If I surveyed a sample of Hamiltonians about which dish they consider to be the city’s most iconic, I’d bet money on a majority saying “Roma Pizza.”
The deceptively simple slab pizzas are such a ubiquitous feature of grocery stores in the greater Hamilton area, someone who isn’t in the know may assume at first glance that they’re some kind of mass produced pies out of a factory; a theory that feels credible until you actually taste one of them and the quality becomes beyond apparent.
These are no simple pre-packaged pizzas; quite the opposite. For almost 70 years, Hamilton’s own Roma Bakery & Deli has been pumping each one out by hand, producing literally thousands of slabs every week that get quickly snatched up by a voracious local fanbase.
A classic Roma Pizza is a thing of beauty, at once simple and utterly unconventional. The crust, light and airy and somehow always perfect, is not quite like any other crust I’ve ever had. There’s not a scrap of cheese, but you don’t miss it at all; the beautifully seasoned tomato sauce, both bright and savoury, does enough of the heavy lifting in the flavour department.
Best of all is this pizza’s versatility; Roma pizzas arrive cold and are delicious as is, but a few minutes spent in the oven for a light toasting kicks things up a notch. Slices of a Roma slab have even been used as burger buns, or as the vessel for a particularly decadent grilled cheese. On top of that, the pizza is vegan and all natural, with no iffy additives or preservatives.
Despite its consistently reasonable retail price – a better value that many other local options – Roma’s bread pizzas come in massive, uncut slabs that can easily feed a small family for multiple meals or satisfy a larger group at a picnic or party; and really, is it even a party in Hamilton if there isn’t a box of Roma Pizza on hand?
Calling Roma Pizza’s presence prolific is hardly an exaggeration, either. The majority of Hamilton residents have almost certainly had it at least once in their lives, and it endures as one of the city’s most iconic and singular foods with devoted fans spanning far and wide, even from outside of the borders of the city, province, and country.
The popularity is so intense, in fact, that it risks overshadowing the rest of what Roma Bakery has to offer. Some locals may not even realize that this decades-old, family-owned staple specializes in offerings that go well beyond the famous slab pies.
Roma Bakery & Deli was originally founded in 1952 by Philip Di Filippo Sr. and his wife Pauline, who ushered the business in its humble beginnings as a small bakery and door-to-door bread delivery service.
As the Di Filippo family’s fanbase continued to grow, so did their business, which eventually expanded to two other small locations before landing in its longstanding home in 1976 on Barton Street in Stoney Creek, where it has remained to this day under the ownership of Di Filippo Sr’s son, also named Phil.
Today, the Roma slab pizzas are just one piece of the bakery’s multifaceted operations, which includes a deli loaded with fresh cold cuts, cured meats, and domestic and imported cheeses; a hot counter with homemade deliciousness like cold cut sandwiches, soups, pasta, lasagna, and the now-famous porchetta sandwich; and a wide variety of fresh pastries in the bakery that include pies, cookies, custom cakes, Italian-style desserts, and more.
The bakery is also routinely stacked with a startling array of handmade breads, with everything from French bread to rye loaves to sourdough and nearly a dozen different types of buns and rolls. Pizza lovers aren’t just limited to the bakery’s usual slab pizzas, either; Roma is fully equipped to fire up some more traditional pizzeria-style pies – cheese and all – or even provide locals with their own pizza dough, homemade sauce, and ingredients to build a pie at home.
If all of that wasn’t more than enough, Roma Bakery also operates as a full-service caterer in hot demand, sometimes seeing over a dozen catering gigs in a single weekend.
It’s a wonder they manage to do it all, let alone do it all so well; but if you ask anyone from the passionate Di Filippo family what’s kept them going strong in Hamilton for decades, they’re quick to point right back to their love for the city they call home.
“It really is the basis of who we are,” says Pauline Di Filippo, granddaughter of original founders Philip and Pauline Di Filippo. “Without the Hamilton community, we would have nothing. You don’t get to almost 70 years in the business without the community – their acceptance, feedback, and loyalty to make us even better and stronger.”
Thankfully, Roma shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, Phil Jr. – approaching his own retirement – has been gradually training his son, Anthony, to adeptly take the reins on the business as a third generation owner. On top of that, the flagship bakery is breaking ground on a massive expansion which will help to upgrade and modernize their existing facility, proving this local staple plans to keep the business moving forward for many years to come.
“We really feel that Hamiltonians shaped us to be who we are and we hope we have made a very small mark on the landscape of Hamilton today,” Pauline adds.
Roma Bakery & Deli has certainly made their mark; and it is much, much more than small.
Learn more about Roma Bakery & Deli by visiting their website.