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6. Grimaldi's Pizzeria

Classification: Traditional

Location: Brooklyn, New York

While in New York a few years ago, I made an effort to make a daily pizza stop, and to keep it as unstudied and organic as possible. It was very much by design that I attempted to patronize places spontaneously rather than a fully vetted TripAdvisor research project, but I made a minor exception when riding the subway to Brooklyn because I needed to know approximately where to disembark and have a solid number of dining options within walking distance for a noontime lunch. Of course, almost anywhere within the five boroughs has a pizzeria just around the corner, but I was still trying to ensure marginal productivity and safety, since I was attending a conference starting that evening and didn't feel like walking all over the city or getting beat up in a sketchy neighborhood, not even for a good slice of pizza. As it turns out, I was partially successful in achieving those objectives.

I rode the A-line from my hotel down to the second stop in Brooklyn and once I re-emerged above ground, I completely lost all bearings. I strolled around for 15-20 minutes before regaining my sense of direction and by late morning, I had a handful of places in my line of vision, but found myself particularly drawn to the crowds lining up outside two side-by-side restaurants (shown in the photo above.) My interest piqued at my new-found wealth of possibilities, I wandered over just as a tour bus pulled up and began unloading passengers at one of the places, Juliana's. So, the choice was made for me: on this day, I would dine next-door at a place called Grimaldi's. It was only much later, after some online research that I learned of the blood-feud between these two arch-enemies, and that I had unknowingly taken sides in a long-standing squabble between neighbors. But the origins of these loggerheads are less important to me than the pizza, as Grimaldi's emphatically announced to me during my visit that it was extremely important pizza.

It's not sold by the slice, so I ordered the smallest size available, a 12" wedge-cut beauty. Baked in a 1200-degree coal-fired oven, it came out with a soft crust highlighted by a few chars (the way I like it) and a slightly sweet taste to it—almost a mild hint of Lucky Charms. It was magically delicious. The sauce, cheese and pepperoni were equally without flaw. And the second-floor dining room the overlooked the well-worn streets wreaked of quintessential Brooklyn. The overall product and presentation were world-class, and my only heartbreak was being forced into leaving behind a slice or two. A long journey lied ahead of me, and the extra bulk and resistance caused by hauling a couple of these slices would have proved to be far too taxing.

I had decided earlier in the day to leisurely stroll back across the famed Brooklyn Bridge to my Central Park hotel, and found myself wandering through a gauntlet of lower Manhattan neighborhoods brimming with a typical Big Apple blend of grime, charm, and character. After a couple hours I finally approached midtown, but a sign directing pedestrians caught my eye—the High Line, an urban park built along a disused stretch of elevated train tracks running through Chelsea, and one of several points of interest on my mental to-do list. I hadn't originally planned it for the day, but there I was, so there I went. My location forced me into back-tracking south for several blocks to walk the entire 1.5 mile elevated park, and after an hour or two, I plunged back down to street level to continue my stroll back to the hotel, but it offered such a unique vantage point of Manhattan that I was glad I completed the full walk. The day-long journey ended up lasting for over eleven miles and took me five hours, so it was a little tough on the feet, but it was worthwhile in every possible sense. I made it to the conference opening on time, sampled the New York street scene, and tasted some elite-level pizza. And I didn't even get beat up.

I've since learned that Grimaldi's has spread its franchising tentacles across a dozen states, which is a little disappointing. I've touched on it before, but it's really difficult to re-create the same environment and nuance that give a pizza its true essence when exporting your trademark and recipes to other regions. Still, I was happy to join the Groundouts for a follow-up visit at the Grimaldi's Phoenix location during GOCon 19, and although it wasn't quite same as the flagship location, it was very good. But make no mistake, it was franchising and the suddenly competing interests that fueled this brouhaha. Shortly after the Grimaldi family sold the business to outsider interests, disagreements arose, unpleasantries were exchanged, and the family decided to escalate the affair to nuclear levels by re-entering the market under a different name, eventually setting up shop right next door. So at this point, I won't even pretend to know what constitutes the "original" pizza recipe, and I guess I don't care too much, except that now I feel somewhat obligated to give Juliana's a shot next time I'm in the big city. Another classic New York pizza? Yes, please. (10 of 10 stars)

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