We’ve been craving Philly-style tomato pie over here. Now come on, admit it, after you see this, don’t you crave it too?
When we talk about tomato pie, you need to know that we’re talking about Philly tomato pie, not Southern tomato pie. What’s the difference? Philadelphia’s classic tomato pie is a delicious thick and chewy crust topped with a savory tomato sauce-like topping – kind of like a foccacia or Sicilian pizza without mozzarella. Southern tomato pie is basically a traditional pie crust filled with cheese and tomatoes in it and maybe also … mayonnaise? We can’t explain that, but we welcome comments from anyone who can.
To find some of the very best tomato pies in the Philadelphia area, we embarked on a tomato pie road trip. This self-directed tour covered South Philly, the Philadelphia suburbs, and the South Jersey suburbs. The results? What’s not to like? We highly recommend a tomato pie road trip to anyone.
Our tour covered Corropolese Bakery, Carlino’s Market, and Sarcone’s, some of the most famous homes of the tomato pie, as well as a South Jersey favorite, Passariello’s. We tried to get to the equally famous Ianellis Bakery in South Philly but they are only open 15 days out of the year (!). If you want to order an Ianellis tomato pie, you need to order it online, and it ships on Mondays or Tuesdays.
What Is a Philly Tomato Pie?
What makes a great tomato pie? First, a thick and chewy crust that’s crispy on the outside. Second, the perfect tangy tomato topping that’s just the faintest bit sweet. And last, maybe just a dusting of sea salt (if you’re keeping it vegan) or Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of fresh basil for color.
Some people describe the crust as more like a bread, baked flat on a rectangular pan. In that sense, it is essentially like a foccacia topped with tomatoes. (In fact, the tomato pie at Passariello’s is listed as “Foccacia alla Passariello” on their menu.)
As for the tomato topping, there’s a lot of variation. Some versions use a traditional marinara sauce on top; others use a thicker tomato base, others use simply herbed crushed tomatoes.
We love tomato pie in its purest form, with just the tomatoes on top. But if you go to a place like Corropolese’s, you can choose from among 10 different toppings to add to it, ranging from spinach to sweet pepper to eggplant.
Carlino’s Tomato Pie
The first stop on our tomato pie tour was at Carlino’s Market, at 2616 E. County Line Rd. in Ardmore (there’s also a location in West Chester). Carlino’s has a nice thick and crispy crust, and the sauce is truly a marinara sauce as opposed to a simple tomato topping. (It’s like a pizza without cheese.) Carlino’s tops their tomato pies with a generous amount of basil. And in fact, that was one criticism of our taste-tasters (that it was a little too basil-y). But still – a delicious pie.
Corropolese’s Tomato Pie
Corropolese’s tomato pie is famous is available in three locations in the Philadelphia area (Norristown, Audobon, and Royersford). (For our tomato pie tour, we went to the Audobon location at 2809 Egypt Road in Audobon). The largest version of these generously sized pies (18″x26″) feeds 15-20 people.
The Corropolese’s pizza has a somewhat softer crust, and a thick tomato layer that is almost as thick as the crust itself. The tomato layer is paste- or jam-like in consistency and it’s much sweeter than the others we tried.
However, it’s deeply addicting and it’s nearly impossible to eat just one slice.
Sarcone’s Tomato Pie
Sarcone’s is a well-known bakery at the edge of the Italian Market (758 S. 9th Street in Philadelphia). At times we’ve been there when long lines are forming outside as people wait for fresh bread to come out of the oven.
On our tomato pie tour, we discovered that Sarcone’s version had the most bread-like crusts of all the tomato pies we tried.
It is perfectly crispy and chewy – just like what we’d expect in a bread or foccacia. The sauce is the least marinara-like of the ones we tried. It’s essentially just crushed tomatoes with the mildest of seasonings. Still, this one was a favorite among almost everyone in our taste test.
Passariello’s Tomato Pie
At the last stop on our tomato pie tour, we tried one New Jersey pie, just for some variety. The South Jersey suburbs, of course, are just across the river from Philadelphia and are home to numerous Philly expats. Passariello’s is a fairly well-known pizza destination, with locations in Moorestown, Haddonfield, and Voorhees. (We went to the Moorestown location at 13 W. Main St. in Moorestown.)
Passariello’s tomato pie was an interesting cross between two of the others we had tried before. Both the crust and the topping were somewhere between Carlino’s and Sarcone’s. The topping was clearly made from crushed tomatoes (not paste-like at all) but it had distinct garlic and herb flavors, plus a smidge of olive oil.
A Note about Trenton (!) Tomato Pie
When we mentioned to a New Jersey friend that we were trying Philly tomato pies, he insisted that the true tomato pie originated in Trenton. (The most famous of these is at DeLorenzo’s.) But a little more research led us to find that Trenton tomato pie looks different and has different ingredients. First of all, it’s usually a round pie. And second, what makes Trenton tomato pie unique is that it has mozzarella cheese and toppings – all added first, with the tomatoes/tomato sauce on top. For purposes of comparing apples to apples (tomatoes to tomatoes?), we decided to stick to just the Philly variety.
The Tomato Pie Tour Verdict
After all of the stops on our tomato pie tour, we concluded that… we love tomato pie and we’d happily eat it anytime. If you don’t have much time and want to get the best of both worlds, we recommend stopping at Sarcone’s (crispy crust, fresh tomatoes), and Corropolese’s (softer crust, thicker and sweeter tomato topping.)
But of course, you can’t go wrong. And if you want to make your own tomato pie, check out our own recipe for Philly-style tomato pie here.
P.S. Want to know more about the Italian tomatoes used to make these and other Italian treats? Read all about it at Tomatoes and Tradition: Preparing Italian Tomatoes for the World.
You missed several stellar tomato pies
Yes – I know there are so many and I couldn’t get to all of them! Happy to hear your suggestions for the next round though!
That is not tomato pie. Trenton was the first. Philly just puts tomato on crust with grated cheese only on top. Yuk
And there it is right there – the great Tomato Pie war! Yes, Trenton’s tomato pies are different, as I noted in the story (but also delicious)… but Philly’s tomato pies have taken on a life of their own. If you’re a tomato lover like me, you’d be totally excited to have either pie. : )