It’s drizzling as we step out of the subway station, on our way to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, widely touted (and hotly disputed) as offering New York’s best pizza.
"Oh, drat!" exclaims Marianne. "Wouldn’t you know it?" She’s the only one sensibly clad in a rainproof jacket, but Jack, Greg, and I stoutly maintain that "a little rain never hurt anyone", and so onward we march the six blocks or so toward Grimaldi’s.
Our ardor is dampened (literally) when we round the corner next to Grimaldi’s and see the line to get in the place. It’s long, and it isn’t moving. Grimaldi’s reputation as being the best pizza parlor in New York has certainly brought out the pizza fans, and they’re a dedicated lot. That pizza must be something pretty special, I tell myself.
Standing huddled across the street under an increasingly drippy tree, we deliberate. How long will it take to get through the line? How wet will we be by that point? Is this just a passing shower, or is it going to get worse? Rain trickles down the back of my neck, and I begin to shiver.
Finally, we decide to check out the place directly across the street, next to Grimaldi’s. Looking inside the window, though, it’s clear that it isn’t the sort of place four rain-bedraggled patrons would really fit in. Wine glasses sparkle in the candlelight, and an aura of sophistication prevails. Buy, hey, we find that the awning outside this mecca of fine dining is keeping the rain off us. With more conviction than I feel, I declare that the rain seems to be slackening, and we wait.
When the shower subsides to a trickle, we join the line outside Grimaldi’s. It takes us about 45 minutes to reach the door to the inner sanctum, and we pass the time by watching people come to retrieve tantalizing-smelling take-out orders of pizza. The line grows still whenever this happens, and we can practically hear people’s stomachs growling.
At long last, it’s our turn. We’re led to a small booth and cram in, cheek-to-jowl, with the people on either side of us. To our left, a trio of college students is demolishing a pepperoni pie, while to the right, a family from Pittsburgh is waiting for their order.
No one but me in our group seems enthusiastic about anchovies, so I cast my lot with Marianne’s suggestion, which is a white pizza with garlic and plenty of basil, while Jack and Greg order a traditional cheese pizza. Service is brusque, as befits a New York pizzeria (or so I tell myself). We’re speculating how they’ll fit the pizzas on the table when the white pizza arrives and is set on a stand that hovers about a foot above the table. When the second pizza arrives, our plates are practically overshadowed by the two pizza stands, but no matter. No one here is subtracting presentation points.
So, after all the hype, is this the best pizza in New York? I seriously doubt it, though it’s pretty darn good. The key to Grimaldi’s pizza is the excellent cheese and freshly made sauce. Where the pizza is less than stellar – at least on this particular occasion – is the crust. I like thin-crust pizzas, but this crust is also a little tough, rather than flaky.
Of course, I readily admit I’m biased. No pizza will ever compare to the distant memory of a thin-crust pizza baked right before me in a traditional wood-fired oven in a small town in Umbria, lo some 25 years ago. That pizza must (and will) remain my Holy Grail of pizzas, for it’s gone beyond Pizzadom. It has become a symbol of all that was good back when I was young.
Those of you unencumbered by such emotional baggage might very well think Grimaldi’s makes the best pizza in New York. Go right ahead.
Our stomachs full and our clothes almost dry again, we step out into the cool night air. Marianne, still acting in her capacity as gracious tour guide, leads us on to our next culinary tasting ground: The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Here again, grandiose claims are made about this being the best ice cream, etc., etc. We get in line and make our way slowly up to the counter. There are about eight flavors on the chalkboard menu, but we find out that in fact they’re out of all but two flavors: strawberry and vanilla. Actually, they’re running out of strawberry, too, but manage to scrape together four servings’ worth for our benefit.
Personally, I’m a soft-serve fan, but this ice cream has us all nodding happily and not saying much of anything until the last bite is finished. As ice cream goes, this has a better shot at being "the best" than the pizza that preceded it.
To cap off this quintessentially New York experience, we then make our way to the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Grimaldi’s and the ice cream place sit practically underneath the bridge, so this is a matter of just going a few blocks inland to access the stairs leading up to the pedestrian walkway.
Like the free ride on the Staten Island ferry, this is one of New York’s great freebies. On my last visit to New York, I’d stood in line and sweltered for several hours waiting to go to the top of the Empire State Building, fool that I was. My advice is instead to head for the Brooklyn Bridge, which presents the city not from on high but laid before you like a glittering diamond necklace. Then, too, there is the romance of the glistening dark river below, for New York is defined not just by its buildings but also by its waterways. Add to that the rush of traffic just beneath you (for pedestrians walk above rather than alongside the roadway), and you’ve got one unforgettable New York experience.