Here is an early report on Patsy's located in East Harlem.
The news on balance is not encouraging. Though not totally bad. The dough has changed since I ate there last. I'm certain of it. I was disappointed in a number of things, happy with others, but first let's get out the facts:
1) Eating in NY is not cheap. Getting to your favorite restaurant costs real dollars and isn't cheap either. I was worried about not finding a cab home from East Harlem so I took a Limo from the hotel at $35 each way plus bridge tolls ($4.5), and tip. Figure on $100 round trip just for transportation. No small investment. I also spent $30 on a large fresh mutz Margherita with a diet coke and two dough balls including tip.
2)I spent at least 30 minutes talking "pizza" with Jose the pizzaiolo (I originally thought a possible owner but it was verified Jose is not) who has been working at Patsy's since 1976. I spoke with him both before and after eating. His daughter also has worked there for the past three years. His son does as well.
3) I bought two dough balls and weighed them immediately. The first weighed 12.1 ounces, the second weighed 12.4 ounces. I re-weighed both balls a number of times and the weights are accurate. Why would the balls weigh so much differently?
4) Jose claims he makes a 16" pie. Fact is I measured it to be just under 15". I measured his double length peel, it was 16" across. Visually my pie at home is the same size or a little larger. Mine isn't quite as circular though or as razor thin.
5) Jose shared his dough ingredients; flour, water, OO, sugar, and salt. We spoke at length on the list and he assured me with a fatherly delivery that he uses all five. Not much oil. Not much sugar. But some. He starts out mixing the batter with a big dough spoon. After a while he claims he turns on the machine.
6) I noticed 50lb Gold Metal bags of flour. Couldn't tell if they were high gluten or not. I also noticed Sassone Olive Oil. At first glance I thought it was Berio OO because it was visually similiar. My guess is it is a cheap knock-off.
7) The dough has changed. The sauce has changed. The cheese is the same. The glorious oven is the same. My pie had three dough tears from Jose trying to stretch the dough in his hands. He punctured the dough right in front of me. It was almost embarrassing frankly. I took plenty of pictures of his dough stretching technique. I would relate it to how DC PM described to stretch a ball on the bench. Except that after it was stretched to about 12" round, Jose picked it up and began stretching it on his knuckles. At this point he routinely tore the skin. I witnessed at least 10 pies he tore shortly after he picked up the dough. The skin was very easy to patch though simply by tugging one side of it over the other and pressing downward. He fixed so many tears so quickly it almost seemed like he had accepted holes as a normal result.
When I was last at this Patsy's I vaguely remember the pizzaiolo beating the hell out of the dough. This trip, the dough appeared very soft. With a very small rim. It was also pretty wet to the touch. Just under sticky would be an accurate description. I would have to say that based on my limited knowledge it appeared to be a high gluten type based dough ball.
Just for kicks, when I got back to the room, I stretched one of the dough balls to 15" fairly easily by utilizing my normal stretching procedure. It didn't tear at all and I did take pictures of the finished skin. I should be able to upload all the pictures sometime on Thursday. The skin turned out to be much thinner than my home effort with a much smaller rim. In fact, there barely was any discernible rim at all. There were very few bubbles in the dough. I smelled the dough for signs of some sort of preferment and could not detect any fermentation smell at all. I asked Jose how many times a day he makes dough and he said once. The finished balls are cooled for a day in a cooler located behind the oven. His son (I think) brings them out in small quantities (two trays at a time) because the working space is so small.
9) The sauce was applied with a very heavy hand. In fact, my pie was swimming in sauce. Jose took a completely filled ladle (normal sized which I'm sure most of us have in our kitchen) of sauce and spread it on the pies. It had to of been every bit of 3 ounces of very thin looking canned sauce. It certainly was not based on true San Marzano tomatoes.
10) The result of all that sauce was a completely limp crust which could not be picked up with one hand. I ended up eating most of it with a knife and fork.
In short, it appears that Jose believes in the power of his mighty oven so much that he has changed his ingredients. While the pie tasted great, there were too many negatives for me to say that it is even anywhere near as good as the Patsy's at the corner of 34th and 3rd. That Patsy's is much better than Grimaldi's as I found out on my trip last October.
I felt Jose's frustration with his tearing dough and wanted to ask some hard questions but he was such a delightful man I didn't want to press the conversation on what was obviously a major reduction in quality.
Then it occured to me that Patsy's is no longer a whole pie place. It appeared that he served 50 slices for every whole pie he served in the restaurant section. Maybe more. On second thought, the restaurant section was virtually empty and the tiny slice section was buzzing with activity. On this level, he has suceeded in being the best neighborhood slice joint around. Each slice costs but $1.50.
Its such a shame that he has clearly choosen to go in this direction. I say choosen because he knows his market and he is making bucks by catering to the slice crowd. But then again, as I looked around at the neighborhood, it was clear he made the correct decision. He is not in a "pie" type location. He understands this very well.
I also have to question if Jose has any dedication to keep going what Patsy's used to be. Again, I think he choose to abandon the traditional course and take his restaurant in an entirely different direction. His neighborhood is entirely different than when Patsy's first opened as well so maybe it's just smart business. After eating Jose's Margherita, it dawned on me that he didn't get what a Margherita is supposed to be. He had no reference point. He couldn't of based on the ingredient choices he made. But contrast the Margherita to the slices he was shoveling out the door every few seconds and it all began to make sense. He knows how to make plain cheese slices and keep his client base entirely happy. I don't think he serves many Margherita pies anymore. I'm certain they are the exception. But man does he pump out those plain cheese slices.
I have shed a tear because I now know I will never go back to the place where I spent a portion of my childhood. I want to but I can't. It simply doesn't exist anymore. To test my theory of his intentional shift to being a slice joint, I ordered two plain slices to go.
It reminded me of the magical moment some 35 years ago when my Grandfather brought me to the same place in Harlem where they had the best pizza pies - according to him. Though the neighborhood was getting run down. It was an adventure just to get there. I couldn't believe how good the pies were back then. The best I ever had.
Now fast forward to the slices. The neighborhood isn't much better but the slices - they were fabulous. The best I ever had...