburban Pie (Papa's Tomato Pies)

Papa's Tomato Pies, 19 Robbinsville-Allentown Rd, Robbinsville, NJ
Open M-Sa 11:30AM-9:30 PM; Sunday 4-9:30 PM
(609) 208-0006   Website    Google Maps

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Updated August 2015 According to Ed Levine, author of Pizza, a Slice of Heaven, two of the first three pizza parlors founded in the entire U.S. of A. were located in Trenton. Of these two Trenton establishments, one is still around: Papas, founded in 1912 by the grandfather of the current operator (Nick). The oldest, by the way, was a restaurant in NYC which recently changed hands out of the founding family.  That makes Papa’s the oldest pizza restaurant in the United States under continuous management by the same family.

Unfortunately for us Trentonians, in the Summer of 2013, Papa’s moved about 8 miles down the road from its previous Chambersburg location (its home since 1945) to its new home in Robbinsville. In the new location, family participation has shrunk: Abie is now retired. He was Nick’s father who ran the Chambersburg restaurant on Sundays when I first started going to Papas about a dozen years ago. Dom, Nick’s son, used to do all of the prep cooking for Chambersburg, and is now out on his own (Papa’s Tomato Pie of Trenton).

Papa’s makes a proper Trenton tomato pie (it should, it virtually invented it. Er, well, it actually copied it from Joe’s, which started in 1910, after Papa left that establishment to go into business for himself). A proper Trenton tomato pie has olive oil drizzled over a thin crust, then a layer of cheese, then a layer of crushed tomatoes (no sauce), and then a last drizzle of olive oil. Only fresh ingredients are allowed.

Cheese Pool PieWe are concerned that Papa’s quality is slipping in the new location, without the support of the full family. To see why, check out the photo of a pie we were served in August of 2015, when we re-visited the restaurant (click to enlarge). The pie (small, half mushroom) had a pool of cheese and excess oil which you can see as a light orange area on the top of the pie, just left of center in the image. Underneath this pool, the crust was a complete, soggy mess. Not like a tomato pie at all; more like Famous Ray’s from NYC. It’s roughly 25% of the pie. The rest was very good, superb even. But when you go to the oldest tomato pie joint in the country, you expect better.

Compared to Chambersburg, the new location is bigger, has longer hours, and a large parking lot. The fake Tiffany lamp shades have moved over, and the new space is comfortable without being fancy. The menu is slightly expanded with sandwiches and soups, and prices are up a bit. The same music can be heard in the background…  if you’re lucky the Louis Prima CD will be playing; if you’re particularly unlucky (as I was recently), you’ll have to listen to Rod Stewart butcher the Great American Songbook.

With Dom out on his own, it does raise the question of where you should go to get a real “Papa’s Tomato Pie”. It’s a tough call. The style of the pies, and the ingredients, seem virtually identical (which is no surprise).

The Robbinsville location is a minor haul from Trenton (like 16 minutes from City Hall) and even further from the west side or northern/western suburbs of Trenton. But it is a much nicer location to dine in, and that’s important because tomato pie should always be eaten as soon as it’s baked, and NEVER taken out.

If you go to Dom’s place, you’re going to be eating in a Risoldi’s supermarket. On the other hand, every time I’ve eaten there, Dom has made the pie and served it personally. In Robbinsville, you’re going to get a pie made by a hired hand (Nick has always been a “front of house” guy). I know whom I would expect to consistently make a better pie.

Either way, enjoy the experience! You’ll be eating not only a great tomato pie, but a slice of Trenton (and American) history.

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Italian | Pizza/Tomato Pie | Restaurants

27 thoughts on “Suburban Pie”

  1. You are right, Debbie. The best tomato pie was in Trenton, DiLorenzo’s and Hudson Beer Gardens.
    Both still there. My dad and I would go to Freehold, his favorite place for tomato pie.Now I am
    getting hungry for tomato pie. Ready when you are,Debbie.

  2. Living in Upstate NY, I’m constantly being disappointed by pizza. Some places get it right on occasion, but even then there is little consistency. When a local asks me why I don’t like the pizza from :blank: I always reply, “I’m from Trenton.” They usually don’t know what I mean, but I do.

