The pizza war on Old Fulton Street rages on — before the first pie has even been thrown!
On Friday, the city blocked Grimaldi’s from moving to its new location next door after the owner apparently tried to install a coal-fired oven under the cover of darkness.
Frank Ciolli was supposed to relocate his famed pie shop this week after losing his lease and setting the stage for an unexpected comeback by 80-year-old pizza king Patsy Grimaldi, the venerable pizzaiolo who will reclaim the ultra-rare coal oven that he sold to Ciolli in 1998.
Ciolli couldn’t be reached for comment, but Marcello Pervido, who owns the new Grimaldi’s location at 1 Front St. assured pie lovers that the joint would open with a dual gas and coal cooker soon.
“Everything was done legitimately,” Pervido said. “It was just a mistake on the part of the architect in filing the papers — that’s all it was.”
But this “mistake” was not the work of a mere “architect,” but the firm of Robert Scarano, the so-called starchitect of the New Brooklyn, who is best known for his modern designs and for being stripped of his right to certify his own plans after a long history of falsifying documents.
Ciolli claimed that he hired Scarano to apply for a construction permit — but Scarano apparently only asked the city to approve the installation of a “pizza oven”; he never mentioned using coal.
Scarano maintains that Ciolli really was installing a gas oven that simply uses coal for flavor.
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t finished and instead of telling everyone, he blamed my firm so we resigned,” Scarano said. “I wish him good luck. … And hope he makes better pizza there.”
That will be difficult now that Grimaldi has repossessed the coal oven from Grimaldi’s. Such brick ovens, which can hit 1,000 degrees and create that sought-after smoky flavor, are illegal in New York unless they’ve been grandfathered in or building owners get a very rare approval.
Local pizzarazzi say it’s enough to ignite a saucy new battle between Ciolli and his predecessor.
“It’s like a family feud,” said Larry Leonardi, who owns DUMBO’s Front Street Pizza, a normal-oven joint. “The landlord wanted to hurt Grimaldi’s — and bringing back Patsy is how they’re doing it. Good luck to Patsy and good luck to Grimaldi’s!”
The pie-eating world was shaken up last week when The Brooklyn Paper reported that Grimaldi’s was being booted from its 21-year home by Nov. 30 — and losing its beloved coal oven — after landlord Mark Waxman refused to resign his lease.
Days later, in a dramatic twist of fate, Grimaldi announced that he was back, reclaiming his oven and renaming the pizzeria Juliana’s, after his mother.
Grimaldi learned to make tantalizing pies as a teenager at Patsy’s Pizzeria, one of the city’s earliest parlors owned by his uncle Patsy Lancieri in East Harlem. After the original Patsy died in the 1970s, his widow sold the shop to longtime employees, forcing Grimaldi to open a new joint the Brooklyn Bridge.
He launched Grimaldi’s in 1990 and retired eight years later, selling his name to Ciolli, whose family now operates offshoots in Manhattan, Queens, Hoboken and Las Vegas.
He always regretted it.
But after Ciolli fell behind on rent and out of the graces of the landlord, the old pontiff of pizza got a second chance.
Still, Grimaldi and his family refuse to acknowledge Ciolli as competition, saying there’s enough pie to go ’round.
“I don’t want to say anything bad or good,” said Carol Grimaldi, who speaks for her press-shy husband of 40 years. “[Grimaldi’s] was our baby, and sometimes you’re not crazy about who she marries.”
Ciolli told the Post that he had “no animosity” toward the Grimaldi family.
“He gave me a wonderful opportunity selling me the place in 1998, and I wish him the best,” he said.
Reach Kate Briquelet at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.