Hot dogs, pretzels, Cuban sandwiches, Tomatoe Pie. The contestants stand behind their respective podiums dumbfounded as Jeopardy Super Contestant-turned-part time-host Ken Jennings smugly gives the question. What are foods you put mustard on? If you just reread the title and are confused like they are, I’m going to assume you’ve never been to Mercer County, New Jersey. If the idea of putting mustard on pizza nauseates you to your core, well then, I’m positive you never tried a Mustard Pie from Papa’s Tomato Pie.
Wait, did you really say mustard on pizza?
I know it sounds made up but believe me when I tell you mustard tomato pie is a genuine micro-local style of Jersey pizza. Call it the Goodtimes of the Pizza World and not just cause its DY-NO-MITE! It’s the rare indigenous food, within an indigenous food. Tomato Pie is the local style of pizza native to Trenton NJ and its surroundings. Mustard Pie is its mutation that can only be found at a handful of pizzerias and neighborhood bars throughout that area. So, it’s really as authentically Jersey as the Jersey Shore, the only problem is not everyone from the state knows about it.
But those that do, know it’s a swirl of spicy brown mustard, shredded mozzarella cheese and topped with tomato sauce on a thin, well-done crust. It happens to pair especially well with sausage and onion and when pulled fresh out the oven, it emits a sinus-clearing aroma that can challenge any Vicks Vapor Rub. A simple way of describing the taste is like that first bite of a well-dressed burger if you missed the meat. The pleasant squirt of sweet tomato mixing with the zesty mustard tempered by the melted cheese is a flavor explosion.
How it all started
According to a questionable local lore, an over-served guy walked into the now defunct Shuster’s on Whittaker Ave in the Chambersburg section of Trenton NJ. In his drunken stupor he asked for a mushroom pizza, but the pizza guy thought he said mustard and obliged. Now I’ve worked in a pizzeria for over 10 years, and I’ve served my fair share of inebriated customers but unless this guy was a real you know what, the idea of confusing mushroom for mustard without questioning it seems a “lil sus”. But because we know for a fact that Shuster’s was selling mustard pie and we have no other logical origin stories, that’s the one I’m sticking to.
According to an article in the Trentonian, after Bill Shuster shuttered his doors in the mid 80’s, a former employee started working at nearby Papa’s Tomato Pie and brought the recipe with him. They’ve been making it ever since. Other area pizzerias and neighborhood bars throughout the area sell their own version. Jojo’s Tavern, Sportsman’s Pub and Pete’s Steakhouse Tavern have offered it for decades. Even DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pie makes it, but you have to ask for it as it’s not on the menu. Only recently, within the last few years, pizzerias outside of Mercer County like Pizza Terminal, Lillo’s Tomato Pies, Nola’s and Carmine’s in Netcong NJ have started to introduce it into different counties.
Be warned, not all mustard pizza is mustard pie
Remember, just because it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, doesn’t always make it
a duck. A few years ago, an Insta-trendy New York City pizzeria Lions and Tigers and Squares, gained a lot of attention when they introduced, what BroBible.com called “the world’s latest culinary abomination”, a Detroit Style pizza with spicy brown mustard in place of tomato sauce and topped with caramelized cheddar, corned beef and sauerkraut. While this pizza topping looks and sounds delicious, it is neither a Mustard Pie nor a duck. It’s a Platypus.
Absent a nationwide chain adding it to their menu, if you want a taste of real authentic Trenton Style Mustard Pie, you will have to come to New Jersey. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. Unless you don’t like mustard, then you will absolutely be disappointed ha ha!