Tomato Pie, Rocky Ford, and Me, Part One

Note from Peter: Bob Radcliffe is, like me, a North Carolina transplant from Philadelphia and, as you will see, also from Trenton, New Jersey, where at least two things of great historical import have occurred. The first was George Washington crossing the Delaware and turning the tide of the Revolutionary War (not an inconsequential thing). The other is the existence of DeLorenzo's Pizzeria. Bob has regaled me with stories of his relentless quest to re-create the fabled Tomato Pies of DeLorenzo's, so I asked him to share his stories with you, which he has agreed to do over the next few weeks. Here is Part One, just a short intro, but it speaks to the same fire-in-your-belly passion that Pizza Quest is all about. Thanks Bob and, to all, enjoy:


I know this is Pizza Quest, but I’m hooked on Tomato Pie. No, this isn’t my latest food-fetish, but something I always craved for since I was old enough to chew. I grew up on the outskirts of Trenton, NJ and until college always ate Tomato Pie at DeLorenzo’s on Hudson Street in the “Berg” (opposite the old Roebling Steel plant that made the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge). After college I commuted by train for a few years from the Trenton Rail Station and stopped in as the last customer on my way home after evening graduate school classes for a late night snack. Years of professional travel took me to all of the “best” pizza shops across the country so I could check them out.

DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pie was simply the best! Sadly the old haunt closed in 2012 and relocated to the suburbs. I understand it’s still good, but certainly will never match those pies made in the tiny Hudson Street shop on the coal-fired oven I remember so vividly from the early 1950’s. The sight of carrying shovel-full’s of glowing coals into the shop and spreading them under the oven floor is mindful today of how they slow cook barbecue with glowing wood embers in North Carolina today.

It’s been fifteen years since I left Philadelphia and relocated to Rocky Ford in rural Franklin County, North Carolina, and well over twenty years since I last ate a Tomato Pie at DeLorenzo’s. Frankly, over the years I have made several attempts to replicate that now mythical Tomato Pie. I struggled with the dough recipe and the ovens I had - whether gas or electric. Something was terribly missing. Could it be that hard to make a "Pie"?  For heaven’s sake I was an engineer with advanced degrees – the kind of guys that put men-on-the-moon. I finally just decided to bite the bullet and do whatever it took to make that Pie. Adding insult to injury, I was from Trenton where, if you don’t already know, the bridge over the Delaware River boldly states: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes”. And for me, not to be able to make a Pie, would certainly be a huge embarrassment.

Well I know that Peter and many others have made testament to their lifelong Pizza Quest, but I believe my story needs to be told. So here I am, and this is my story. I hope that you pick-up a few helpful tips along the way. I am sure you won’t want to replicate everything I have done, so just steal the best stuff for yourself.

I don’t pretend to have cloned DeLorenzo’s Pie, or gotten the secret from Chick, but what started as a recipe problem blossomed into my need to build an organic farm, perform tomato trials, grow garlic and basil, build a wood-fired oven, and create a private dining venue (the Franklin BreadWorks) so I could introduce and validate my creation to North Carolinians who, I soon discovered, have never heard of my Tomato Pie. Here, it is usually confused with a tomato dish in a pie pan with some cheese and mayonnaise! But what the hell was one more obstacle to overcome; I was on a mission probably as crazy as the Blues Brothers.

In upcoming postings I am going to take you along on my odyssey. I have to tell you that my favorite cooking show (on PBS) is “Mind of a Chef”. That may help you understand what to expect along the way. What may seem crazy at times has helped me find my way to a clearer understanding of rather simple ingredients and to refine my technique for building the layers of flavor we all seek when we cook.

Bookmark this page now, and plan to come back in a couple of weeks for my next installment. I promise it won’t be a bore! My golden rule at the BreadWorks is, “Did you have a great time?”  Great food, coupled with friends and music, seem the perfect combo to me.

More to come, for sure...




