Words and Photographs by Rich DeFabritus | British author Benjamin Disraeli was quoted as saying, “change is inevitable, change is constant”. And while many are resistant to change, it’s as certain as death and taxes.
Recognizing this, the famed New Jersey landmark, De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies, has embraced change and done the previously unthinkable—they’ve moved! Now before you get your pizza peel warped in disbelief, let me clarify. Technically, the old Trenton location will stay opened concurrently with the new Robbinsville location. But with revised hours (no longer opened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, dinner servings only) and the onset of urban decay, it’s a matter of time before the Hudson Street joint is no more.
There’s good reason for this—the aforementioned blight has gotten so bad that your safety is no longer a foregone conclusion. The arrival of the Guardian Angels in Trenton reminds you of this, as do the increased police presence. Although business at the Hudson Street location is still brisk, the rise in violent crime in the area will surely have an impact, and the father and son team of Gary and Sam Amico understand this.
Another possible reason is the passing of the beloved founder and pizza legend—Alexander “Chick” De Lorenzo in September 2007. While plans for the new location were in the works before his passing, his spirit was always evident in the little converted row house, and leaving it would have been sacrilege. It is a fitting and loving tribute that many of the pictures and décor in the Robbinsville location are dedicated to Chick De Lorenzo, his smiling face looking over you as if he were sitting in the next booth. He will be sorely missed.
With that we set off on our drive down I-195 towards Robbinsville. A quick turn off exit 5B and you approach Washington Town Center. As you approach the Center, you immediately notice its retro-historical qualities - the main building has a colonial look, covered in inviting red brick with stone accents. Located nearby is a residential neighborhood designed in conjunction with the Township in an effort to retain some of the small-town charm. It works and it should provide a steady stream of hungry customers that have yet to taste a De Lorenzo tomato pie.
Park around back and you’ll see a large black awning that marks the De Lorenzo’s spot. At 3:30 pm, the line was already about 50 people long. Word has spread fast that the Amico clan is in town, and the crowd was there to prove it. Precisely at 4:00 pm, the doors opened. Shuffle in quickly and find a spot that best fits your party’s needs because it’s first-come, first-served here.
The new location is absolutely great. Not unlike the surrounding real estate, steps were taken to retain some of the old world character. The walls are painted a warm taupe color dotted with framed pictures from the long and storied De Lorenzo’s past. It is then that you take notice of the changes that have been made to bring De Lorenzo’s into the modern age: menus list the offerings ($10 for a small pie, $13 for a large, $1 for each topping), credit cards are accepted—even bathrooms for both men and women, a sight for sore eyes after a few birch beers! Sam Amico was running the show this night, in plain view behind the impressive mahogany wood “pizza bar” that surrounds the ovens along the back wall. One thing about Sam, he’s always friendly and gracious, as if it is his pleasure to be serving you. Too often you find proprietors that are grumpy when their product practically sells itself, and given the success De Lorenzo’s has had over 60+ years, it’s refreshing to see it hasn’t had an adverse effect on his personality.
Is it possible that too much change is a bad thing? We’d soon find out—we immediately placed an order for a plain pie, a sausage pie, and one with “the works”. Normally, I don’t enjoy pies with everything on it, but in the spirit of change, I decided it was worth an effort. The service was a little chaotic, and you get the sense that some bugs are being worked out as they acclimate to the new environment. The wait staff works in tandem with one another, which helps as the crowd is simply overwhelming and there are upwards of 90 seats to wait on.
For the non-anointed, remember that getting a quality product usually means an extended wait. Do not expect to sit down and get a pie in 5-10 minutes. Every pie is made to order, and expect a wait of 15-20 minutes before your first pie is served. If you order more than one, the staff graciously staggers delivery of the pies to your table—you’ll be thankful as you enjoy each pie at the proper temperature rather than having them come all at once and get cold.
Our plain pie came out first—it looked and smelled every bit as good as what you would get on Hudson Street, and cut in the same asymmetrical way. Picking up a slice gives you an idea of how thin, yet firm the crust is - there is no sagging here. This is what good tomato pie is all about, and a bite into the pie delivers a hearty crunch and a rush of flavor. Close your eyes and for a moment, your mind is filled with memories of dining back at the old Trenton location. There isn’t a pie I know that offers a better balance of ingredients, and each bite imparts different taste combinations that demonstrate how rich and complex the flavor can be. The crust has a nice char to it, and the splashes of bright red tomatoes and mozzarella are married with a drizzling of olive oil.
The same can be said about the sausage pie—it was wonderful and the crust was not laden by addition of the topping. If there was letdown here, it was the skimpy amount of sausage on the pie. You don’t want this almost perfect balance of ingredients to be overwhelmed by an abundance of sausage, but some slices had 1 or 2 pieces at most. A topping this tasty warrants a bit more quantity, but it’s a minor complaint.
The surprise of the night had to be the pie with “the works”. I can drone on about how pizza chains, in an effort to be more outrageous than one another, have practically ruined the public’s palate by overloading their doughy creations with an endless array of nonsensical toppings. This is a pattern that sometimes gets replicated in independent pizzerias via the “everything” pizza, and I cringe when I see it or I am forced to eat it. I suppose if it were called something other than pizza, I might not be such a curmudgeon, but I digress. The De Lorenzo’s version of the “everything” pizza doesn’t have as firm crust as its plain counterparts, but one thing is certain—the toppings are packed with flavor. I was not prepared for it to taste as well as it did! The mix of sweet and hot peppers, onions, mushrooms, and hunks of spicy pepperoni more than made up for the slices I didn’t eat during my silent protest. Lucky for me there was one slice left and enough room in my stomach to eat it! My recommendation—throw yourself a curve ball and try one on your next visit, you won’t be disappointed.
So the big question—is De Lorenzo’s in Robbinsville as good as De Lorenzo’s on Hudson? The answer is resounding “YES!” - the pies are on par with the original. Gary and Sam Amico are to be commended for not “selling out” by creating a mass-produced product with inferior ingredients not worthy of the famed De Lorenzo’s name.
The added bonus is the new location—it’s quaint and it’s safe. There is even an ice cream shop nearby to top off the night should you desire. Moving a landmark to a new location can be a risky proposition, but the Amicos have pulled it off, and the De Lorenzo’s legend will continue for many years to come.
DE LORENZO'S TOMATO PIES
Address: 2350 US Highway 33, Robbinsville, NJ 08691
Payment: Cash or credit card
The Skinny: Change is good! That same great De Lorenzo’s taste coupled with bigger digs (bathrooms and credit cards accepted too!) equals another legend in the making.