Friday, September 17, 2010

Ah Peez

Pizza is probably in my top three all time favorite foods. I can eat it any time, night or day, but it has to be good pizza. I'm not a pizza snob; I've enjoyed it at some of the most renown pizza joints in New York as well as the unheralded little storefront places that sell it by the slice. It is the ultimate comfort food for me, recalling the days when we sat in Sportsman's Cafe on Fulton street, first with my family, and later with my friends, enjoying their unique square, thin pizza prepared lovingly by my cousin, Pete Caruso. Sportsman's was an unassuming neighborhood bar that just happened to make incredible pizza.

Over the years I have found some great pizza places to indulge my passion. One is John's Pizzeria in Manhattan. They have several places, but the best is on on West 44th Street in an old converted church. The place is enormous, beautifully constructed, and a great stop for a pre-theater bite. Other great pizza places in New York include Lombardi's on Spring Street in Little Italy, Patsy's in East Harlem, DiFara's on Avenue J in Brooklyn, Totonno's in Coney Island, and maybe the best of them all, Grimaldi's at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn.

Last night, to celebrate my nephew's birthday, we went to Grimaldi's . Grimaldi's is a dump. They haven't put ten cents into the place for fifty years. You stand in long lines to get in. They sell no slices, only whole pizzas, and they accept just one form of None of the furniture matches. The peeling paint on the walls is covered with signed pictures of celebrities who have eaten there. There is only one, grimy, unisex bathroom. Parking is nearly impossible. Why would anyone go to such a place you ask? The pizza my friends, the pizza. Their pies are to die for, especially the white pie with no tomato sauce.

People come to Grimaldi's from all over the world because of the pizza, and nobody leaves disappointed. A couple of years ago some friends of my daughter Laura were in town visiting from Oregon. Carolyn and Mike wanted to visit an authentic New York pizzeria, so naturally we took them to Grimaldi's. After waiting in line we were seated at a crowded table by the owner, who looks like a benevolent Mafiosi. When it came time to order, Carolyn asked about getting some pineapple and ham on her pizza. Silence fell over the room. The waiter looked embarrassed and the owner strolled over with danger in his eyes.

We hurriedly explained to the owner that Carolyn and Mike were from Oregon and that's how they serve pizza there. From the look on his face, I might as well have said they put dog turds and fish eyes on their pie. I thought I heard him silently uncock the hammer of his Smith and Wesson as he nodded in understanding. What could anybody from Oregon know about pizza. Don Pepperoni immediately summoned his oily Italian charm and graciously explained to the bewildered couple that Grimaldi's wouldn't dream of putting pineapple on a pizza, and suggested some authentic alternatives instead.

I'm happy to say that Carolyn and Mike, a really nice couple, enjoyed the pizza immensely, not knowing how close they came to starting a shooting war. Italians are very touchy about their food. I'd bet my next Social Security check that somewhere in Southern Italy, someone has been murdered for putting too much oregano in the sauce.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

My dad grew up making pizza in Brooklyn. My grandmother owned a pizzeria in the '30's and if it wasn't for the mafia, it might still be around today. Dad had a very discerning taste bud for pizza, there were few that he approved. His main concern was the crust, the flavor that the bread gave it, then the sauce. He was very picky, indeed.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Anyone who isn't picky about their pizza doesn't deserve to eat it.