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The Famous Tomato Pie Pizza: What Exactly Is It?

Everything you should know about this unique Philadelphia favorite.

If you are a pizza lover, then you have probably heard of the famous tomato pie pizza. This is a lesser-known pizza, and one that you will only know about for 1 of 2 reasons: A. You love pizza. Or B. You are from Philadelphia. 

In Philadelphia, tomato pie pizza is widely loved and hugely discussed. In Philadelphia, tomato pie pizza is well-renowned, and it is a staple for this city. In Philadelphia, tomato pie pizza is the boss. But outside of Pennsylvania, it isn’t quite as popular, this is why quite a lot of people don’t actually know what it is. 

philadelphia tomato pie pizza

If you haven’t tried tomato pie pizza, then it is something that you have to try. In this guide, we’ll be telling you everything that you need to know about tomato pie, including what it is, where it comes from, and the best places to try it. So, to find out more about this Philadelphia delicacy, then keep on reading. 


What Is Tomato Pie Pizza?

First things first, let’s take a look at what tomato pie pizza is. As we have mentioned, this style of pizza is well-loved in Philadelphia, but what is it actually made of?

If you have seen tomato pie pizza before, then you might be a little confused by it. One of the key characteristics of pizza for most people is cheese, but this is something that is notably missing from tomato pie pizza. Some people will question how you can have pizza without cheese, but with the tomato pie pizza, this is perfectly normal. 

The lack of cheese isn’t the only major difference between tomato pie pizza and regular pizza, the shape also differs. Typically speaking, tomato pie pizza is baked in a rectangular shape. The rectangular pizza dough is topped with chopped tomatoes or a thick pizza sauce, and a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. 

philadelphia tomato pie

In a lot of Western cultures, the idea of pizza without cheese can be completely baffling, and you might find yourself asking why does this famous Philadelphia delight not include cheese in its recipe? But this aspect of its design is historical, and it can be traced all the way back to the beginnings of pizza, way back in Italy. 

Pizza is, of course, a member of Italian cuisine, and pizza served without cheese is actually pretty common in Italy. But outside of Italy, most Westerners are shocked by the concept of pizza without cheese. So, let’s take a look at where tomato pie pizza came from to help understand this.


Where Does It Come From?

Now that we know what tomato pie pizza is, let’s take a look at where it comes from. As we have said, this style of pizza is most popular in Philadelphia, and it is a staple in this city. But, like all pizza, this style does not come from the USA. Instead, its roots can be traced all the way back to Italy. 

the Sicilian coastline

We say Italy, but more specifically, we mean Sicily. Sicily is located in the Southern region of Italy, and in this area, cheese-free pizzas are very common. You might be wondering why this is. After all, cheese only makes everything better, right? While this is true, there is a good reason why Sicilian pizzas tend to exclude cheese from their recipe. 

In Sicily, tomatoes are easily accessible. Likewise, so are other fruits (which we often mistake as vegetables), like olives. What wasn’t so easily accessible was dairy cows. Due to this, the ancestor of what we now know as the tomato pie pizza was very different. 

As this pizza traveled from Sicily to the United States, the recipe has shredded its olive, onion, and anchovy toppings. Instead, the pizza itself is now very basic and plain, but this doesn’t make it any less popular. 

This Sicilian pizza became an integral part of Philadelphia culture in the early 1900s. In the space of 10 years, the number of Italian immigrants in this area of the USA quadrupled, and these immigrants brought what would become tomato pie pizza with them. But where can you buy tomato pie pizza today? Let’s take a look. 


The Best Tomato Pie In Philadelphia

When the influx of Italian immigrants moved to Philadelphia in the early 1900s, the majority of them moved to the South of Philadelphia. This is why Southern Philadelphia is hailed as the best place to try Philly tomato pie. In the South, tomato pie is cooked in the same ovens that are used to cook the hoagie rolls for a Philly cheesesteak, so there is something very special about them. 

In the heart of Southern Philadelphia, you will find Sarcone’s bakery. Located on Ninth Street, this bakery has been owned by the Sarcone family for more than 5 generations after the store was bought by the family in 1918. If you want to try some good tomato pie, then this is the place to go. 

Some people think that you should eat tomato pie straight out of the oven, while it is piping hot. But, at Sarcone’s, this isn’t the practice. After all, Sarcone’s is a bakery, not a pizzeria. Due to this, their tomato pies are prepared earlier in the morning and sold by the slice at room temperature. Pizza tastes good when it is fresh out of the oven, but it tastes even better when it is a little cooler. 

What makes the tomato pie at Sarcone’s so special is that it is still made using the recipe that was first developed by the current owner’s Great Grandmother. Traditionally, this recipe was used to produce round tomato pies, but due to convenience, this has evolved into rectangular tomato pies over the years. 

Sarcone’s has been popular ever since the Sarcone family took over the store. Day after day, they have lots of exciting customers turning up to buy some tomato pie, and they produce between 20-30 pies a day in their hearth. Sarcone’s is arguably the best place to buy tomato pie in Philadelphia, but let’s take a look at some other places where you can get your hands on this delight. 


