I Wonder If ‘New York Pizza’ Is a Total Joke

Different names, but they share a common parent.Photo: Robert K. Chin

Dear Grub Street,
Whats the deal with Patsys and Grimaldis? The guys name was Patsy Grimaldi, right? Didnt the place under the Brooklyn Bridge used to be called Patsys? I remember going there when I used to come out for AAU games. And where else would you recommend for true New Yorkstyle pizza? Or is that term a total joke?

Its no joke! Gennaro Lombardi brought pizza to New York and America in 1905. His pie, cooked in a volcanically hot coal-fired oven on Spring Street, had a thin crust and only sparing amounts of cheese and sauce. Lombardi had three disciples, all of whom begat equally legendary New York pizzerias: John Sasso (Johns), Anthony Pero (Totonnos), and Patsy Lancieri (the original Patsys, in East Harlem). These places in turn all begat mini-chains. Patsy Lancieris widow sold the Patsys name, along with the original restaurant, to an outside group in 1991; as a result, Lancieris nephew Patsy Grimaldi changed the name of his Brooklyn Heights restaurant from Patsys to Grimaldis in 1996 to avoid confusion.

All the great old-time places serve what can properly be called New Yorkstyle pizza. The ultrahot ovens allow even the thinnest of pizzas to brown before the inside of the crust dries out, giving it a pliant, multidimensional majesty. And unlike in Italy, where blobs of white mozzarella float on red tomato sauce, never truly mixing, the New York pantheon pizzas like Totonnos use a more meltable, semi-dried mozzarella that helped evolve the red-orange-sauce-and-cheese mixture we know and love today. Other more recent exemplars of the classic New York pizza include Adriennes Pizza Bar in the financial district, Vinny Vincenz in the East Village, and Louie and Ernies in the Bronx. But anybody that cooks thin, fresh dough in a hot oven and hews to a less-is-more aesthetic can be said to be following in Gennaro Lombardis footsteps.

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