Last week’s visit to one of the area’s most highly touted steak shops didn’t turn out as anticipated. I moved on to another red hot purveyor of Philly’s trademark sandwich today. As was the case the last time I crossed the Betsy Ross Bridge to sample two of South Jersey’s best cheesesteaks, my friend Jim joined me. We were headed to Lillo’s Tomato Pies of Hainesport, NJ.
Lillo’s hasn’t been around that long, but they have gained a major reputation very quickly – both for their Trenton-style tomato pies and cheesesteaks.
That reputation has apparently been good for business. They were crowded when we arrived, but there was a free table and we grabbed it after ordering a steak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions and a tomato pie with pepperoni on half.
Lillo’s soda fountain is self-serve and has a few pleasingly surprising options. In addition to Pennsylvania-Dutch Birch Beer and Red Cream, they also had RC Cola.
I went with Birch Beer.
Lillo’s has other items on their menu, but I had the strong impression that cheesesteaks and pizza are their bread and butter.
Our steak arrived first. Jim and I split the extremely hefty sandwich so that we’d each have room to sample a slice or two of the tomato pie.
You can see in the photos below that they don’t skimp on cheese at Lillo’s. But unlike the sandwich I had last week, in this case, it was distributed pretty evenly throughout the steak. There was also so much meat – a pound – that it stood up well to the Cooper Sharp’s fairly strong flavor profile. They balanced each other nicely, and the meat was juicy and well seasoned.
The seeded roll was lightly toasted. My usual philosophy – when it comes to both steak rolls and bagels – is that if it’s fresh, it shouldn’t be toasted. But I stood corrected in this case. The crust’s added crunch and texture was a plus.
If you’ve read my other cheesesteak posts, you know it’s very rare for me to not have at least one minor issue with a sandwich. But I can’t think of any in this case. This was a truly great steak. It will unquestionably be in my final rankings and probably pretty high up on the list. How high up is yet to be determined. I’ll just say it’s a contender at this point. I still have other places to get to.
On to our other reason for visiting Lillo’s; their Trenton-style tomato pies.
Lillo’s pays homage to Trenton both on their walls and t-shirts.
I don’t know their back story, but I assume the owners are from Trenton.
That city’s region is known for a unique style of pizza that they call tomato pie. It generally has a thin crust that is somewhat crispy, but also has a nice chew. The cheese is placed on the dough first, with tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes spread out in circles or blots rather than covering the entire cheese layer.
I’ve had good tomato pie at a couple places that are outside of Trenton and have also had bad pizza that was called Trenton-style tomato pie closer to Philly. What I had today definitely fell into the former category. It was the real deal and extremely good.
Both Jim and I detected a welcome hint of sweetness in the sauce. The crust held up nicely while I was eating my plain slice. This tomato pie would more than hold its own in Central Jersey.
Between the cheesesteak and tomato pie, this turned out to be one of my more memorable stops on this long tour I’ve been enjoying. I still have a couple more places to visit in NJ. They will have their work cut out for them if they’re going to top Lillo’s.