If you grew up with tomato pie, chances are you don’t remember the exact moment it entered your life. Rather, tomato pie slowly became associated with occasions big and small: It was an after-school snack, a treat served at birthday parties, the centerpiece of the game day spread, and a quick lunch after church.
“Growing up there was always a Corropolese tomato pie lying around,” says Matt Budenstein, co-owner of Liberty Kitchen.
If you’re from the Philly area, tomato pie basically triggers a Pavlovian response that signals a good time.
“We would play roller hockey as kids growing up, and one of the kids would always bring one of those old-school tomato pies,” says Daniel Gutter of Circles + Squares.
Tomato pie is made with a spongy, focaccia-like bread that’s fermented longer than your average pizza. It’s dressed with tomato sauce, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, and served at room temperature. It’s made without cheese except for an optional dusting of Parmesan and/or Romano cheese. Traditionally, a tomato pie is square and has a lightly golden and crispy crust, much like a Sicilian pizza. But it’s not exactly pizza: Simply put, it’s bread with sauce, which is why tomato pies started out in Italian bakeries.
Despite its simplicity, there is a huge range of variation and complexity. Some stray from tradition and can be made round and include toppings. Every pie has, more or less, the same ingredients, but it’s the process — how long the dough is fermented, the quality of ingredients used, what’s used to season the sauce, at what point in the process the sauce is added to the pie – that makes the difference.
You can end up with a crust that’s thick and airy, or thin and crispy, or dense and gooey; and a sauce that’s chunky or thin or savory or sweet. There’s no right answer here: ; What makes a tomato pie excellent is really a matter of personal preference.
Like so many dishes that become part of regional identities, the tomato pie was born from resourcefulness and frugality. Italian immigrants, many of whom came to Philly during the turn of the 20th century, brought with them Neapolitan pizzas, Sicilian breads, and other foods. Families throughout South Philly opened bakeries to feed the Italian immigrant communities with a comforting taste of the old country.
The story of tomato pie goes like this: At the end of the day of baking traditional rolls and breads, Italian bakers would bake leftover dough and cover it with tomato sauce (or gravy as it is still known by many Italian American families).
And so, over 100 years, the tomato pie has become ingrained in our local traditions and daily rituals. It’s a snack. It’s a meal. It’s a part of our local heritage. Tomato pie is a true Philadelphia treasure.
Here’s where to get a slice or a whole sheet of some of Philadelphia’s best tomato pies.
» READ MORE: The best hoagies to eat in Philly right now
Price: Single slice $4
Joe Beddia knows dough. It’s the foundation on which every pizza is built, the vessel on which hoagies set sail, and, to Beddia, the dough is a key component to his favorite thing on the menu: the tomato pie. “In my opinion it’s about the dough and the crust. The flavor has got to be there,” says Beddia, adding that using high-quality flour and fermenting the dough for the right amount of time makes the difference in both flavor and texture. The result is a focaccia-like dough that’s higher than other tomato pies with a nice crust along the bottom and the sides. Beddia is also intentional when it comes to the sauce. “We use Jersey fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil, and when the tomato pie comes out, we do another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Sicilian oregano off the vine.” Served at room temperature, Beddia’s tomato pie is a thoughtful take on a Philly classic.
» READ MORE: The best places to get scrapple in Philadelphia
Price: 1/4 sheet $5, full sheet $17, supreme full sheet $23
A light dusting of Romano cheese covers a layer of sweet tomato sauce on a bed of spongy dough. The crust is slightly crunchy, but the best bite of a Corropolese tomato pie might just be that thin, gooey layer where the dough slightly absorbs the sauce. “It’s always a preference thing,” says Amanda Corropolese, manager of the Audubon, Pa., location. Corropolese says you should always eat a tomato pie that’s been baked fresh that day. “It technically stays fresh for about two days, but if you can get it the day that it’s made, that’s the best,” says Corropolese.
Corropolese does more than just a standard tomato pie. They offer a variety of toppings ranging from pepperoni and cheese to eggplant, hot peppers, and other vegetables. If you’re looking for a loaded tomato pie, try the “supreme,” available only on Sundays. It’s their famous tomato pie topped with cheddar, sweet peppers, and pepperoni.
📍2014 Old Arch Rd # 2, Norristown; 29 Kugler Rd., Royersford; 2809 Egypt Rd., Audubon, Pa.; and 180 Old Swede Rd., Douglassville; 📞 Norristown: 610-275-6664, Royersford: 610-495-8331, Audubon: 610-630-3844, Douglassville: 610-385-2333, 🌐 corropolesebakery.com, 📷 @corropolesebakery, 🕑 Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
» READ MORE: The best pizza to eat in Philly right now
Price: Full sheet $22.20
Despite its name, New York Bakery has mastered the art of Philadelphia’s beloved tomato pie and has become both a neighborhood favorite and a destination. Known as “church pizza,” New York Bakery’s tomato pie became a favorite slice after Sunday service at the Epiphany Church down the street. Doughy tomato pies are cranked out in the bakery at 11th and Daily Streets on equipment the bakery has had since the 1950s. . The old-school vibe is nostalgic, but, really, why fix something that isn’t broken?