#1 Peter Reinhart 2014-03-30 20:02
Filomena had a problem posting this so I'm copying her comment here for her. If anyone else has a problem please write to us at info@pizzaquest .com Thanks! Peter
Loved the article, Bob! I tried to post a comment. HOWEVER, the image that was required to send it was sooooo faded that I couldn’t read it. I refreshed at least 10 times, but couldn’t get an image dark enough to read. Here is the comment I was attempting to post:

You have disproven the old quote that "insanity is repeating the same action over and over again, and expecting a different result."

You reached your goal through persistence in the face of set-backs. You chased after it and never quit. You resisted the nutsy trap of repeating the actions that didn't work. In addition to being smart and savvy,you have always been able to step back, evaluate actions and stay goal-focused. That is why you are so successful in business and in the kitchen! Kudos!

Filomena D. Warihay, Ph.D.
#2 Dave Debonzo 2014-03-31 14:37
Being Italian and growing up in Central New York I have fond memories of the most wonderful Pizza/Tomato Pies ever. Having relocated to North Carolina a number of years ago I thought my best days were behind me, Tomato Pie wise, until I met Bob. My wife and I have attended several events at Lynch Creek Farm and could not believe what Bob had prepared for his guests. I can honestly say that his Tomato Pies are the closest I have ever come to a "Religious Experience". I felt a bit like Harry Houdini since I had made two Pies disappear before Bob could say, how's the Pie Dave. Congratulations on a great article Bob and Bravo for the Poetry on a plate that you simply call "Bob's Tomato Pie. ::
#3 Claudette 2014-03-31 15:37
I understand your delema I have not found a true pizza around here yet. I keep on practicing. I have been fairly successful. Maybe we were extra hungry when we were younger & our memories are extra vivid.
#4 Philomena Kanouse 2014-03-31 15:43
I'm about ready to hop a flight to NC just to get a taste!
#5 Charles E. Powell 2014-04-01 15:43
Well Bob, since getting to know you and Kerry a few years ago I can truly say you are unique in everyway. When you put your mind to something everything just needs to get out of the way because, here comes Bob!

I have had the pleasure to watch you grow your farm and cabin facility, heck, I even got to help you grown it some. Debbie and myself have not been able to come as often as we wish but things just get in the way. When we do come it is always a fun filled evening. As for the tomato pie, it is some of the best I have ever eaten. There's always a line waiting for it. We hope to get to come again soon!
#6 Richard Brand 2014-04-01 16:13
In the early fall we sat at a table at a table at Bob's place and listened to some good music while being served some of his Tomato Pie. The Bread work program is a good thing, the Ben Franklin Society is an active group and the Tomato Pie was a treat. Vance County Friends of the Library are going back out there for a fund raiser. Loved to have everybody come.
#7 Margaret Hilpert 2014-04-01 16:21
Bob,You can add story-teller to your lists of accomplishments . I love your tomato pies....and anything else you cook in that wonderful wood fired oven. Just don't work Kerry too hard :lol: We look forward to coming again soon. Margaret
#8 The Bennings 2014-04-01 18:02
Bob and Kerry,
Though it was a while back, we thoroughly enjoyed our evening at BreadWorks, as did our Bed and Breakfast guests. We dined on the screened in porch on a summer evening as music from the '40's played on the record player. I'm sure the live music now is a delightful addition, but the music that night made us want to dance! We wish you both continued success!
The Bennings at Wolfpit
#9 Dick Cicone 2014-04-01 18:32
:-) WOW - Bob has really hit the mark with his Tomato Pie and breads. The food and service provided at all his events are tops. The addition of live music adds a real 'down country' atmosphere for a delightful afternoon or evening meal. We're the revenue generated goes to a worthy cause. Thanx for all your hard work Bob.
#10 Sandy Smith 2014-04-01 18:53
This is a wonderful experience - fantastic Tomato Pie, great music and a peaceful, relaxing place! Watching Bob bake in the oven and learning how he built his oven (with joy and love of adventure)is truly inspiring- All food is wonderful and it's an experience I always treasure - thank you! Always a great time! :)

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