The Oldest Pizza in America
By Michelangelo DeSantis
On a recent trip to New York City’s Lower East side, my wife and I stopped a Lombardi’s Pizza on Spring Street for a late lunch/early dinner. The cash-only restaurant has signs claiming to be the oldest pizzeria in the United States, having been licensed in 1905.
This piqued our interest because it seemed to us that pizza’s history in the United States should be longer than 114 years. Well, no good question goes unpunished, and we discovered that there is some controversy over who can claim the title of oldest pizzeria in the U.S.
Apparently, Lombardi started as a grocery store selling all manner of goods to the immigrant population of the area. To avoid wasting dough that had been prepared for sale, Lombardi began selling pizzas at the grocery. It was considered peasant food and became popular as portable food for the working class that lived in the area. The concept grew, and Lombardi applied for a license to become a pizzeria in 1905. Case closed, right?
Wrong. It seems that the bad economic times in New York during the 1980s to early 1990s was too much for Lombardi and the store was closed for about 10-years during this time. It reopened in a different location in the same neighborhood with a different owner and over time expanded to fill its current location.
So, where is the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in the United States? The answer may be Robbinsville, New Jersey. Papa’s Tomato Pies has been serving their signature mustard pizza and other varieties since 1912. Since it is an easy drive from our central New Jersey home, we made the trip to sample the pie while passing through the area during Labor Day weekend. The current store in Robbinsville is not, however, the original 1912 location. It turns out that after 101 years, Papa’s Tomato Pies moved to its current location with the same family recipes. Curiously, Papa’s Tomato Pies is also cash-only, but unlike its New York rival, it is BYOB.
So where is the oldest pizza shop in the United States? There are good arguments to support either side, but one thing is for sure, the pizza is outstanding and worth the trip.