Grimaldi’s (Brooklyn, NY)

Again applying the adage of “no rest for the weary”, we were barely unpacked and laundered from our trip to Austin when we decided that it would be a great idea to go down to New York for the day. Carol works for Dartmouth, and as part of one of their employee programs, they occasionally offer day trips to Boston, New York, or Montreal for a rather good price ($55 round trip to Manhattan, for example). The catch is that it’s a day trip, so it involved getting up really early, and getting back rather late. But it’s a great way to take a quick trip to New York City for some food tourism and knocking a few more places off of the hit list. Starting out in a remote Dartmouth parking lot at 5am, by 10:45 that morning we were dropped off at Bryant Park, and having a late breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien. But after that, it was time to head down to City Hall, and walk the Brooklyn Bridge.

Arriving in Brooklyn, we turned off of the bridge approach to explore Dumbo (from District Underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It’s a rather nice neighborhood, with several nice shops, and a particularly nice park by the river (the Brooklyn Bridge Park). But one of the main reasons we went to Dumbo was… Pizza. Grimaldi’s Pizza, in particular.

This is probably a good as place as any to mention that it’s almost impossible to have a pizza place in New York City without having at least some sort of drama with business partners, landlords family, health inspectors, permits, and whatnot. And Grimaldi’s is no exception… indeed, unraveling the whole story can make your head spin. Opened during some point in the early 1990s (looking at the various resources online, you can find about a half a dozen variants of the story, but Slice has a decent summary) as Dumbo was becoming a nicer neighborhood, Grimaldi’s was originally run by Patsy Grimaldi, who originally learned pizza making from another Patsy, his uncle Patsy Lancieri (who ran Patsy’s in East Harlem).

At some point the original Patsy’s family also sold off business interests, which is where there are a bunch of franchised “Patsy’s” places through the city. And in 1998 Patsy Grimaldi did the same, selling of the Grimaldi’s name (which now also adorns franchises as far away as Arizona) and the business. And then the business got kicked out and had to move down the street last year due to landlord issues (with, ironically, the original Patsy Grimaldi being involved in the place that’s yet to open in the original Grimaldi’s pizzeria storefront). So today’s Grimaldi’s shares primarily a name with the past.

But it’s still a very popular place for pizza, and gets decent reviews. It’s also one of the more prominent coal oven pizzerias in the city, and even with it’s sordid issues and the recent move, it still routinely has a line running down the street, with 2 hour waits not being uncommon. But when we arrived a little after 1pm on a perfectly nice Saturday afternoon, most everyone seemed to be interested more in hanging around the park than waiting for pizza, so we managed to get a decent spot in line and 40 minutes later were seated upstairs.

Our order was a variation on my standard pizza order: sausage and mushroom with extra basil. Due to their still being quite busy, our pizza took another 40 minutes to get delivered, but aside from the wait, this was a seriously good pizza. Let’s work through the components: First, the crust itself was exactly the sort of crust I look for from a good coal oven: a nice, slightly chewy crust with a perfect crown, and a nice char from the oven (including the brick marks on the bottom). Grimaldi’s serves their’s up on the toasty end of the spectrum, but still falling far short of “burnt”. The sauce is a very simple San Marzano sauce with very little spicing, so it still focuses on the tomato flavor instead of the more usual “salt and oregano” notes of most places.

The cheese is fresh mozzarella, nicely sliced, and cooked to the point where it’s just barely starting to brown. Add on some flavorful sausage, some good fresh mushrooms, and plentiful basil, and it showed they are using quality toppings as well. The overall result was one of the more enjoyable pizzas I’ve had recently (although, as I write this, I’m only a few days past my last slice of Frank Pepe’s, which I still rank higher, along with Lombardi’s, for Northeast pizza joints).

Well, my overall impression is that Grimaldi’s has a line for a reason, and is putting out some of the better coal oven pizza in the area (which for New York City, is saying a lot). I’ll be back.

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