Ever since I was a little boy, pizza has always had a special place in my heart. From pizza day in the school cafeteria to pizza parties at sleep away camp, there was nothing more exciting than when that cardboard box was opened to reveal a round pie with eight delicious slices waiting to be devoured.
Early on I learned that everybody eats their pizza differently. There are those who fold their slices in half, those who eat their slices with two hands, and those who (dare I say) like to cut their pizza with a fork and knife. Some people soak up the olive oil with a napkin, while others don't mind a greasy slice. Some people like the crust, while others live for that first bite. Some people decorate their slices with spices, while others like it plain.
Nearly any ingredient can be put on pizza. From pepperoni and anchovies to barbecue chicken and pineapple, every pizza pie is like a unique work of art. Every pie is a different shape and size. There are thin crust pies, deep dish pies, and everything in between. There are pies with different cheeses and tomato sauce, or even pies with a completely different base altogether.
Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC there weren't so many great options for pizza. Ordering in from Domino's and Pizza Hut was a weekly occurrence. But when I arrived in New York in 2002, I was thrust into an entirely new pizza universe.
Living at an NYU dorm by Washington Square Park, I developed a quick allegiance with my local pizzerias. I could barely walk a block without passing by a shop -- many of them claiming to serve up the best slice in the city. There was Joe's on the corner of Bleecker Street and Carmine Street (which closed it's doors in 2004) where tipsy students, homeless people, and even celebrities made their way to the counter through the wee hours of the morning. I remember eating a slice of pizza with Dave Chappelle one evening after he'd finished up a set at the nearby Comedy Cellar. Joe's served up a good slice, but it was about more than the food. Going there was an adventure. It was where old friends would run into each other and new friends were made. You couldn't help but notice the non-stop hustle and bustle around you -- but at the same time there was sense satisfaction once you took your first bite of their delicious slices.
Within a five minute walk from my dorm, there were dozens of pizza places and I intended to try them all. I fell in love with many including Pizza Booth on Bleecker Street and The Pizzeria on MacDougal Street. I remember the night I ran into Adam Sandler at Ben's Pizza on the corner of MacDougal and 3rd Street and the first time I went to Pasty's Pizzeria on University Place -- the final meal I ate in 2002.
Patsy's opened my eyes to a whole other world of pizza -- the upscale pie. I had always thought that a New York slice was served on a paper plate -- intended for a quick late night bite on your way between watering holes. But I soon came to learn that many of city's best pizza places didn't serve slices and that eating their pizza involved a great deal of patience while your custom pie was prepared.
The fall of 2003 took me to what is still one of my favorite pizza places in the New York: Grimaldi's. Although there is a subway stop a few blocks from this Brooklyn pizzeria, the only true way to get there is by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, arguably the most picturesque ways to take in New York's sprawling skyline. To me, a walk over the bridge and Grimaldi's have become synonymous with one another. I can't walk across the bridge without stopping at Grimaldi's and I can't stop at Grimaldi's without walking across the bridge. This is the first thing I do with any out-of-town guest. It's just off the beaten path enough to make a tourist feel like a New Yorker, yet not so touristy that a New Yorker feels out of place. It is the quintessential New York experience.
There have been days when I've been seated at Grimaldi's...
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