If Ray’s is the McDonald’s of New York pizza, then Patsy’s is the Starbucks. They seem just as abundant but they’re a lot hipper and well-regarded. Okay, maybe there’s only seven locations, but it seems like I pass one more often than I don’t.They’ve become neighborhood staples that are known for their pasta and salads just as much as their coal-oven pizza. They are also usually over-run with families and children – loud children!

The original Patsy’s is still standing in East Harlem and seems sort of removed from the other incarnations.Besides the food, the name, and the similar font, it’s a completely different restaurant.

First off, the menu is a bit different.I often stop into one of the other locations to pick up an arugula salad, which was not to be found on this menu. This is also the only location that sells slices to go.There are two rooms: the take out area and the slightly more refined dining room.I was here with some friends to try the original coal oven pizza.So we got the white table cloth and everything.

The prices were a bit expensive.An original pie was $12 (fine!), but each additional topping was $3.Three bones!?!They’re charging three bucks just for fresh basil.Seriously, they better drown that thing in basil for me to get my money’s worth.

So we ordered one original pie and, to a second one, we added fresh mozzarella and basil (even though we got completely price raped).The waiter informed us that this is called a Margherita.Did we look like we just emerged from our caves?

Cynicism aside, the service was surprisingly friendly and helpful.The pizza took a little longer than I expected (especially considering coal oven pizzas should cook for no longer than two minutes). And when the two pies were brought to the table, I got a little overwhelmed.They were 18 inches of pure bread and cheese.How were we supposed to finish these monsters?

 

Patsy’s has a reputation for their incredibly thin crust pizza.The pizzas in front of us bore a closer resemblance to Kate Winslet than Calista Flockhart.The dough was quite bready and a bit floury (not to be confused with flowery). And the slice fell limp before I was able to get it into my mouth – in other words, a bit soggy and not firm at all.

The margherita was terribly disappointing.It was bland and the ingredients didn’t seem all that fresh.The basil tasted more like a black tea leaf than the slightly sweet herb I expect in Italian cuisine.And the tomato sauce had no zing and no depth of flavor.

The original pie looked like it could have come from any corner pizza shop.The cheese was slightly yellow looking and the tomato sauce was sort of pasted to the crust.The flavor here fared better than the margherita.But it was what you’d expect from this ordinary looking pie and was really nothing special.

From what I’ve read, Patsy’s has taken a decline in the last few years.I wish I had tasted it in its heyday, but what I sampled this night was pretty forgettable (except for that slightly greasy sensation lingering in my stomach).Maybe the focus has shifted to all their other locations (I do remember having a nice pie at the 60th Street location many years ago), but this original wasn’t too original.Just as Starbucks did recently, maybe Patsy’s needs to re-think their ever expanding empire and focus more on the pizza itself.

Is Patsy’s the best pizza in the city? Maybe at one time, but the schlep to Spanish Harlem is only worthwhile if you’re visiting El Museo del Barrio or other sites. I give Patsy’s original location a disappointing 6 out of 10.

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Category: Pizza

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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