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A Visit to Marcello's in the Pizza Hotbed of Bordentown, New Jersey

Eater's senior critic samples some serious coal-fired pies at a new restaurant in Bordentown

The northeastern seaboard of the United States is filled with pizza hot spots – places like New Haven and Providence that have become pizza capitals, where the golden pies set down like flying saucers and then developed unique styles in comparative isolation. New York City itself is a particular hot spot, boasting several unique styles, including thin-crust coal oven (our most ancient), upside-down Sicilian "sheets" (as at L & B Spumoni Gardens), Staten Island bar pies (try Lee’s Tavern), and, perhaps most important of all, neighborhood pizzerias that turn out delicious plain cheese slices, day after day, from stacked, conventional-temperature ovens (look no further than Di Fara).


Yet, travel around the region, and pizza surprises are still in store. As I found out recently on a trip to Bordentown, New Jersey. Located not far south of the state capital of Trenton, right on the Delaware River, Bordentown is of colonial vintage, and its streets are lined with handsome clapboard houses, most from the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Paine lived there. So did Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, and Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.

The pies found there are unique and exciting.

Yet, despite its starchy and historic aura, Bordentown and the surrounding area constitute a pizza hot spot as described above; there are 14 pizzerias to be counted within a five-mile radius. The pies found there are unique and exciting. Some friends and I dropped by Marcello’s, right on Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown’s main drag. It occupies a double storefront, one of which is a casual outdoor seating area and bar, the other a rather formal indoor restaurant. The place was founded in 1980, and prominently advertises its coal oven, which is a real oddity in these parts.

Coal oven pizza? In addition, the place doesn’t really call its pizzas by the name "pizza." Rather, they’re known by the South Jersey term "tomato pie," so that the restaurant’s full name is Marcello’s Restaurant and Tomato Pie. The place is a full-service restaurant specializing in Southern Italian food, much of it like that found in Brooklyn’s red-sauced joints. There’s a fine plate of flash-fried calamari with tomato sauce, which we tried as an appetizer, a Caesar salad, mozzarella in carozza (a Roman toasted cheese sandwich), eggplant rollatini, and Sicilian stuffed rice balls. There are oven-baked pastas, creative ravioli, and mix-and-match noodle-sauce combos.

[Pizza and fried calamari]

Then there are the pizzas. These massive affairs are exceedingly thin-crusted, with splotches of char. So thin crusted, that some of the thinner ones make a cracking sound when you bite into them. They are utterly delicious, and unlike anything you’ve seen, though their cousins are the bar pies of Staten Island. For the price, the pizzas are also huge. Most appealing was the "old fashion Brooklyn tomato pie" ($19) — though there was nothing very Brooklyn about it. It came in a square shape with a supremely thin, crisp crust. The cheese was on the bottom, with clumps of nice canned tomato on top. The cheese was very fresh mozzarella, with a sprinkling of pecorino. We agreed we’d never had a pie quite like this before.

Four of us feasted on the tomato pie, and we also ordered a more conventional round pie with giant clumps of skinless pork sausage, roasted pimento peppers, and onions, a flavor combination popular in Apulia. This pizza ($20) was much lusher than the earlier Brooklyn pie. Oddly, it was carpeted with provolone rather than mozzarella (once again consistent with the Apulian theme), and the toppings were on top of the cheese, in an upside-down configuration.

These pizzas were so good, they left me longing to try the other pizzerias in town, but especially to return to Marcello’s for more West Jersey tomato pies. 206 Farnsworth Ave, Bordentown, NJ, (609) 298-8360.

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