Tomato Pie Is The Cheese-Free Pizza You've Been Looking For

Cheese-free pizza could sound like an oxymoron, but there are plenty of reasons people ditch the mozz. Some are allergic to dairy, other people are vegan — and they appreciate that chains like Papa Murphy's offer plant-based cheeses. But some pizza connoisseurs would argue there's no reason for cheese in the first place. What?!

Enter tomato pie, a regional pizza style popular in Philadelphia and other areas on the East Coast. Unlike other tomato pie recipes that more closely resemble an eggless quiche, the more pizza-esque variety is rustic and simple. With a focaccia-style crust, it's topped with good tomato sauce, olive oil, and herbs.

And unique among pizzas, tomato pie is commonly served at room temperature or even slightly chilled. In Philly, you might find it on an appetizer table or as a snack at church gatherings or other potlucks. And because the tomatoes are the main event, the sauce is not thin and light, as other pizza sauces can be. A good tomato pie sauce is thick and sweet, and the concoction is best cooked lower and slower than Neapolitan wood-fired 'zas.

In Philly, eating tomato pie is a delicious slice of history

Like much Italian food in the U.S., tomato pie's origins lie in the old country, but the dish has become fully American. The earliest tomato pies were likely made in Sicily — where one in four Italian immigrants to the U.S. between 1880 and 1930 hailed from — and really took off in the early 1910s in Philadelphia.

Pizza is most commonly associated with Southern Italy — although, contrary to popular belief, the dish wasn't invented there — and ingredients like tomatoes, herbs, and seafood are particularly prevalent in that region. By contrast, dairy farming is more common in the country's northern regions. So early wood-fired pizzas in places like Naples and Sicily were more likely topped with anchovies and olives than cheese.

Many Italian migrants settled in Philadelphia, and today's tomato pie quickly developed. In 1910, a store called Iannelli's Bakery opened with two menu items — bread and tomato pie — and it's cited as having kicked off the dish's popularity. Ianelli's and Sarcone's Bakery nearby are both still operational today and remain some of the best places to score a slice.

Similar to other classic dishes like chicken parmesan, tomato pie is an Italian food they don't serve in Italy. So if you're craving this niche cheese-free pizza, it might be time to visit the City of Brotherly — and tomato-ey — Love.