Monday, September 8, 2008

Grimaldi's vs. John's of Bleecker Street: A Pizza Analysis

I've always been a big fan of pizza (who isn't?), but lately I've felt as though my knowledge of NYC pizzerias was lacking. I'd been to John's of Bleecker Street many a time, waiting in a reasonable line for a hot and cheesy thin-crusted pie, but that was about the extent of my "Best of NYC' pizza wisdom. I'd only had the chance to go to Grimaldi's once, and the line was so ridiculous that we decided to eat at a Mexican style hole in the wall instead (editor's note: not recommended).

I'd done some research and asked a few people what made Grimaldi's so great. At online forums everyone seemed to have a very strong opinion (either "the BEST" or "not worth the hype"), but no one backed up their opinions with anything solid. Even when I asked knowledgable friends point-blank, "which is better, John's or Grimaldi's, and why?" the best response I got was "I dont know... they're both good... in their own way." Needless to say, I felt I needed to do some research of my own to find out exactly what differentiated the two famous pizzerias. And so yesterday evening Rob and I took Bus 61 to D.U.M.B.O. to brave the line and judge for ourselves.

As expected, the line was out the door and down the street. We'd heard rumors that the wait would be about two hours, but we only waited around 45 minutes. That line moves quick.

Grimaldi's and the Line

Aside from the line being longer at Grimaldi's, both places have the same vibe from the outside. People flock around waiting hungrily and "No Slices" signs hang from the doors. So far, it seems familiar.

Once we were beckoned inside, we were seated across from one another in a long table of about eight of us. Now John's definitely doesn't pack you in like Grimaldi's does, but I have to say it might just be part of their charm. The happy music and loud chattering echoing around the family style room feeds the Italian soul. You're so close to other people that there's no doubt you will have at least some sort of conversation with them. However, the tables are so crowded that if the person next to you already got their pizza, its literally inches away from your nose and you can hear them chewing away happily -- a kind of torture for a hungry person waiting in line for close to an hour.

To make the analysis fair, we ordered exactly what we ordered the last time we visited John's: a large pie with garlic, ricotta cheese and pepperoni. It's a great combination that really mixes the textures and flavors well. The waiter was much like any waiter we'd ever had at John's: brusque, but speedy. It seemed like just a couple of minutes before we had our pizza sitting in front of us.

First impressions: the pizza was really hot so the cheese had that great stringy quality to it (ever notice that pizza just isn't stringy anymore?). Secondly, it was a little undercooked so the bottom of the pie was a little soggy. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it was pretty much impossible to pick up a slice and eat it while it was still hot.

And that brings me to my next point. Since the crust is so thin, the pie cools off quickly. And when it does that, the whole pizza changes dynamically. The cheese ceases to be stringy and instead sits melded onto the crust. The slices are much easier to handle when everythings congealed a little.

Now onto the actual taste: it was extremely satisfying. Each pizza comes topped with basil, and the Italian sweetness of the herb somehow penetrates into every bite. The pepperoni was really thick, some of them were like little cups holding their own individual puddles of grease. It's obvious that all the ingredients were really fresh, because they all stood out on their own. Even with all the garlic, you could taste the doughiness of the crust, the ripeness of the tomatoes, and even the mozzerella and ricotta cheese stood out as really fresh and strong. I dont know about you, but I've had plenty of pizzas that taste like absolutely nothing.

Despite its faults, Grimaldi's wins this one. While John's is very similar with the thin-crusted, coal brick oven roasted pizza, in the end it just isn't as memorable. The basil from Grimaldi's just might be the simple ingredient that separates the two and adds an extra kick of flavor.

1 comment:

Jules said...

i love pepperoni that forms lil grease puddles!