Being able to do the mental gymnastics intrinsic to understanding the history behind one of New York City — er, Brooklyn’s most storied pizzerias isn’t required for you to enjoy a slice of its famous pizza, but we have a few minutes while you wait in line anyway, so here it goes.
Gennaro Lombardi opened what’s generally regarded as America’s first pizzeria. He supposedly trained Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri who opened the first Patsy’s in East Harlem. His nephew Patsy Grimaldi opened his own place, also called Patsy’s in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood in 1990 (he’s said to have also learned his craft from Jerry Pero, son of Anthony Totonno Pero, who founded Totonno’s —that’s another story), but was forced to change the name of it to Grimaldi’s after his uncle died and his aunt sold the Patsy’s name to a corporation. Three years later, Patsy sold the Grimaldi’s at 19 Old Fulton St. to Frank Ciolli, whose two children expanded the Grimaldi’s brand to nearly 40 restaurants in the Tri-State Area and Midwest. But Ciolli lost the lease to the original space and had to move into a larger former bank building right next door on 1 Front St. That’s when Patsy came out of retirement and swooped into the original Grimaldi’s space to open Juliana’s.
Here’s what it comes down to: Patsy Grimaldi, whose pizza lineage goes back to family members being trained by Gennaro Lombardi, is making pies at a restaurant called Juliana’s in the original Grimaldi’s space, and Grimaldi’s is right next door.
With that all said, you’re just about at the front of the line to get inside (remember: no credit cards, no reservations, no slices, and no delivery!). So sit down and order something simple: a margherita pie made in a coal-fired oven that heats up to about 1,200 degrees and requires about 100 pounds of coal a day. It’s crispy, it’s smoky, it’s tangy, cheesy, and delicious, and when you’re done, you can go next door to Juliana’s, which just missed making this year’s list of 101 best pizzas in America. When you check it out, weigh in on whether Patsy was robbed.