Quick question, I was thinking of finally hitting Patsy's this weekend and was wondering if it's worth the trip to the original up in Harlem? I thought all the Patsy's were owned by the same people but I noticed the original isn't listed on their website. So really who else can I turn to with such a pizza conundrum?
Dear Bret, Ah. You are asking two quick questions here, actually. Both of which I'm happy to answer.
The Patsy's Pedigree
The easiest first, "easiest" being a relative term. For this answer, regarding Patsy's pedigree, I'll draw on things I've gleaned over the years and this post on Slice, which includes a "New York Pizza Family Tree" from the New York Times..
It's my understanding that the one in East Harlem, the original one, as you note, has nothing to do with the chain Patsy's besides the name. As longtime Slice readers and pizzaheads may already know, Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri founded the East Harlem coal-fired joint in 1933, after having learned the ropes at Lombardi's. As I've heard, when Patsy died, he left the place to his widow, who in turn sold it to a group of longtime employees. In the 1990s, they in turn licensed the name to Mirene Angelis and Nick Tsoulos (sister and brother-in-law of Nick Angelis and John Angelis of Nick's fame). Confused yet?
Anyway, I believe that Mirene Angelis and Nick Tsoulos own the name but have an arrangement with the original that allows the original to continue to operate under that name. And that's why it doesn't appear on the chain Patsy's website.
Muddying the waters even more is Patsy Grimaldi, onetime owner of Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge. Grimaldi is a nephew of Patsy Lancieri, and his story is that he learned the trade while working for his uncle up in East Harlem. He opened his own coal-fired place in Brooklyn, naming it Patsy's.
But that didn't sit well with the new owners of the Patsy's name, and they sued Grimaldi, who was forced to change the name to what it is today. Anyway, Grimaldi sold the Brooklyn Grimaldi's to Frank Ciolli in 2001 while continuing to operate a Grimaldi's in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a business partner, Sean McHugh.
Want more? 'Cause that's before even getting to this website, which relates that Grimaldi's nephew, Bill Massa, opened Massa's in Huntington, New York, and that Ciolli's sons, Joey and Russell, opened Grimaldi's branches in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Garden City, New York, respectively.
Is It Worth It?
And now onto your second question, which will have a shorter answer but one that is more difficult to arrive at.
Yes. And no.
In terms of history and experience, Patsy's East Harlem is totally worth visiting. It's one of the few coal-oven pizzerias operating in the city, and it has a certain Godfather or Goodfellas charm to it, even with the slight renovations it's gotten in the past few years.
And when this place is on, it's on. The best pizza I've ever had has come from Patsy's East Harlem.
Unfortunately, the last several times I've been, Patsy's has been far from "on" and has instead offered an oversauced, overcheesed, soupy mess of a pie. Pizza with such a thin crust needs balance, and the crust, the last three or four times I've been there, hasn't been able to stand up to the onslaught of elements.
Still, I keep going back--for that one time that the place is "on."
I'm hedging here, but I'll tell you that it's only worth it if you find yourself in the area. I wouldn't make a special trip from Brooklyn for it.
There. I said it.
Hasta la pizza, Adam
Address: 2287 First Avenue, New York NY (b/n 117th and 118th; map)