If I was on Family Feud and the question was “Name A Place with A Bouncer,” I imagine “pizza place” would not be among the top 5 answers on the board. I’d like to think I’d do well with “strip club” or “dive bar”.
But if any of those 100 people surveyed had ever waited in that roped off line at Grimaldi’s, then “pizza place” wouldn’t be such a crazy guess. I don’t know if I would call Crazy Chris (as he introduced himself to us later) a bouncer per se because I don’t think he necessarily ID’s anybody or stops people from coming in if they’re wearing sneakers. But he had that gruff attitude that made you wonder if he’d eventually pick you to sit at a table and enjoy their famous pizza.
We had anticipated the line at this popular destination in DUMBO literally under the Brooklyn Bridge and so weren’t too fussy to wait about 35 minutes for a table. But it was intimidating every time Crazy Chris would throw open that door, point at a few unsuspecting lunchers and pull them inside. I knew he wasn’t all brute because once in a while he would send a wink to one of the pretty girls in the queue. Very charming.
Once we were chosen and beckoned inside, the vibe changed. It was warm and welcoming and people seemed happy. A very different atmosphere from what you’d expect at a club or bar. We were shown a table that was practically a communal table. The girls sitting next to us, already deep into their pepperoni pie, barely noticed that we even sat down. I guess we weren’t as charming (or intimidating) as Crazy Chris.
Our waiter arrived rather quickly and we placed a simple order for a small pie with sausage and mushrooms. This was the first of two pizza excursions for me today, so I had to be careful and eat light. Plus, the small 16-inch pie was actually big enough for three, in my opinion. At $12 for all that pizza, it seemed to be the best deal I’ve discovered so far.
My first observation was that it was a bit soggy. All the sauce fell to the middle, as it tends to do with coal oven pies. And the pizza was far from a piece of artwork. This is old school pizza, established before we cared about pretty food. If there is any food pornography going on here, it’s dirty, smutty, disorganized. But that’s how some people like it – their food and their porn.
Putting the visuals aside, I went in for my first bite. It was definitely flavorful. I wasn’t crazy about the sausage (I even found a piece of cartilage or something), but the cheese and the tomato sauce were well proportioned and delicious. The basil was not overwhelming, but you could taste the herb. The dough was soft and fluffy, if lacking the intense char that I anticipate from coal oven pizza.
The pizza was definitely worthwhile. It’s not exactly what I’ve come to expect on my journey – with all my authentic Neapolitan tastings. But I realized this is what many people want from traditional New York pizza, especially visitors from elsewhere in the states. They want fresh, cheesy inexpensive pizza that tastes good. And that’s what this is. I feel like my parents would much prefer this to the tomato-y gourmet pies at Lombardi’s.
Grimaldi’s is constantly regarded as one of the best. It’s old-fashioned and does the job. I think most visitors to New York looking for flavorful, well-made pizza would be more than happy to wait in line and experience the pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge. Just make sure you don’t cross Crazy Chris – otherwise you might be turned away hungry.
Is Grimaldi’s the best pizza in New York? Survey says… possibly. It’s definitely a local favorite and tourist destination. This is what people come to expect from NY pizza and I have to admit it’s pretty delicious. I give it an8 out of 10.