Inspired by a recent viewing of the Travel Channel's excellent Food Wars: Pizza, Slice's excellent pizza coverage, and a couple of trips to my favorite New York pizzeria, Grimaldi's, I decided to do some reseach on the history of pizza in New York City and share my findings with you. In case you missed it, here is the link to New York Pizza, Part I.
Pasquale “Patsy” Lancieri was another New Yorker to master the art of pizza-making at Lombardi’s and then go on to open his own coal fired brick oven pizzeria, Patsy’s Pizzeria, in 1933 in the then largely Italian East Harlem. Patsy’s was instantly popular, and continues to be today. In 1974, Patsy Lancieri died, and his widow Carmela, took over the business, eventually selling the restaurant and the name “Patsy’s” in 1991.
Meanwhile, Lancieri’s nephew, Patsy Grimaldi, has learned the art of the pizza-making from his uncle and in 1990, decides to open his own pizzeria, with Carmela’s blessing, on Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn named, of course, Patsy’s Pizzeria. In 1995, the owners of the original Patsy’s and the Grimaldi’s file lawsuits claiming rights to the "Patsy’s" name, ultimately leading to the renaming of the Grimaldi’s restaurant to, Grimaldi’s. Grimaldi’s menu includes “A Slice of the Pizza History”, documenting “important dates in the restaurants’ histories”.
Food Wars claims that there are at least 3,000 pizzerias in New York, and at least 30 of them use some form of “Ray’s” in their name including but not limited to Ray’s, Ray’s Pizza, Famous Original Ray’s Pizza, Ray’s Famous Original Pizza, World Famous Ray’s Pizza, Not Ray’s Pizza, and RayBari Pizza. A quick poll of Citysearch finds 2788 results on “pizza” and 45 results on “Ray’s pizza”. The thing is, there is no Ray.
Using his mom’s pizza recipt, Ralph Cuomo opened Ray’s in 1959 in Little Italy, which quickly became known as the place to buy the slice (and later, the place to buy a slice AND some heroin, but curiously enough Food Wars fails to mention this bit of trivia). In the early 60’s, Cuomo opened a second Ray’s (54th and 7th Ave), which was eventually bought by Rosolino Mangano. Mangano changed the name to Famous Original Ray’s, even though it wasn’t the original. Mangano now goes by the name “Ray” even though legal name is still Rosolino, and has opened Famous Original’s all over New York City. Mangano also claims that he is the “Ray” that has made the name "Ray’s" famous.
In 1981, Mangano sold a store to someone else, who continued using the name “Ray’s” and soon more “Ray’s” pizzeria variations began popping up. Ralph Cuomo then attempted to trademark the name "Ray’s." The three "Ray’s" pizza players eventually incorporated together, trademarked the name Ray’s, and then went after everyone else using the name.
But wait, there’s more! Joe Bari bought a “Ray’s Restaurant” in 1973 and turned it into a pizzeria and added his own name, Ray Bari Pizza. Bari believes he, not Mangano of Famous Original Ray’s, made the name famous by using cab drivers to spread to word about the pizzeria. Joe Bari refused to change the name, and was sued by the corporate Ray’s, and eventually changed his restaurant name to RayBari Pizza.
And there you have a small slice of the contentious history behind New York pizza.
Who makes the best New York pizza? You'll have to decide for yourself, but here are a few opinions:
Citysearch Best of, Pizza
eGullet.com Pizza Survey
NYMetro Best of 2004: Pizza
Sliceny.com, Simply the Best thread
Village Voice Robert Sietsema offers up the Student Pizza Primer
32 Spring St.
1524 Neptune Ave., Brooklyn
2287 1st Ave. (original location)
19 Old Fulton St., Brooklyn
27 Prince St.