In 1953, Samuel Cacia purchased a turnkey bakery in South Philadelphia. At first, he offered tomato pie only on Fridays. Today, tomato pie is a permanent fixture. When the elder Cacia passed away in 1964, his grandson, Sam Cacia, and Sam's uncle, Raymond Cacia, took over the business. Although they've expanded to multiple locations, Sam says, “There's always a Cacia family member in each location.”
Where We Went
This city has the second-largest Irish and Italian populations in the United States, after New York City.
In the crowded front space of the South Philly branch, a glass partition separates customers from the giant rectangular pizzas. “Most people from the neighborhood buy it by the slice; most full-size pies are ordered by out-of-towners,” Sam says.
In the kitchen, the true scale of Cacia's reveals itself. There's a light dusting of flour on every surface, emitted from a 50,000-pound-capacity flour silo. Sam grins at a large bubbling pot of tomato sauce. “I make the gravy every day myself. I'm the only one who knows how.”
A massive brick oven anchors one wall, faced with subway tile and darkened grout lines, a weathered cast-iron door, and an antique dial thermometer. It's an “80-pan oven,” Sam tells me, meaning it can hold 80 full-size sheet pans. (One pan yields two boxes of pizza.) The oven is heated for 90 minutes each morning until it hits 600 degrees. Then it's shut off; the bricks inside retain enough heat to keep cooking through the day. Sam slides pans of pizza deep into the oven with a pizza peel as long as a jousting lance.
But the massive oven isn't just for bread and pizza. Every Thanksgiving, Cacia offers it up to neighbors whose own kitchens are overburdened. Last year, they cooked 125 turkeys. Sam has a hard time pinning down the exact number of pies he makes on most days, but he tells me, “The turkeys, we like to keep track of that.”
Philly Tomato PieSeriously, you won't miss the cheese.
If You Go
Restaurant: Cacia’s Bakery
Address: 1526 W. Ritner Street., Philadelphia, PA 19145
What we ate (and loved): All manner of pizzas, but especially the tomato pie. Try the fresh-filled cannoli for dessert.
Insider tip: While it's tempting to go during off hours to avoid the crowds, there's less of a selection. Brave the line.