Time capsule: Papa’s Tomato Pies

There were already other pizzerias in Trenton, New Jersey, whenNaples transplant Giuseppe (“Joe”) Papa decided to open Papa’sTomato Pies (papastomatopies.com) in 1912, but this institutionis the only one from those early days that’s still standing. Joe wasonly 17 years old when he opened his doors, and made dough byhand, cooking the pies in a coal oven; his wife, Adalene, madethe meatballs and pasta sauce. After a couple of moves withinTrenton, the location landed at Chambers Street in 1945, whereit remains today. As years passed, new generations took overthe business: After Joe and Adalene, their daughter TeresaAzzaro ran the pizzeria with her husband Dominik; later, herson Nick (who still mans the pizzeria almost every day) tookover, and today he and his son Dominick (“Donnie”), alongwith Nick’s cousin Chip, are the only ones who make the famoustomato pies. “There are people who make pizzas, andthen there are people whoknow what they’re doing,”laughs Nick. “I’ve mademore than three-quarter million pizzas over my 50years in the business, but I put a lot of care into it—that’s really the secret.”

Nick says that “tomato pies” became increasingly known as “pizza” in the ’50s when neonsign manufacturers charged by the letter and operators wanted to keep costs down, but theTrenton tomato pie remains its own style, starting with a thin crust that’s topped first withcheese, then tomato sauce. At Papa’s, the menu even offers a mustard pizza, a dough spreadwith Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard and topped with cheese and tomato sauce (“Some peoplelove it,” says Nick). Meanwhile, the interior of the restaurant hasn’t changed since 1963,which regulars and new customers love—and they comein droves from all over the country to experiencethis much-lauded pizzeria. “People willcome from 70 miles away to get our pizza—it’sjust amazing,” Nick marvels. “If I wasn’t makinggood pie, I’d retire, but I’m still healthy,and it’s hard to give it up!”