For the first four years that I lived in Manhattan I didn’t have a favorite pizza place. Sure I had pizza places that I frequented in college (Koronet, anyone? Have you ever seen so much pizza for $2.50?), and had visited Lombardi’s a few times, but I didn’t have anywhere that was really my favorite (aside from my grandmother’s kitchen).
All of that changed when Keith and I moved into an apartment less than two blocks from Patsy’s. Since its transformation from an Italian neighborhood into a Spanish one, there are but a few reminders of the Italian life, food, and culture that used to thrive in East Harlem—the Dance of the Giglio Festival every Autumn, the dim lights of Rao’s casting romantic shadows on Pleasant Ave, and of course, Patsy’s. The one, the only, the original Patsy’s, opened in 1933. They serve thin crust pies cooked to melty perfection in one of the few coal burning ovens in New York, and it is one of the best cheese slices that I have had on this side of the Atlantic.
Though Patsy’s also serves a pretty decent dinner menu, we quickly learned that the Pizzeria portion of the restaurant is open until midnight, and you can get a perfect slice or pie to go in a matter of minutes. Though you can order exactly the same pies al la carte in the dining room (along with a full dinner menu) Keith and I always go to the pizzeria and order our pies direct from the best pizza men in New York. I don’t know if it’s their dough rolling magic hands and the coal burning oven that gets to over 1000 degrees, but this cheese pie, with its blistered crust and melty cheese, tastes like it was actually pulled out of the wood burning oven that is in my cousin’s backyard in Anzio (right outside of Rome).
When we first moved to the neighborhood they didn’t even offer toppings on the pies at the Pizzeria. You had two options: a slice, or a pie, plain and perfect. Now, even with the addition of toppings, they keep it very simple; the pies only come in one size with 8 large slices, and the only single slice you can get is still a plain one. We got two pies, one plain, the other with sausage and portobello mushrooms. Though the toppings are quality ingredients that never over power the pizza, I still think the plain pie is the ultimate pizza masterpiece. The crust, though crispy and crunchy, when under sauce and cheese, is chewy and amazingly light.
In the larger picture, Patsy’s is known as one of the enduring institutions of East Harlem, but in my world, it’s the only place to go for the best slice of pizza in Manhattan, even it’s way before or after dinner time.
Happiness, $25 and under.
For more information about Harlem Eateries and eating local in Harlem, visit Arionna’s blog, Harlem Food Local.