Trenton, New Jersey, or Utica, New York, or, aa I suspect, in different places at different times. I mean, the basic concept - a thick, pan-risen crust, tomato sauce, and grated Romano cheese - is not that much of a stretch from traditional Sicilian-style pizza, and it seems likely to me that Italian Americans were creating this type of pizza in different cities at roughly the same time.
In fact, Rochester has had its own variant of this style for quite some time, such as Amico's "#1," Gallo's "Old World" pizza, and Guida's "Sauce Pie." It's a throwback to the days before processed mozzarella became the standard topping for American pizza. But as I understand it, a true tomato pie is typically pan risen and baked, fairly thick, and cut into squares - again, much like a traditional Sicilian style pizza.
Wherever it started, the tomato pie is here now. You'll find them at Wegmans, and I've even seen some rather unappetizing, saran-wrapped tomato pie slices at a local convenience store.
And at local pizzerias. I've been to Chester Cab on Park Avenue several times, and I noticed that their menu includes a "Poor Man's Tomato Pie." I assume that "poor man's" is a reference to the price, not an indication that this is somehow a poor man's version of a tomato pie. With no toppings but sauce, Romano and dried herbs, these pizzas are naturally more affordable than the cheese- and meat-laden pies that Americans are used to.
This pizza was, in more ways than one, not what I expected. Not only was this not the kind of pan-risen pie that I've described, but it was also much different from pizzas that I've gotten from Chester Cab in the past. I've had their stuffed pizza, their "thin cracker crust," and a regular slice, and none of them were much like this, even accounting for the absence of mozzarella on this pie. Check those posts to see what those pizzas were like. All I can say for now is that Chester Cab makes a remarkable variety of pizza styles.
This one had a dry bottom that was a bit floury, and a medium thick, bready crust. Though it had clearly risen, it was not terribly airy - the air holes were small - but it had good flavor, a crisp exterior, and a soft but chewy interior, as well as a sweet, bready aroma that was of course most pronounced while the pizza was still warm.
What was odd, or unexpected, about this pizza, though, was its relative lack of sauce. I expect a sauce pie to have a fairly generous layer of sauce. This didn't have much sauce. The dominant component was the finely grated cheese, followed by the dusting of dried herbs. I was also a little put off by the weird orangey color of the cheese, although that might've been a result of the yellow grated cheese mixing with the red tomatoes. But as nuch as I like the color orange, it's rarely a color you want to see on pizza.
I'm not one to hang too much significance on labels, but if you use a term with an established meaning, like "sauce pie," I think you should deliver - you should stick to the style. Again, I'm no expert on sauce pies, but I don't think this did that. And even aside from that, although I liked the crust on this pizza, it was, overall, rather dry. It needed more sauce.
I've decided not to rate this pizza. I just don't think my ratings translate to this pie. "C" means average, and other grades mean above or below average. This pizza had a very nice crust, albeit not the kind of crust that I would expect from a traditional, pan-risen sauce pie, but the toppings were out of balance and the whole thing was not true to the named style. In fact I took my leftovers home, added sauce and mozzarella, and reheated them in the oven, which resulted in a much better pie.
That is not because I dislike tomato pies. I don't. Though I've yet to try one in Utica or the Trenton area, I like the style. This was simply not a well executed pizza, in my opinion. I really did like the crust, though, and the fact that I could so easily improve this pizza means that it had something going for it. So even though all of that might mathematically add up to a "C," it would be misleading to call this an average pizza for this area. It was just too different from anything else you'd find around here.
I'd consider ordering this again, but I'd ask for extra sauce. This was fundamentally good pizza, but it needed a better balance among the crust, sauce and cheese. And I must say again that the sheer variety of styles that I've found at Chester Cab makes me want to go back for more.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave., Rochester 14607
Hours: Mon. - Tue. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.,
Wed. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.,
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.