Price: Whole pie $8.50
Father-son duo Joe Scarpa and Sean Dundon are part of a pizza legacy that stretches over 50 years. Each hase experience in New York City and Philadelphia-style pizzas, which comes through in their tomato pie. Their tomato pie has a thinner crust, similar to that of a Grandma-style pizza. Despite the crust being a bit thinner and crispier than most tomato pies, it’s strong enough to hold the chunky tomato sauce.
Price: Single slice $2.50, whole pie (15 slices) $25
Sarcone’s is synonymous with tomato pie. It’s hard to tell whether the sauce or the doughy crust is better. Baking bread since 1918, Sarcone’s is one of the longest-running Italian bakeries in the city. Soft, billowy dough gets a heaping helping of rich sauce dusted with a handful of Parmesan cheese. Sarcone’s has had five generations to perfect the art of the tomato pie and it shows.
Price: Single slice $3.50
Pizza Shackamaxon has perfected the art of a leopard-spotted pizza crust. The leopard-spotting refers to the black-dotted charring along the pizza’s crust, which gives it a savory complexity and excites pizza lovers. In the world of pizza making, those crispy bubbles along the crustcan be hard to master. Topped with dried oregano and peppery olive oil, Pizza Shackamaxon’s tomato pie is a must if you’re looking for an herbaceous, savory slice. It’s available Monday through Thursday, and if you’re looking for a whole pie be sure to request it at least 48 hours in advance. However, if you can’t wait, you can get a 12-inch round tomato pie every day of the week, no notice necessary. They’re only taking orders at the shop, in person, on the day of, but if you’re ordering four or more pizzas, reach out to them via email.
Price: Half sheet $9.25, whole sheet $17.50, whole sheet cheesesteak tomato pie $30
The Marchiano family credits their success to family matriarch Mama Nunziata, whose recipes were brought to Philadelphia from the southern Italian town of Acri, in the Cosenza province. The crust of their tomato pie is akin to a classic pizza, bready and a little chewy, and the sauce is seasoned with an aromatic blend of Italian spices. It’s perfect plain, but you can special order a cheesesteak option, which combines two Philly classics into one hearty dish.
Price: 1/4 sheet $4.99, 1/2 sheet $9.90, full sheet $16.50, up to +$5 for custom order
If you need a tomato pie for a party, Conshy Bakery is a good option. Not only do they make a mean tomato pie with a smooth sauce drizzled with olive oil, they’ll decorate the pie with a logo or message stenciled in garlic powder and cheese. Just be sure to give them at least 72 hours to get your custom pie order together.
Price: Single slice $4.99, half pan $15, full pan $25
If you love how a tomato sauce can be both simple and complex, Carlino’s Market’s signature tomato pie will make you happy. Fresh basil is scattered generously over a sea of chunky tomato sauce that’s held in by a wall of golden crust. It’s a tomato pie that’s decadent enough to be a stand-alone meal rather than just an appetizer or a snack. Either way, this is the kind of tomato pie you get for a special occasion.
Price: Single slice $3.50, whole pie $28
It took Matt Budenstein, chef and co-owner of Liberty Kitchen, four or five years of tinkering with his tomato pie to get it just right. His pie is influenced by Corropolese, Sarcone’s, and, perhaps surprisingly, Zahav. “When I started testing out the dough, it was based on a focaccia recipe from Zahav,” says Budenstein, “and over time I changed it to suit my needs. If you look at it now, you wouldn’t even recognize it as that recipe.” The result is an airy and flavorful long-fermented dough that’s slathered in a sauce made with crushed vine-ripened First Field tomatoes and Tuscan olive oil. You can order by the slice, but if you want to grab a whole pie, give them a 24-hour heads up.
Price: Whole pie $14
There are two types of tomato pies you can grab from Circles + Squares: a thick-crust square pie that’s closer to the traditional style, and a round, hand-tossed tomato pie that’s thin and crispy. Both come with a generously thick sauce seasoned with fresh garlic, oregano, salt, and California extra virgin olive oil. They’re served hot, but Daniel Gutter, the mind behind the whole operation, says it’s great served at room temperature or even cold out of the fridge the next day. “It could be a vessel for leftovers,” says Gutter. “Sometimes instead of making pasta, I’ll make meatballs and I’ll just serve it on top of the tomato pie on the plate. Not cook them together, just more like that’s the bread you’re using to dip into your leftovers.” For now, the only way to get your hands on some Circles + Squares is to walk up and order your pie in person. And be sure to have some bills on you because they’re cash only.