I love New York-style pizza, which is based on the original Pizza Margherita from Naples, Italy. It features a thin, but crisp crust, tomato sauce (true Neapolitan pizza uses San Marzano tomatoes run through a food mill with a little salt) and mozzarella cheese. It is this New York-style pizza that made its way to Boston and perfected at Pizzeria Regina in the North End. So, when Wendi and I were headed to New York City, I asked my co-worker, Mogie, where to go because she used to work in the city.
Mogie offered up two recommendations: Lombardi’s in Little Italy and Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village. I had one of my own: Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. I have wanted to make the pilgrimage to Di Fara ever since watching Chris Kimball talk with owner Domenico DeMarco on an episode of America’s Test Kitchen in 2012. Below is a video of DeMarco making pizzas at his restaurant on Avenue J in Brooklyn. The video is not from ATK. Due to privacy restrictions, the show’s video cannot be embedded on this blog site, but you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking here. Alas, we never made it to Di Fara Pizza when we visited Brooklyn in August, but we did try some pizza at another Brooklyn landmark.
Wendi and I visited New York City, and we were joined by her sister, Randi, and her husband, Shaun. The Hyatt Centric in Times Square served as our homebase, and the staff was awesome. We purchased tickets to one of the sightseeing bus/ferry lines where you pay one price and can hop-on and hop-off at designated stops around Manhattan and Brooklyn. When we arrived in Brooklyn, I asked our tour guide Thomas if we would get anywhere near Di Fara Pizza, and he said, no, but he would recommend another place that was a three-minute walk from the last stop. Additionally, Thomas said, “The old man only makes so many pies a day, and in this hot weather, he will probably be done by 3.” It was 2 p.m., and were were about a $20 Uber ride away from the pizzeria (so, it would be $40 total in transportation just to see if there were any slices left). We ended up not going. I also learned later on, his children have convinced “the old man” to take days off. We were there on a Tuesday, one of his normal days off.
Thomas, an Italian born and raised in Brooklyn, was a fantastic tour guide. He told us a little bit about the history of his favorite pizzeria, Juliana’s. He talked about how the owner, Patsy Grimaldi, had opened another pizzeria, Grimaldi’s. Then, he later sold it to an investor, Frank Ciolli, and there was some bad blood between the old and new owner. Thomas said the new pizza was not of the same quality, and it was not being made like Patsy Grimaldi made pizza pies. Eventually, after the noncompete clause of the sale expired, Patsy Grimaldi opened up Juliana’s (he had sold the rights to the name Grimaldi’s when he sold his business). Interestingly enough, the owner of Grimaldi’s Pizza had been late on his lease payments, and the landlord ultimately did not allow him to renew the lease. Thus, Patsy Grimaldi ended up opening Juliana’s in his former location. Grimaldi’s Pizza ended up moving next door into a former bank.
Given the praise from Thomas, we were really looking forward to trying Juliana’s. When we arrived, Randi tried to get a table, but was unsuccessful. She was told the coal-fired oven was being stoked, and we would have to wait outside until 4 p.m. It was 3:30. We went and stood in line for a second, and Randi went back in and asked if we could get a table, order some (soft) drinks and wait until 4 to order pizza. She was told we could not; we would have to wait outside. Oh, well, we tried to eat at Juliana’s, but it made no sense to wait in the hot sun for 30 minutes when we could walk next door to Grimaldi’s Pizza and order a couple pies. So, we did.
While our tour guide dismissed Grimaldi’s Pizza as being an inferior product, we found it to be quite good. In fact, Mogie told me she never ate at Grimaldi’s because there was always a line out front. Shaun and Randi ordered a sausage and mushroom pizza, and I ordered straight cheese pizza. The pizzas are cooked in a coal-fired oven. I believe I saw on Food Network how these ovens can get up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The crust was very crisp. A little too crisp for my liking, but it was still a good pizza. Also, I would have liked a little more sauce. The pizza was made with fresh mozzarella slices, none of the shredded stuff. (If you are making pizza at home, never use the pre-shredded mozzarella in bags. Instead, go to the deli and order sliced mozzarella cheese. You will thank me later.)
The sausage-and-mushroom pizza was made with fresh sausage. If you go to a chain, you typically get what looks like rabbit pellets as the sausage. This bulk sausage is grabbed in small bits and spread out atop the pizza. The sausage cooks as the pizza cooks. We eventually made it to Lombardi’s later in the trip (I will be writing about that pizza down the road), and Shaun, Randi and Wendi liked Grimaldi’s better than Lombardi’s (also a coal-fired oven pizza). I was the lone holdout who liked Lombardi’s better because there was more sauce and the crust was better. Grimaldi’s crust seemed to get more and more like cardboard as the pizza cooled. The crust, while having a good taste, was just too stiff for me. After we got back home to Ohio, I researched the pizza feud between Patsy Grimaldi and Frank Ciolli, and I came across a blog post about how a group of office workers were almost getting into their own feud over Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s. While Grimaldi’s was always their go-to place for pizza, they tried Juliana’s, and some actually liked it better because the crust was softer (see, I know of what I speak), and the sauce was sweeter.
When we were in Grimaldi’s Pizza enjoying our pies, Shaun said after listening to Thomas speak about the pizza feud, he felt we should hate Grimaldi’s, but the pizza was really good. While I wished we could have tried Juliana’s, because of a lack of customer service, we ended up in Grimaldi’s. I am a firm believer God knows best, and wherever I end up is where I am supposed to be.
The old saying goes a bird in the hand beats two in the bush. Let me just say, “A slice of pizza in the hand, beats standing in line waiting on a hot, humid day in Brooklyn.” On this day, Grimaldi’s Pizza was far superior to Juliana’s non-pizza.