The pontiff of pizza is back where he belongs — and he’s got the oven to prove it!
Patsy Grimaldi, the original pizzaiolo behind Grimaldi’s underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, is coming out of retirement to resurrect his old parlor — with its original coal-fired oven — in the Old Fulton Street space being vacated by current owner Frank Ciolli.
The Ciolli-owned Grimaldi’s will move next door at the end of the month after a dispute with landlord Mark Waxman. The oven is what coaxed the 80-year-old Grimaldi out of retirement.
“We’re thrilled — we’re tired of being retired,” said Carol Grimaldi, who speaks for her press-shy husband of 40 years. “Patsy is so looking forward to having the pizza in his coal oven. He’s missed that a lot.”
The Grimaldis plan to renovate the shop and rename it Juliana’s after Patsy’s late mother. The restaurant will open in March, setting up a clash of titans not seen in the pizza business since Anthony Pero split off from Lombardi’s and opened Totonno’s.
That said, Grimaldi would not comment on her husband’s all-too-familiar competition.
“I don’t want to say anything bad or good,” she said. “[Grimaldi’s] was our baby, and sometimes you’re not crazy about who she marries. You liked them at the beginning, but…”
Pie lovers can expect a fresh updated menu, with a house specialty of handmade dough and Grimaldi’s homemade mozzarella. The ambiance will also get an upgrade — going from tourist trap to local haunt.
“We want something a little more subdued,” Grimaldi said. “There won’t be a lot of Frank Sinatra, but there will definitely be a Sinatra corner.”
Grimaldi, who learned how to make the tantalizing pies under his 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.
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 short-lived Patsy’s stand in Floyd Bennett Field.
“We’re still going to have the fantastic pizza my husband has always made,” Grimaldi said. “We might tweak the recipe, but not enough for anyone to distinguish — except that it will be good!”
The famous coal oven is only one of about two dozen left in the city. Such 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. Ciolli is applying for a permit for a new coal oven at his new location at 1 Front St., but it isn’t easy to get one.
Still, the jilted shop owner said that he wasn’t worried about the mystery tenant taking his place.
“I love competition,” Ciolli told the New York Post, our sister publication. “Bring it on.”
Reach Kate Briquelet at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.