Grimaldi's: Bigger ... and Better?
I had low expectations in visiting Grimaldi's new location at 1 Front Street, just up the street from the original spot at 19 Old Fulton. The place has been in the news as of late more for tax and landlord drama than for its product. And, I gotta say, it's often served me some underdone, soggy pies. I figured that in moving to a new space, Grimaldi's would give me more of the same—minus the quirky, cramped Brooklyn charm of the original.
But ... but ... you know where this is going, right? The new location, in what was once Brooklyn's first safety deposit bank, seems to have put a new spring in Grimaldi's step. And the pizzas I had there this week were better than any time in recent memory.
I've always thought Grimaldi's pizza had great quality toppings but was undone by that lackluster, underbaked crust. The place has long been a magnet for tourists. In and out, in and out, all day long. You got the feeling they pulled pies from the fire as quick as possible, leaving them a little doughy.
But the pies we sampled recently were cooked through, crisp on the bottom, and were still plenty foldable and flexible.
The sauce on our regular pie with sausage was good enough. Like most New York–Neapolitan pizza, it's a San Marzano or San Marzano–style canned tomato that's simply crushed and minimally seasoned before going on the pie and in the oven. It doesn't particularly make you sit up and take notice, but it wasn't bland, nor oversweetened or aggressively herbed.
The mozzarella is great. Creamy, a little salty, stringy when hot from the oven. There's enough here to satisfy, not so much as to overwhelm; an even match between sauce and cheese.
I wish the sausage were a bit better, though. It could have stood more flavor. More fennel, more salt. More juiciness. The perfectly cupped, grease-cradling pepperonis on the neighboring table's pie had me wishing I could pull my Pizza Inspector General card and demand a taste. Next time.
I'm usually not a white pie guy, but the one here is good. A white pie, of course, has no sauce. At Grimaldi's its simply extra mozzarella and a goldilock of garlic—not too much, not too little. The flavor of the crust was more apparent. It's not a deeply flavored crust, but what it does have going for it is a decent amount of salt, which helps motivate you to finish the "pizza bones."
Look, this crust is not going to wow the pizza nerd crowd. It's not airy, or supple, or standing perfectly in the intersection of Crisp and Chewy Streets. But it does the job if what you're looking for is a good, shareable pizza with some friends. And that's pretty much Grimaldi's sweet spot, especially poised as it is under the Brooklyn Bridge, near the new park, up the street from the ferry landing.
The upskirts above show the difference between the regular pie (left) and the white pie. They're still a little inconsistent even within the same order, but even the blonder red pie was cooked all the way through—and, anyway, the one on the right is getting just a little too charred for my taste.
As my tablemate John pointed out, they did a nice job of putting just a tiny bit of browning on the cheese, pulling it out of the oven just before it could burn. I like these chewy little bits of browned cheese. (Not everyone does, though.)
The new space is great. I hate change. I always like to grumble about places losing character when they move or renovate or what not. So I wanted to grouse about the new building. But I can't. It's a neat set up....
When you walk in the door, the bar is to your left. This is new, as the old Grimaldi's was so chockfull there was no space to think, let alone nurse a drink.
Look up, and you notice there are people looking down at you. It's a bilevel restaurant, with a large dining room up a set of stairs in the back.
Here's the reverse view, and you can see the guys building pizzas at the make station. It would be fun to sit upstairs and watch that.
The upstairs room also has its own bar (not shown) and about the same amount of seating as downstairs.
Like the old space, there's a bit of "pizza theater" going on. The pizzamakers are in full view of about half the patrons.
I kind of love that they have a TV to watch. To me, that is very old-school Brooklyn.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still cash only. Still NO SLICES.