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,
What’s the deal with Patsy’s and Grimaldi’s? The guy’s name was Patsy Grimaldi, right? Didn’t the place under the Brooklyn Bridge used to be called Patsy’s? I remember going there when I used to come out for AAU games. And where else would you recommend for true “New York–style” pizza? Or is that term a total joke?
DeWayne

DeWayne,
It’s 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 (John’s), Anthony Pero (Totonno’s), and Patsy Lancieri (the original Patsy’s, in East Harlem). These places in turn all begat mini-chains. Patsy Lancieri’s widow sold the Patsy’s name, along with the original restaurant, to an outside group in 1991; as a result, Lancieri’s nephew Patsy Grimaldi changed the name of his Brooklyn Heights restaurant from Patsy’s to Grimaldi’s in 1996 to avoid confusion.

All the great old-time places serve what can properly be called New York–style 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 Totonno’s 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 Adrienne’s Pizza Bar in the financial district, Vinny Vincenz in the East Village, and Louie and Ernie’s 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 Lombardi’s footsteps.

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