Location: 885 East Ingomar Road, Allison Park. 412-364-6622
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Prices: Starters $2-6; pizza and sandwiches $4-10; entrees $6-10
Fare: Simple Italian
Atmosphere: Sidewalk café without the sidewalk
Liquor: BYOB, and your own glass, too
Smoking: None Permitted
Who can imagine a time before that crowd-pleasing take-out staple, pizza? Who knows what humble delicacy Americans gathered 'round in family kitchens and college dorms before we imported the ubiquitous pizza pie from our Italian cousins and rendered it our gooey, greasy own?
Angelique's mom, that's who. She remembers clearly the first time she ever heard of pizza: Her grandmother -- Angelique's great-great -- came home from the boardwalk at Wildwood, N.J., one day with reports of having eaten a "tomato pie." Angelique's mom thought it sounded awful.
Then she tried it for herself.
Over half-a-century later, pizza seems as American as, well, tomato pie. Tomato Pie Café, a little pizzeria in Allison Park, keeps the old name alive but makes a much more appealing impression. Located on the verdant edge of North Park, within sight of batting cages and a driving range, it occupies a modest cinder-block structure painted, of course, tomato red. On a perfect summer evening, after storms blew the heat and humidity away, the place was empty inside; all the action was out on the screened porch and front patio, which were packed. Rather than forsake the open air, we joined our fellow diners in milling about the parking lot to wait for an outdoor table. The crowd, ranging from families to dating couples to older groups of friends, made for a convivial atmosphere.
Actually, Tomato Pie is more than a pizzeria. It offers other simple Italian specialties including pasta and sandwiches, and the chef uses plenty of fresh herbs grown on the premises: In addition to flowers, the patio is ringed with potted basil and rosemary.
We tasted both herbs in the fresh marinara tossed with penne that lay beneath Jason's chicken Parmesan, in which a broiled, not breaded, breast was smothered with a thick blanket of almost-creamy mozzarella. Unfortunately, while each component of the dish was good, the ingredients lacked cohesion that more assertive seasoning could have provided.
Such was not the case with Angelique's superb penne in pink leek sauce. Here, a liberal dollop of cream softened the tomatoes' astringent flavor, while chopped fresh leeks added a zingy, sweet, almost fruity dimension to an irresistible summer sauce.
Garlic toast was made with good, chewy, crusty Italian bread and plenty of herbs and real crushed garlic. But a heavy hand with the salt threw the overall flavor off balance.
Pizza is, of course, the calling card of Tomato Pie, so we tried both of the specialties of the house: the Signature Tomato Pie and the DiPositano. The Signature owes a lot to the classic Margherita, with slices of ripe tomato instead of sauce and whole leaves of basil. A warm, gooey blanket of velvety mozzarella was superb on the crisp yet pillowy crust.
DiPositano is a variation on the theme, with big chunks of briny but tender feta and wilted fresh baby spinach. The salt from the feta was ably balanced by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the lightly yeasty flavor of the crust.
We have no idea what the first American pizza tasted like, but if it was anything like Tomato Pie's, it's no wonder the people kept coming back for more. With fresh ingredients and an uncomplicated approach to Italian cooking, Tomato Pie Café is a pizzeria plus.