Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grimaldi's Pizzeria

Sometimes in New York, it's all about knowing about the places that everyone else doesn't know about.  The places that stylish famous people go to when they don't want to be bothered by paparazzi.  The places that are in a corner, that don't have a sign on the street, that require a password, that are under a bridge; the places that are so good that only the cool people are privy to their goodness.  Somehow, secret is always better.  Perhaps it's some leftover genetic penchant for finding the speakeasies of the Prohibition era.  Perhaps it hearkens back to the grade school days when knowing that Bobby had a crush on Sally was the most important thing on earth.  Either way, I've officially found the pizza joint that satisfies the secret "I know something the tourists don't know" tendencies AND (incidentally) has really freaking good pizza.

Grimaldi's Pizzeria is located, quite literally, under the Brooklyn Bridge (in Brooklyn).  Its unceremonious facade and not-so-prominent location speak more to a commonplace bodega and we-happen-to-make-pizza-too-because-it's-cheap-and-sells-well-in-New-York establishment than the pillar of the degustory Italian community that it is.  Why, you may ask, is this pizza so superior to other dough/sauce/cheese concoctions in the New York area?  You also might wonder why this growingly popular outfit is located in Brooklyn (or BFE, according to my close friends) instead of Manhattan.  Well, the answer to both of these questions, interestingly enough, lies with the New York department of food safety and inspection.

See, fifty years ago, New York officially banned the use of coal ovens on the island of Manhattan.  Why?  I don't know.  I guess it's some sort of feel-good-save-the-earth-one-pizza-at-a-time law.  Whatever.  During this process, there were a few restaurants grandfathered in (Lombardi's and Angelo's to name two), but the other restaurants established after the 1950's were left out in the cold.  Literally.  The thing about a coal-burning oven is that it heats the pizza to 900 degrees (as opposed to a wood-burning oven that heats to 600 degrees).  The extreme heat seals in the juices of the toppings and gives the crust that perfect crispy outside/gooey inside that we all love.  None of that in Manhattan, you ask?  None that's legal, but like anything in the city, you can find it.  (Although, it is much harder to hide a coal burning oven than a sous vide machine - which is equally as illegal in the city and is much more widely used).  So . . . Grimaldi's (obviously) is as close to Manhattan as you can get a coal fired pizza from a new more-than-likely-not-owned-by-the-mob restaurant.  I decided to try it out.

First impression?  Not so inviting.  Because of the restaurant's popularity, a maximum number of tables had been added to the interior of the restaurant, so that leaves the hungry guests waiting for a table . . . you guessed it.  Out in the cold.  Huddling in a line, shivering, salivating over the aromas wafting from the glowing pizzeria, yearning to be called into the light and warmth.  Suddenly, I felt very Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Ugh.  Note to self: forget that reference before you order the pepperoni.  The line moved fairly quickly, though, and I was impressed to see that the Grimaldi's folks were equal opportunity pizza-givers.  The take-out folk waited alongside the dining folk and people were seated in an orderly first-come-first-served fashion.  The host, in a puffy jacket with a full apron over it, gave us a nod, demonstrated his Brooklyn accent, "You folks, c'mon in", and jostled us to a small table in the middle of the restaurant.  We were literally surrounded by a bustling blur of waiters squeezing between tables with HUGE pies over their heads, loudly toasting teenagers, and a sea of red and white checked tablecloths.  It was festive, homey, and I instantly felt like family.  (Which is good because we were so close to the table next to us that we were practically dining together.)

We ordered a carafe of red wine (our choices were red, white, and pink) and a large pie with lots of meat.  (Grimaldi's is also well known for not selling slices.  In fact, it seems to be a huge insult to them to even mention the IDEA of a slice of pizza.  In fact, there are paper plates with angrily scribbled "NO SLICES" on pretty much every window.)  Now, oftentimes, a restaurant's success is propagated by its atmosphere, its service, its location, or any combination of the three.  Heck, and combination of the three plus good or mediocre food will make a restaurant a success.  In my opinion, Grimaldi's is successful solely because . . . they make the best pizza.  Ever.  Anywhere.  People, when I say this pie was good, I mean it was GOOD.  (And I happen to consider myself somewhat of a pizza aficionado.)  It arrived at our table steaming and gooey and was placed (as it should have been) on a pedestal in the center of our veritable card table.  The crust was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the bottom was perfectly thin and browned, and the cheese was very obviously fresh real mozzarella.  Heaven.  Who cared that we were drinking out of plastic wine glasses?  Who cared that my feet were just starting to warm up from the long wait in the cold?  Heck, who cared that we were in Brooklyn?  All that existed was the beautiful pie in front of us.  We ate and ate.  And then, we ordered a second.  Yes, we did.  Don't judge.  We waited a long time to get our table, we decided to take full advantage of it.  I received an impressed nod from our neighbors as we put together our next combination of toppings.  Artichokes, capers, ricotta, and basil.  And, folks, it was divine.

Eventually, we waddled our bloated bodies out to the street and walked toward the East River and the twinkling lights of Manhattan.  I smiled at the line that was still formed down the block and caught the eye of a particularly uncomfortable-looking young woman.

"It's worth the wait," I offered.

"Yeah, we came all the way from South Carolina to have this pizza," she drawled.  And then, in a lowered tone, "One of the locals told us it was the best in New York".  She winked and glowed with the pride that she had found the secret place that the locals went for their pizza.

Okay, so, no threat of paparazzi, but if this southerner was excited to have the skinny on the secret pizza joint, I was happy for her.  So, maybe the secret is getting out.  Whatever.  Doesn't matter.  It's still really freaking good pie.


Kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimberly said...

Now I have to have pizza this minute.