Sunday, August 16, 2009

Patsy's Pizzeria

Yesterday I made the trek up to First Ave. at 118th St. in Harlem for one of the oldest and most well-known pizzerias in American history, Patsy's.

In 1933, Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri and his wife Carmela opened the doors to East Harlem's first pizzeria. Patsy, a former employee of Gennaro Lombardi of famous Lombardi's Pizzeria, took what he learned from America's first pizzeria and brought it uptown. Though mainly a sit-down family restaurant, Patsy's is apparently the first pizzeria in New York to offer single slices- the first official NEW YORK SLICE.

Just like the three other "originals" (Lombardi's, John's, and Totonno's), Patsy's is a coal-fed brick oven pizzeria, which typically makes serving single slices impractical.

No worries, I didn't want a slice; I wanted a whole pie. I ordered a classic cheese, fresh tomatoes on half. Because brick ovens are so hot, the pizza only needs to be in the oven for a few minutes. Regardless, my jaw dropped when barely three minutes after ordering the pie, it arrived piping hot.

Now THAT'S a coal oven pizza (take note, Sette). It's clear to see NY's slice heritage in this pizza. Granted I could have ordered the pizza with fresh mozzarella and go for a more Neapolitan style, but I wanted the classic cheese that New York has made famous.

Beautiful. The crust was thin, crispy, and charred to perfection (well, I did have ONE blackened air bubble), but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Personally, I prefer a slice with thicker crust and chewy, bready cornicione- Patsy's is the antithesis of this, but no less delicious.

There's quite a bit of history and controversy surrounding Patsy's.
  • After Pasquale died in 1974, Carmela sold the pizzeria to an employee Frank Brija & John Brecevich. They eventually made an agreement with Nick Tsoulos (of Nick's in Brooklyn and Angelo's in Manhattan) in 1991 for franchise rights to use the name and likeness of Patsy's, spawning six more locations across Manhattan.
  • Patsy's Pizzeria has no affiliation with Patsy's Restaurant, except a hefty lawsuit and that Frank Sinatra loved 'em both (Patsy's Restaurant does not serve pizza).
  • Brooklyn's Grimaldi's Pizzeria was originally named Patsy's when it opened in 1990, named for Patsy Grimaldi- Patsy Lancieri's nephew. Legal issues from the aforementioned franchisement lead Patsy to change the name to Grimaldi's.
On my way out, I got to speak to John, Patsy's current owner, who had plenty of stories to tell of the old pizza joint.

Apparently, when Francis Ford Coppola was in pre-production on The Godfather, he brought Al Pacino to Patsy's to show him a striking scene- on one side of the restaurant sat a gaggle of New York's finest, and on the other side sat a posse of mafiosos- all chowing down on slices.

According to John, the restaurant and it's bathroom were the inspiration for the scene in which Michael Corleone shoots down Sollozzo and McCluskey with a gun hidden inside a toilet tank. However, just before shooting, Patsy requested the film be shot elsewhere. Patsy didn't want to offend his clientele, saying, "the real bad guys don't shoot cops."

Pizza sure can bring people together; it can also drive them apart.

For a great recap of the history of New York pizza, check out the Bowery Boy's podcast here.


  1. Patsy's 76th Anniversary TODAY
    Rolling Back Prices!

    Follow Patsy's 76th Anniversary on Twitter for updates, photos, and menu items! @Patsys76th

  2. you need to try papas tomato pies on chambers st in trenton i prefer it over delorenzos note it also the second oldest pizza place in us behind the place in new york (sorry forgot name)so they must be doing something right most people that i know that live in this area actually prefer it

  3. I knew Patsy, his wife Carmela and their daughter Molly . they were great people and worked very hard in the pizzeria . My cousin had a pastry shop on corner of 119th St. We will never see people from that era again. Honest family loving people,who loved the U.S.A


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