Mustard pie

A few years ago I was attending a board meeting of an organization I worked for. The meeting was held in the evening, right after the end of the work day so it was decided we’d order pizza.  As the group tried to decide on how many pizzas and with what toppings, I mentioned the possibility of getting a “mustard pie.”

The group was stunned. No one sitting around the table had heard of such a thing. I couldn’t believe it. Some of these folks were lifelong Trentonians. Others had been around long enough, they surely should have at least heard of this if not tried it at least once.

Nope! They hadn’t and we didn’t get any that night, either.

So what, just what is “mustard pie?”  Simple. Tomato pie (pizza) with mustard.

A plain "mustard pie" from Papa's. Note the mustard peaking out from under the sauce near the crust in the bottom of the picture.

A plain “mustard pie” from Papa’s. Note the mustard peaking out from under the sauce near the crust in the bottom of the picture.

Here in Trenton we take our pie seriously.  There is a particular, indigenous Trenton style that even has its own page on the Slice website. Basically, Trenton pizza or tomato pie has a thin but chewy crust, then cheese, toppings, sauce. Admittedly it is the pie I grew up on and, when done properly, it is the style that I crave over all others.

Unfortunately, what was once ubiquitous to this area has become somewhat of a rare delicacy. Fewer and fewer pizzerias make the true Trenton style any more. The well-known (as much for its lack of a public restroom as for its pies) DeLorenzo’s on Hudson Street in Chambersburg closed about a year ago. Their Robbinsville, NJ store carries on with mixed reviews (but I’m not getting into THAT discussion!).

The competing DeLorenzo’s on Hamilton (the original owners of both stores were brothers with a friendly, familiar rivalry) announced recently that they will be leaving the city for Hamilton Township, NJ. This was the DeLorenzo’s I brought members of the production team working on last year’s “One for the Money” film to for lunch. The entourage was made up of a native  of Buffalo, New York, a Canadian, and a Californian. They were impressed enough with Trenton pie to get permission to use the DeLorenzo’s name along with the names of other businesses for the film.

But I digress.

When we speak of Trenton tomato pie institutions we must pay extra reverence to Papa’s on Chambers Street at Roebling Avenue. Papa’s is the oldest family owned pizza restaurant in the United States!  Opened in 1912, it is still in the same family. Take that, Lombardy’s of New York City!

Stepping into Papa’s is a trip back to my youth. The paneling on the walls, the formica table tops. The decidedly delicious but seriously unpretentious antipasto.  And mustard pie!

I can remember mustard pies being around for a while but nobody really seems to know how they came about. When I asked Papa’s Nick Azzaro about it he kind of shrugged. “I dunno.”

Most people you ask, if they have heard about Mustard Pies at all, will point to a long gone place on Whittaker Avenue called “Shuster’s”.  They were definitely known for their Mustard Pie and use to fly a banner from the front of the building declaring it “The Home of the Mustard Pie.” Yet even those that remember the place and the pie, don’t know how it ever came about.

I pressed Nick a little harder. “You offer it as a special here on Monday nights. How did that come about?”

“I had this kid come to work for me. He used to work at that other place {Shuster’s} before they closed. He said to me one night, ‘You should make a mustard pie.’  So I did.”

What they do is, shape the crust for the pizza, schmear some spicy brown mustard over the crust (not a lot, just enough), then add the cheese, tomatoes, etc. It really is good. Would I want it every time I order a pie? No.  But every so often it is a very nice change.

If you are worried about a clash of flavors, don’t be. Have you ever had cheese board that had a little mustard on the sign for dipping? That worked, right?

Have you made a sandwich with mustard and fresh slices of tomato? The acid bite of the tomato and the sharpness of the mustard somehow both accentuating and attenuating each other?

That’s kind of what happens with the mustard pie.

Next time you are at Papa’s, order a mustard pie. You might just be surprised. Or, if you make pizza at home, spread just a little mustard on the crust before you build the rest of the pie. Get a real taste of Trenton-style.


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7 Responses to “Mustard pie”

  1. Marty (@PizzaQuixote) Says:

    Nice article. Trenton tomato pie is tops, and Papa’s is the final link to a glorious past. I enjoyed the mustard pie (almost as much as a regular pie with sausage) and I think it clicks because it makes the pie saltier. I’ve noticed that some of the most revered places (Santarpio’s in Boston, Denino’s in Staten Island) have salty sauce. I reviewed Papa twice: here about a year ago: and then here when we tried the mustard pie.

  2. John A. Pagnani, Psy. D. Says:

    Trenton Tomato Pies and Trenton Cheesesteaks are the best anywhere. I grew up going to Papa’s and Delorenzo’s on Hamilton Ave. and it is difficult to find anything as good anywhere. Pepe’s in Connecticut also makes a great pie.

  3. Polish-style Pizza « Ship and Fools Says:

    […] Mustard pie ( […]

  4. therecipenazi Says:

    i enjoyed reading this article and your other food related articles. i administer a Trenton recipe group on face book and would like to extend to you an invitation to join us. our address is or simply search for It’s a Trenton thing recipe section.

    • Jim Carlucci Says:

      Thank you, I’m honored. (Or should I consider applying the Groucho Marx rule, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me”? Only kiddiing. Have sent my request. Thanks again.

  5. Jillian Says:

    This reminded me of a lovely tomato tart recipe by David Lebovitz that includes mustard and honey (

  6. Jim Carlucci Says:

    Awhile back, when I was scouring the internet for anything resembling our “mustard pie”, I came across lots of interesting “mustard tarts”, “mustard and tomato pie”, etc. Not an uncommon combination but Trenton’s version of mustard on a pizza seems to be a one of a kind.

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