Gennaro’s Tomato Pies
1429 Jackson Street
With the endless pizza possibilities these days, it’s easy to stray from the traditional pies we grew up on. It’s nice to try new and outrageous concoctions every once in a while, but sometimes, you just can’t beat an old-fashioned pizza. Enter: Gennaro’s Tomato Pie, a pizzeria frozen in time and rooted in simplicity. Michael Giammarino, operator of the famous Lombardi’s in New York, is the mastermind behind this quaint pizzeria located at 1429 Jackson. If it were anything like Lombardi’s, South Philadelphia would be one lucky area.
My indecisive nature almost always makes ordering a pizza much harder than it has to be. But the manageable menu at Gennaro’s makes ordering easy, since it only consists of a few salads/appetizers, some desserts, and PIZZA. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “This is what we have, and you don’t need anything else.” And they’re absolutely right. We heard great things about both the white and tomato pies, so we decided to split it up; half white with garlic spinach & sliced tomato, and half tomato with meatball & red onion. About ten minutes later, it was time to dine.
Along came our well-done pie, which I could literally smell as it made its way to our table. I knew right off the bat that I had to go with the red side first, since the onion and meatball aroma was flooding my nostrils, and sending impending pleasure signals to my taste buds. The pungent red onions were an excellent compliment to the homemade meatballs, which were incredibly tasty on their own. Their crushed tomato sauce had such a rustic taste, as if it were simply smacked to a pulp with a mallet before being spread over a thin sheet of dough. And speaking of their dough, this was quite possibly the thinnest crust I have ever had. If you’re into thin crust pizza, this is the place for you.
Although I’m not much of a spinach fan, I do appreciate it on white pizza if done correctly. In this case, the spinach had a real garlic taste that only added to the flavor. The sliced tomatoes were so finely baked atop the pie that they almost melted in your mouth. And aside from the great taste, the ricotta cheese also provided a consistency that held the toppings in place. (Although it did weigh down the thin crust, but I didn’t mind.) Was it the best white pie I ever had? Probably not, but it was damn close.
Being affiliated with Lombardi’s, you can rest assured that you’re dealing with people who know how to make pizza at Gennaro’s. Isabella’s and Stogie Joe’s used to be my favorite spots in South Philadelphia, but I think a new king has been crowned. Make sure you save room for dessert if you’re headed to Gennaro’s, because their house made desserts are equally as impressive as their pizzas. The pineapple upside down cake served with fresh cream was absolutely transcendent.
Very rarely does a pizza joint come along where the anticipation builds up to the point that I find myself googling information before I’ve even tasted their goods. The one word that intrigued me when I first heard rumors flying about Gennaro’s tomato pies, like gossip in an all girls high school locker room, was “Lombardi’s”. In case you’ve been living under a rock and you have no idea what Lombardi’s is, I’ma learn you some knowledge right quick. In 1897, Gennaro Lombardi began peddling tomato pies from his corner grocery store to the local factory workers of Manhattan. This delicious trend quickly caught on and in 1905, Lombardi’s officially opened it’s doors as the first pizzeria in the United States. Lombardi’s has been featured on just about every single notable article or TV show regarding the history of pizza in this country. It’s a historical landmark as far as I’m concerned. I’ve personally never had the privilege to visit Lombardi’s in New York, but since it’s current owner Mike Giammarino opened “Gennaro’s” at 1429 Jackson Street in South Philly, I need not travel 80+ miles just to sample a taste of pizza history…and neither do you.
Gennaro’s screams old school from the second you lay eyes on the exterior. The giant store front glass windows. The vintage swinging, hanging sign. The black and white striped awning. I felt like it would be the perfect backdrop should I have gotten whacked walking in. The front door could’ve very well been a time portal, because it was as if I stepped into the 1940’s. The walls are draped from the ceiling down to the bright white ceramic tile with authentic World War 2 nostalgia. From the classic “buy war bonds” propaganda to newspapers declaring war on foreign countries, they really went all out in taking you back to that era. Antique knob dial radios hung overhead and softly echoed the smooth sounds of 40’s jazz music. There’s even framed black and white photographs as tribute to the 1st and 2nd generation pizza making Lombardi family members. The classic “pizza shop red” table tops and wooden chairs are the final attributes in making this one of the only truly authentic, old world pizza parlors in Philly.
There’s only 2 styles of pizza here. You can either grab yourself a tomato pie or a white pie. Forget all those specialty buffalo chicken and taco pizzas. If you have a problem with that, then venture to one of the countless other, easily forgettable South Philly pizza shops for your pies. Gennaro’s stays true to their roots and only dishes out traditional throwback toppings; such as pepperoni, sausage, meatball and anchovies. We asked our waitress to hit us with what they’re best known for. We were greeted with 16″ a half red with meatball and red onion, and a half white with tomato and spinach. You couldn’t have asked for a better selection. The pizzas are thin crust and blackened to perfection, just like the old days. In fact, Mike personally had an oven custom built to mimic the taste of Lombardi’s world famous coal oven pizzas, without the use of coal. The mini-meatballs were so tender and juicy, they remind me of sneaking into my grandmom’s kitchen and stealing one of her homemade meatballs from the pot before dinner. The raw tomato sauce was so simple and so crisp, that it was easily identifiable as something passed down in a family tree. Combine the light, chunky sauce with gooey and bubbly whole milk mozzerella and you got something that Philly has been longing for since the dawn of pizza. Mike sticks to the basics and only utilizes the 3 main pizza food groups with his pies. Cheese, sauce and dough. I must add that after you’ve polished off your pizza, you absolutely must sample the “pineapple upside down cake.” Madone de mia. Homemade, moist pineapple cake with freshly made cream on the side. That first bite is like slowly slipping into a warm bath. The perfect way to end your visit to Gennaro’s.
With great pizza comes rules. No slices here. You better carry cash with you, because credit card machines are a no-go. Don’t even think about phoning in a delivery. You want to call ahead for pick up? Mike will surely give you a 15 minute window to grab your pizza, depending on how busy they are. You can be assured that they WILL be busy. He takes these measures to preserve and maintain the highest quality pizza for his customers. Gennaro’s could be one of the greatest things to hit the Philly pizza scene in a long time. If you need me and I’m not at home, then I can probably be found scarfing down a meatball pie or two at Gennaro’s.