The History of Pizza in New Jersey


Whether you’re a pizza lover or not, you’ve definitely heard that the East Coast is the best place to grab a slice. 

The state of New Jersey is home to well over 2,000 pizzerias and most New Jerseyans would argue that the pizza in the Garden State is even superior to that of New York. 

Pizza aficionados of all kinds are sure to be pleased with the pizza in New Jersey, as flavors differ between the Italian-style, New Jersey-style, New York-style, and even boardwalk-style pizzas that can be found at pizzerias throughout the state.

The Rise of Pizza in the U.S.

The first pizzeria ever in the United States was Lombardi’s, created in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi and located just across the Hudson River in New York City. This marked the beginning of the pizza boom in the Northeast region. Italian-Americans in New Jersey began opening pizzerias of their own in the 1920s, and by the 1930s pizza had become extremely popular across the East Coast.

The Oldest Pizzeria in New Jersey—Home to the Original “Trenton Tomato Pie”

The oldest pizzeria still standing in New Jersey is Papa’s Tomato Pies. This restaurant was created in 1912 in Trenton and is known as the “Father of New Jersey Pizza”. In 2013, the restaurant moved to Robbinsville, but Papa’s still remains the oldest family-owned pizzeria in the United States.After three generations of owners, Papa’s still uses all of the original recipes and methods for making their famous pies. The family still keeps their secret hushed, and understandably so!

Just as Chicago is known for itsdeep-dish pizza, New Jersey is commonly known across the country for the Trenton tomato pie (or New Jersey tomato pie). This unique type of pizza has the mozzarella cheese and other toppings added under the sauce instead of on top. Traditional Italian-style tomato pies are in a square or rectangular shape, have a thicker focaccia-like dough as the crust, and are most often made with no cheese. Trenton tomato pies, however, are made in acircular shape, generally have a thin crust, and include mozzarella cheese. 

Where did the Trenton Tomato Pie Originate?

While it may seem as though Papa’s Tomato Pies was the first to create the Trenton tomato pie, the style of pizza was actually first developed at Joe’s Tomato Pie in Trenton, NJ. Joe’s, which is no longer open today, was created in 1910 and was the very first pizzeria to make the Trenton-style tomato pie. The creator of Papa’s actually worked for Joe’s before opening his own pizzeria two years later, and this where he learned how to make the newtype of pizza. Because both Joe’s and Papa’s originated in Trenton, the pizza earned the name “Trenton tomato pie”. Here is a hack recipe to make a quick Trenton tomatoe pie

Thin Crust Pizza

Aside from Trenton-style tomato pies, another type of pizza that became extremely popular in New Jersey early on was thin crust pizza. These pies have an extremely thin and slightly flaky crust, making for a different kind of delicious experience than a traditional Italian-style pizza or a tomato pie.

Federici’s in Freehold is one of the oldest thin crust pizza spots in New Jersey. The restaurant, run by Frank and Ester Federici, began by selling simple foods to guests inside of downtown Freehold’s Wolcott Hotel in 1921. In 1946, their sons Dante and Frank joined the family business and began making the thin crust pizzas that they are now well-known for. To this day, Frank and Ester’s grandsons are still always present at the restaurant. 

Another cool piece of history still present at Federici’s is the way the pizza is packaged for takeout. Before pizza boxes were created, hot pizzas taken to go used to sit on a base that would slide directly into a paper bag. Federici’s will still put your pizza in a bag to be delivered!

The Earliest Brick Oven Pizza in NJ

It’s well-known that cooking pizza in a traditional wood-fired brick oven makes it taste better than pizza cooked in a standard oven. But why does it taste so much better? Studies have been done that show in order for pizza to be cooked to perfection, it needs to be simultaneously cooked from above and below. This way, the crust can bake and get crispy while the toppings cook. A wood-fired brick oven allows this to happen in perfect harmony because it can heat up to temperatures above 600 degrees—much hotter than a conventional oven. 

What began as a bakery in 1917, DeLucia’s Brick Oven Pizza in Raritan, NJ began making its famous pizza in the 1930s. By the 1940s, the restaurant was converted into a fully functioning pizzeria. DeLucia’s is one of the only pizzerias in the northeast region that has the type of authentic cavern-type brick oven that is used to cook their pizzas to crunchy perfection. All of their pizzas throughout the years have been cooked in this same oven and the bricks it is made up of are over 100 years old. 

Jersey Shore Boardwalk Pizza

All frequent visitors of the Jersey Shore know that the pizza there is just different. The feeling of grabbing a slice under the hot sun with the waves crashing in the background is truly unmatched.

One of the oldest and most famous boardwalk pizzerias opened at 918 Boardwalk in Ocean City duringthe summer of 1956. Manco & Manco (formerly known as Mack & Manco) is a staple on the Ocean City boardwalk. Slices of pizza are served at a long counter with swivel stools—the classic Jersey Shore way of grabbing some pizza. The Mancos opened a second store at 7th Street and Boardwalk a few years later, and a third storeon 12th street in the late 1980s. Manco & Manco attributes their success to three factors: consistency in their pizza, employees who are dedicated to entertaining guests, and their loyal Jersey shore customers. 

In 1956 when the restaurant first opened, boardwalk pizzerias strictly sold slices of plain pizza with soda. Of course, times have changed since then, and boardwalk pizzerias have certainly changed with them. Manco & Manco now sell a very popular white pizza—a circular, thin crust pizza with no sauce and cheeses like ricotta and provolone added along with mozzarella. 

You Need to Try New Jersey Pizza!

What are you waiting for? Now’s the time to head over to the Garden State and get your hands on a slice! Whether you opt for a Trenton style tomato pie, a thin crust pizza, a wood-fired brick oven pizza, or a slice of boardwalk pizza, the pizza in New Jersey is a must-try. If you are ever in the NJ area, these are the top pizza spots to try.

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