Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This Reporter Smells Something Fishy and it's Not Just the Anchovies.

I know that my normal writing is less hard hitting ground breaking journalism and more wry commentary on tragedies that befall me spiced up with food porn but today that changes. Today, right here, I will be breaking one of the biggest New York food related stories (and possibly the single biggest New York food story to not involve vermin). You’ll probably want to set your Mai Tai down and get out a pipe and smoking jacket so you at least look the part of a true news reader rather than a slobby blog reader.

Three years living in New York City have made me extremely judgmental of slow walkers. I have also developed the hilarious habit of forgetting that public transportation is a myth in all other cities and that it is totally appropriate to drive across the street because seriously no one outside of New York even knows how to walk. But I have not yet become a pizza snob so when in Las Vegas last Saturday my family invited me out for pizza I happily agreed. After all I love anything smothered in cheese and Dad was paying. Here’s a free cooking tip: the best way to improve a dish is to make it free.

When mom told me that we were going to a place called “Grimaldi’s” a little bell went off in my head., “… that sounds familiar.” In the car on the way to dinner I spent at least 10 minutes on thoughts like, “Is that the name of a baseball player?” “Did I ever date a boy named Grimaldi?” “Does having this mental conversation at 29 years old constitute early onset Alzheimer’s?” until I shouted out, “Hey! The famous pizza place near work is named Grimaldi’s! Mom, we went there.” And then my mom started in on, “Oh, I bet this is the same place, it’s probably a chain.” But OF COURSE she is wrong because I am an incredibly cool foodie and I do not eat at chains. And seriously the supposed best pizza place in New York is not a chain. GEEEEEEEEEEZ MOM.

Um. Actually. Fuck. I hate it when my mom is right.

The Grimaldi’s of the west (with locations in Vegas, Dallas and all over Arizona but notably, NOT in New York) is New York themed. The walls covered with subway signs and pictures of the city with a heavy and disturbing focus on the Brooklyn Bridge. The waitress flair involved a lot of (relatively big) apples. It screamed “chain!” I was certain (despite my mother’s pleas to the contrary) that this overly clean, match-y, boring restaurant was of no relation to the tightly packed, demure pizza joint of Dumbo fame. But then I read the “history” section of their menu which starts with “The pizza that made the Brooklyn Bridge famous.” Curious…

Patsy Grimaldi learned the trade from his Uncle Patsy Lancieri, who trained with the man credited with opening the first pizzeria in America in 1905. Lancieri opened Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem in 1931, where Grimaldi started learning the art of coal brick oven pizza at the tender age of 10.

And curiouser.

The menu at Grimaldi’s:The New Dough (see here) is also strangely similar to the NYC joint with the exception that it is sponsored by no less than 4 brand name products (China Mist Tea, Lavazza Coffee, Carmelina Brands (exclusive Grimaldi’s supplier of tomatoes) and Hormel Foods (not exactly sure what they’re bringing to the party since Spam does not appear to be on the menu…)). You order plain pizzas and pay extra for toppings, the toppings options are pretty much the same though I think the west coast might have more variety (Does Dumbo’s Grimaldi’s offer anchovies or ham?). West Coast Gs also offers an Oreo cheesecake which I cannot imagine would be sanctioned in NYC.

The pizza itself was good – I suspect surprisingly good for a pizza served in Las Vegas. I also suspect that someone more New York-y than myself could tell you about 8000 things that were wrong with it but rather than focus on the negative I decided to continue my main December focus of eating a lot of food. I had 4 slices. The crust was thin, the layer of cheese not too thick, the sun dried tomatoes flavorful, I really can’t complain.

It was fast becoming clear that someone in the Grimaldi’s family was raking in some sweet licensing cash. And part of me thinks, “good for you guys!” But the more cynical part who sometimes also considers bands less cool if they, you know, sell any records is certain this is a sign that Grimaldi’s has sold out and will soon start sucking. I think the natural flow in situations like this is, “good restaurant -> open chain -> start serving frozen tater tots -> vermin infestation -> closure” So you know, consider this a warning.

The biggest difference (outside of d├ęcor) between Grimaldi’s NYC and Grimaldi’s:The Cash Cow is the friendliness of the wait staff. For those of you who have never been to Grimaldi’s NYC might I just say that customer service has been sacrificed in favor of creating a stereotypical New York experience in the form of having waiters yell at you. It’s a bold choice. In Vegas the have gone with the more traditional “waitress is nice because she works for tips and recognizing that kissing your ass is the fastest path to money.” Another notable difference is that in Dumbo I have never seen a pizza dropped on the floor but in Vegas I saw this happen no less than 3 times in 45 minutes. Leave it to Vegas to work in dinner entertainment.

I just took a gander at the Dumbo Grimaldi’s website and the (much snazzier though still rather crappy) Southwestern Grimaldi’s Pizza Chain website and my suspicions that these entities are related has been confirmed. In fact the NYC Grimaldi’s site links to the knock off site. And Wikipedia also notes the relationship. You may not have cared about this news but you can’t deny that I broke this story. Or at least that I wrote the longest diatribe about it. I’ll watch for my press pass in the mail.

Third Party Resources

Do you know where to find the best New York pizza around? Even if you suddenly find out that the Las Vegas pizza you love is related to your New York pizza place by a chain restaurant, you can still check out the yellow pages for some worthwhile pizza joints.


Lisa said...

What? I mean, I've only eaten there once and I didn't really like it all that much... but I feel violated! I feel abused, used, insulted. Grim... how could you?
The only thing that eases the blow are the chuckles I had reading this post. You're a funny one, Bri

Jenny said...

Wow! That is fascinating! I can't wait to tell all my friends... kind of makes it a hoax. Very interesting!