Other Great Places To Buy A Tomato Pie

As you can see, Sarcone’s is one of the best places that sell tomato pie in Philadelphia, but they aren’t the only place. Actually, within just a few blocks that surround Sarcone’s, you will find lots of other great Italian restaurants that sell tomato pie. As this pizza is a recipe that has evolved throughout the years, every restaurant that sells tomato pie is a little different, and some restaurants are still evolving today. 

One of these restaurants is Iannelli’s Bakery on E Passyunk Ave. This is another family-run business that has been passed down through the generations. The current owner, the Grandson of the original owner, has noticed some changes in the styles of food that people are currently eating and is looking to capitalize on one area of dietary requirements in particular. 

Tomato pie is a cheese-less pizza. Some restaurants serve it with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but in most cases, you will not find cheese on a tomato pie. This makes this style of pizza suitable for vegans. Iannelli’s has recognized this, and because of this, they are beginning to target vegans as part of their main customer base for this pizza. Tomato pie is basic, yet delicious, and it tastes so good that you will easily forget that it doesn’t contain any cheese. This makes it the perfect option for vegans. 

Across Philadelphia, you will find a never-ending list of pizzerias and bakeries that produce tomato pie. A lot of smaller stores are taking liberties with modifications to this recipe, and some are even serving their tomato pie with cheese. As well as the two stores we have looked at so far, here are some other great places to pick up a slice of tomato pie:

  • Gaeta’s Tomato Pies (7616 Castor Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19152, United States)
  • Pizza Plus South (1846 S 12th St, Philadelphia, PA 19148, United States)
  • Pizza Jawn (4330 Main St, Philadelphia, PA 19127, United States)
  • Cacia’s Bakery (1526 W Ritner St, Philadelphia, PA 19145, United States)

Excellent Tomato Pie Outside Of Philadelphia

Tomato pie is fairly exclusive to Philadelphia. That being said, you can get it outside this city too. However, it is worth noting that this pizza changes a lot once you leave Philadelphia. In particular, this pizza transforms a lot once you travel from Philadelphia to New Jersey, despite the fact that these areas are fairly close to one another. 

In New Jersey, you will mainly find Trenton-Style Tomato Pie being served. However, Trenton-style Tomato Pie is pretty much the opposite of the tomato pie that you will find being served in Philadelphia. 

Philadelphia Tomato Pie is famous because it contains absolutely zero cheese. Outside of Philadelphia, some places will serve their tomato pie with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. But within Philadelphia, most stores tend to avoid doing this. Trenton-Style Tomato Pie, however, does contain cheese. 

On the surface, Trenton-Style tomato pie looks very similar to Philadelphia tomato pie, but if you look beneath the tomato sauce, you will see that it is actually very different. This is because Trenton-Style tomato pie is essentially just an inverted margarita pizza. So, the pizza base is topped with a layer of cheese, and then the tomato sauce is spread in a thick layer on top of this. 

Additionally, Trenton-Style tomato pie also tends to use a thin pizza base, while Philadelphia tomato pie tends to have a thick and doughy bottom. To check out some of the best Trenton-Style tomato pie, visit Papa’s or De Lorenzo’s, both of which are just East of the city of Trenton. 


What About Southern Tomato Pie?

So far, we have spoken about both Philadelphia and Trenton-Style tomato pie, but one thing that we haven’t discussed is the Southern Tomato Pie. This is something that is often confused with Philadelphia tomato pie, simply because the best Philadelphia tomato pies are usually found in Southern Philadelphia. 

But, despite this confusion, Southern tomato pie and Philadelphia tomato pie are actually very different from one another. Philadelphia’s tomato pie has its roots in Italian cuisine, as we said earlier, but Southern Tomato Pie existed long before the influx of Italian immigrants to the USA. Instead, Southern Tomato Pie has its roots in the Carolina’s, but what is it exactly?

Southern tomato pie is a savory pie that has its toppings based on one of America’s favorite sandwiches. Southern tomato pie is not a pizza like Philadelphia tomato pie is. Instead, it is actually a pie. A flake pie base is layered with tomatoes and mayo, with flaky pastry on top. On top of the pastry, you will also find herbs, shredded cheese, and onion, and these layers will continue until a full pie is formed. 

Both Philadelphia tomato pie and Southern Tomato pie are very delicious. But, they are also very different from one another, so it is important that you ensure you order the correct option when you are out at a restaurant/bakery. Otherwise, you might find yourself disappointed. 


Final Thoughts

In short, tomato pie pizza is a dish that is very famous in Philadelphia. It was first introduced to Southern Philadelphia when there was an influx of Italian immigrants moving to this area, and it has been around ever since. Some people struggle with its simplicity, as it is essentially a cheese-less pizza, but it is truly delicious.

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is from Sanibel Island, Florida, and a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.