From this Sunday's New York Times:
November 28, 2004
THE CITY LIFE
Brooklyn Pizza to Go
By FRANCIS X. CLINES
Finding Patsy Grimaldi's name on a pizzeria out in Phoenix, amid all that sun and desert, is weird. Anyone who knows Patsy can only picture his coal-fired pizza oven glowing in the long shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge's eastern arch, with the patient lines of hungry customers outside and a firm no-delivery policy inside (except in the old days when Frank Sinatra ordered out from the Waldorf-Astoria or sent a plane from Los Angeles for two score of Patsy's pies). "I'm retired now," explains Patsy. "But franchised, kind of."
It's not like he's Brooklyn's answer to Colonel Sanders. So far there are just a precious few other Grimaldis out there and Patsy says he insists on personally training this new generation to make pies the way his late uncle, Patsy Lancieri, taught him 60 years ago in Harlem - with the special dough recipe and only fresh ingredients from Italy, of course, but always in an oven built the old way from brick and fired the old way by coal, not by gas as most modern pizzeria ovens are.
"Fifty years ago, 100 years ago, that's all they had in the city was coal ovens," Patsy says, proud to be handing on his retro-coal technique to Phoenix. By his account, the coal-brick approach produces far more heat (800 degrees plus) than gas, and thereby fierce-to-subtle hot spots of artistry to make the pie bubble, crisp and lightly char. "Far better flavor," Patsy assures, particularly for those who had their first taste of pizza after World War II, when soldiers came home with tales of discovering it in Italy. Pizza has since become a ubiquitous industry in America with flavors running from rare ambrosia to mall-rat flannel. It inevitably created a connoisseur craving for the real deal, the sort of pie that perennially has Grimaldi's rated among New York's best. "Everybody's advertising 'brick-oven,' but not with the coal," Patsy cautions. "These guys know nothing about pizza."
Like thoroughbred racing bloodlines, pizza can be traced in this country to a pioneer master, Gennaro Lombardi, who opened the first shop offering the exotic, postpeasant bakery product a century ago in Manhattan's Little Italy. He brought the recipe from Naples, where pizza was cooked in wood-fired ovens, and adapted it here to coal ovens, one of which still powers up worthy pies at an authentic version of Lombardi's on Spring Street.
Patsy Grimaldi honors this history down through Uncle Patsy as he finally hands their arts on to the future. First he put an outpost in Hoboken with a coal-brick oven built and run now by a contractor friend who preferred constructing pizzas. And now it's on to Phoenix, and only because the owner there needed the secrets of the Brooklyn pie maker who knows from coal-brick ovens. "So," says Patsy, "you could say I'm now a - what is it called? - a consultant. A pizza consultant."