Grimaldi’s, regarded by many as the best pizzeria in the city, is moving to a new DUMBO location, but leaving behind the key to its success: its coal oven.
The iconic Old Fulton Street pie shop will serve its final pie at its current location on Nov. 28, then open one day later in 1 Front St., as first reported on BrooklynPaper.com.
But its coal-fired oven — one of only a few dozen left in a city once teeming with them — will remain behind, a huge home field advantage to the space’s incoming, but still unnamed, restaurant.
“I love competition,” Grimaldi’s owner Frank Ciolli told the New York Post, our sister publication. “Bring it on.”
Oh, it’s on all right. Ciolli’s landlord, Dorothy Waxman, couldn’t wait to evict the 21-year-old pizzeria from its current location after Ciolli fell far behind on his rent. Both sides went to court last August, but a judge forced Waxman to accept back payments, staving off the eviction.
But Waxman’s son vowed to boot the beloved joint as soon as its lease expired on Nov. 30.
He may have known that he had an ace up his sleeve: the coal oven.
Such furnaces, which can reach 1,000 degrees and impart an impossible to replicate char, are illegal in the city. But the oven inside Grimaldi’s, like others around town, was grandfathered in.
The oven can’t be relocated, though Grimaldi’s was apparently going to attempt just that.
“We’re going to move it piece-by-piece,” Ciolli’s daughter Gina Peluso told The Brooklyn Paper before being informed that the new location — a former bank turned bar and lounge — could not have the oven.
Still, Peluso put a positive spin on the move — and took a little dig at her old landlord.
“We’re moving into a bigger, nicer, and cleaner facility,” she said. “It will be nice to have a little more room.”
However cramped, the storefront under the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city’s top-rated pizzerias, attracting celebrity visits — including First Lady Michelle Obama, TV crews, and a daily line of hungry tourists.
Inside the tiny brick building, old photographs of the Rat Pack cover the walls, a mix of Sinatra and ’80s music plays on the radio and people are crammed together at tables covered in old checkered table cloths.
“Pizza places have to be a little grungy,” said Tim Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat restaurant survey. “If it was a bright new clean place that would be unlike my favorite pizza places. But it’s hard to judge in advance what the new Grimaldi’s will be.”
Patsy Grimaldi, who learned how to make the tantalizing pies under his pizzaioli uncle, opened the restaurant in 1990. Eight years later, he sold his shop and the name to Ciolli, whose family now also operates offshoots in Manhattan, Queens, Hoboken and Las Vegas.
Grimaldi became a pizza king himself after working at his uncle’s East Harlem joint, Patsy’s Pizzeria, which opened in the 1930s as one of the city’s earliest parlors.
And if you were wondering why the restaurant swoons over Sinatra, Grimaldi delivered sausage pies to Ol’ Blue Eyes — who hailed Patsy’s as a top pie maker.
The original Patsy died in the 1970s, but his widow sold the parlor to longtime employees, forcing Grimaldi to open the parlor under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Years later, Grimaldi said he regretted selling his pizzeria to Ciolli and emerged from retirement in 2006 to launch a Patsy’s stand in Floyd Bennett Field.
He may emerge again.
Reach Kate Briquelet at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.