  3. Yes Papas is the best in my opinion! The combination of there heavenly sauce, cheese, and amazingness of there toppings seals the deal. There is another pie that can give it a run for it’s money. Tacconelli’s in Philly is VERY close. You need to call and reserve dough though-booooo. They cater to the yuppies and are pretty darn rude. No eye contact or anything just give me your money and get the hell out. When I want the best I go to Papas! No reserving dough here. The owner is always very nice to me. The only thing I don’t like is that they no longer carry that ice cream that they had at the Trenton location. I miss stealing Nicks favorite flavor Mint chocolate chip. Go here and every other pizza will look and taste like dog ****.

  4. Going to check out Papa’s for the first time tonight on my birthday…. Been to other competitors nearby but i’m really looking forward to this “Hidden treasure” in Trenton. All these great reviews I’ve been reading can’t be wrong. I’ll definitely return here and leave a comment after I experience a true Trenton tomato pie.

  5. I love reading about all of the great tomato pie restaurants (past and present) in Trenton, and the Trenton area. My father, Joe Sr., was the reason why “Joe’s Tomato Pies” got it’s name. He was the oldest of 5 brothers and my grandmother named the restaurant – established in 1910 – after him. Joe’s was the originator of tomato pie in Trenton. There is still one surviving brother – Ceasar – (Lew) and he had a superb “pizza” restaurant of his own in Hamilton on Route 33 for many years. My Unlce Lew is 90 years old. I still frequent Papa’s with my high school buddies about once a month. I also like Gennaro’s (the Old Nick and Nonna’s) tomato pie in Hamilton. I was pleasantly surprised last evening to try another very, very good thin crust, old Chambersburg recipe, tomato pie. It was at a restaurant called La Villa in Morrisville, Pa. Keep the old traditions going, guys – you will never eat pizza again, once you have had an old style Trenton Tomato Pie. (Joe’s was in operation for 89 years – until 1999)

    Editor’s Note: We recently reviewed La Villa. Will check out Gennaro’s.

  6. I used to work at Papa’s many years ago, my uncle used to work for Abie, he started when he was 18 yrs old and he pretty much worked for him his whole life. Papa’s was my home away from home, I felt like I was part of there family. Whenever I go back to Trenton to visit I make sure Papa’s is on my list of places to eat. I am addicted to there Ghnocci’s with meatballs. I have been all over and I have not been able to find any comparison to it. The mixture with the homemade meatballs and sauce. The pies are unforgettable also. No other pizza restaurants can compare to a Papa’s Tomatoe Pie.

  7. Far better product than Delorenzo’s generally lackluster pies. Thankfully, the place has retained it’s secrets for crafting the essential Trenton tomato pie and of course, a quaint location that in turn hasn’t changed much either. Skip the wait and the overhyped nonsense of Delorenzo’s and visit Papa’s.

  8. Papa’s is a Trenton treasure! Great food, great staff, great atmosphere! They have bathrooms, grated cheese, salads, vintage Italian music playing, they don’t rush you out, no waiting for a table, friendly and helpful waitresses. Do yourself a favor and give it a try!

  9. Ate here recently. First time since I was a student @ THS. In 40+ years –the pie is still great.
    Try to return twuce a year from Vermont to get the tomato pie.
    It is great and returns me to my high school days !!
    Bill Mc

  10. Abie is my Uncle and possibly the oldest working pieman in the U.S. He is 85 and still works on Sunday. I am there making pies on Sunday to give him a break. Come in on Sunday and tell the waitres you read about it here. Papa’s is still the best in Trenton not because it is family….It just is! With all due repest to the competition

  11. My family has been going to this shop for over 50 years im the third generation to eat there. I live over an hour away and still go to Trenton just for the pizza at papas. Id say go and try it yourself because its worth it

  12. Hmm…perhaps I hit it on an off night (Saturday?!) but this place was very dissappointing. Having been a convert to the Delorenzo’s tomato pie this place just doesn’t compare. Our pizza was too cheesy, greasy, not enough fresh tomato sauce…ok pizza but nothing special.

  13. Papa’s does pretty darn good Italian specials every night. The eggplant parm is really good! I forget which night they serve it, but worth ordering.

  14. If you’ve never tried a mustard pie, this is the place to do it. Another Trenton tradition carried over from Joe’s, they’re delicious!

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