« Trenton contention »

Shocking news: In an attempt to steal the throne of OLDEST PIZZERIA IN US from Lombardi's in New York, Papa's Tomato Pies in Trenton has claimed this title for themselves. Fifty-four years ago, when the New York Times Magazine covered Lombardi's, the author wrote that nobody disputed [Gennaro Lombardi's] claim to having the oldest pizzeria in the United States. (Mitgang, Herbert. "Pizza a la Mode: In many variations, Italy's famous pie now rivals the hot dog in popularity."  New York Times Magazine, 12 Feb. 1956).

Here's Papa's owner Nick Azzaro's side of things: Lombardi's closed for several years and moved down the street. (The Times' "Diner's Journal" blog ran this story in July 2011, and included video coverage. Here it is.)

True, Lombardi's did close and then reopen in a different space (former bakery, old coal oven) a block and half away from the original. But isn't it still Lombardi's? Same dough, same ingredients on top (Italian San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella from Joe's Dairy on Sullivan Street).

Besides, it's not just a recipe -- it's a process. Genarro's grandson, Gerry, who grew up in Lombardi's and was proprietor of the restaurant after his grandmother passed away, contributed the pizza knowhow for the 1994 reopening.

Just the other day, Motorino in Brooklyn closed because its building was falling apart. And M. Wells, a celebrated diner in Long Island City (it earned two stars from Sam Sifton in the Times) announced it was closing because the landlord demands "included astronomically high rent, a short length of lease and a strict buy-out clause."  Motorino Brooklyn and M. Wells both vow to reopen. In other words, the restaurant business — tough already — is even tougher in NYC.

I haven't been yet to Papa's — and I'd love to go — not because it may be America's oldest pizzeria but rather, because folks in Trenton awesomely call pizza, tomato pie.  

I got close once: lunching at Jo Jo's Tavern in Mercerville, NJ — four miles from Papa's.  At Jo Jo's they call it pizza, but when I asked the waitress what she calls it, and she said, tomato pie.

"What about this cheeseless Clams Casino pizza you have," I asked her. "What do you call that?"  "That's a tomato pie too,"  she said.  ("How is it?" I asked.  "Amazing," she said.  Next time!)

Truth told, I don't know which pizzeria is the oldest.   If Papa's can claim it is older because Lombardi's switched locations and was closed for 8 years, can't Totonno's can claim that Papa's isn't oldest because Papa s has changed locations twice, while Totonno's has not moved from 1524 Neptune Avenue since 1924? Extenuating circumstances.

Anyway, does it matter? I prefer to base judgement on a bunch of P's: Personality, Presence, Perseverance, and of course, Pizza. Lombardi's, check. Totonno's, check. Papa's, (based on faith, until I go there) check!

The top photo of Lombardi's, c1920s or '30s, courtesty Lombardi's.

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  • Response
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  • Response
    I was studying something else about this on another blog. Interesting. Your perspective on it is novel. If I were in this business only for the business, I wouldn’t be in this business. Samuel Goldwyn 1882 1974
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    Response: dYXmyJIG
    Trenton contention - Posts - Pizzacentric
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    Trenton contention - Posts - Pizzacentric

Reader Comments (1)

This is the healthiest kind of rivalries! Lombardi's and Papa's will never be in direct competition for anything more than bragging rights, and both well deserve the publicity in this teapot tempest. I have plenty of love for all the new Neapolitan-style pizza makers popping up in America, but my heart belongs to old school American pizza, which is closer to Roman pie than Neapolitan. Thin crisp crust, balanced toppings, and a place that's been there for 50+ years. Totonno's, DiFara, DeLorenzo's, Frank Pepe's, and most certainly Papa's which is now King of Trenton since both DeLorenzo's (the tomato pie joint and the unaffiliated pizza maker) have relocated to nearby suburbs. On my blog I share my perception of Traditional American Pizza, and have reviews of DeLorenzo's, DiFara, Pepe's, Papa's, and Totonno's. Been to plenty of the lower Manhattan joints but not yet Lombardi's.


04.23.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarty

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