PIE IN THE SKY

By Michelle Aiello

 

With its classic red-and-white gingham tablecloths, black-and-white photos of vintage Brooklyn and Tony Bennett and the like playing on the sound system, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria is about as New York City as you can get in Lexington. The restaurant, located in The Summit, has a large brick-walled dining room that seats 128, a 48-seat covered patio with heaters and fans, and an indoor/outdoor bar.

 

Grimaldi’s specializes in authentic New York-style pizza, calzones and antipasto, salads and cheesecakes. The full bar features cocktails, craft beer and a well-rounded wine list, including the exclusive Mille Gradi — a delicious red blend produced for Grimaldi’s in Tuscany, Italy. Via the exhibition kitchen, guests can watch the hand-tossed pizza being made, as well as their signature coal-burning oven.

Some New York City style pizzerias turn out gargantuan slices of pizza, loaded with cheese and sauce. Grimaldi’s pizza is light and thin with a smoky, full-flavored crust. Not sold by the slice, the pizzas are served oven-hot and are cut into six or eight-slice sizes and three varieties, regular, pesto or white (sans sauce). Prices range from $14 to $18. About a dozen different toppings — including mushrooms, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, basil, garlic, pepperoni, and ricotta cheese — are available for an additional $2-$4 per topping.

While the Summit location opened in August, Grimaldi’s originated in 1990 and can be traced back to the first coal pizzerias of New York City in the 1930’s. According to Front-of-the-House Corporate Trainer, Randy Bartoe, Grimaldi’s wanted to move away from the “get in, get out” service of traditional New York pizzerias. “We wanted to have that family sharing dining experience. Casual dining with five-star service.”

When asked about the environmental concerns of working with coal, Bartoe explained that the type of coal used is “a very hard and clean burning resource. Much like a fireplace flue, the air is warmed by the coal and circulates heat up to the oven, providing the perfect temperature to cook our pizzas and calzones”.

Bartoe says pizzas can be baked in that oven in a matter of five or six minutes. “When a customer orders, every pie is made from scratch, from the stretching of the dough, to hand-cut cheese. The oven is never turned off. Every single day around 4 and 5 p.m., the fire must be stoked to return to its optimal temperature.” During that time, no pizzas or calzones can be baked. But, he says, “It’s part of the commitment that we have to doing things in the original New York style.”

Customers who visit during that time can enjoy happy hour specials ($2 Bud Lights, $2 off wine and starters), and are welcome to order anything off of the appetizer menu, or even “Start with a slice of cheesecake and work backwards — we’re not here to judge!” Bartoe laughed. “We explain the tradition of stoking the oven, the process, and why we do it to each person who walks through the door at that time,” said general manager Jessica Terry. “We encourage them to come in an unwind, have a glass of wine, and as soon as the oven is up and running again, we’ll bring the pizzas right out.”

“It’s great when our guests want to learn about the process,” Bartoe added. “They will hear the shovel and their ears will perk up. And we get a lot of folks who work in the coal industry. It’s something to be proud of.”

In terms of texture, says East Coast Back-of-the-House Corporate Trainer, Jamie Culliton, using coal definitely makes a difference in the flavor and texture of the pizza. “Coal is the original style of cooking pizza in America. A lot of people think New York style is big, greasy slices. We are actually original New York style, which is a neo-Neapolitan style, meaning thin-crust, hand-tossed pizza.”

When asked about their favorite menu items, Terry mentioned The Brooklyn Bridge pizza, with sausage, oven roasted red peppers and Ricotta cheese. She and Bartoe agree that Grimaldi’s cheese pizza is pretty spectacular. “A cheese pizza is an equalizer among all pizza places — it’s got to be perfect,” Terry said. “Even without toppings, it has so much flavor.”

When it comes to salads, Grimaldi’s doesn’t offer the standard array of Honey Mustard, Ranch, and Thousand Island. Instead, each salad is paired with its own custom dressing. For example, the kale salad is dressed with their house-made Lemon Vinaigrette, which compliments the depth of flavor from the olives, shaved Parmesan cheese and artichokes. Grimaldi’s also offers an ever-changing selection of seasonal deserts. Beautifully presented cheesecakes are baked in-house daily, with New York and Oreo varieties on the menu year-round.

Above all, the goal at Grimaldi’s is to focus on excellent service, quality ingredients and family style dining. “I think that sharing enhances the whole experience, said Bartoe. “We all work very hard for our money. When dining out, individual entrees can get up to fifteen, twenty dollars a plate very easily, so we focus on dishes everyone can enjoy together.” Plus, he added, having a dedicated staff is of the utmost importance. “Jessica has brought in an amazing family of people who know each other, care about each other, appreciate the culture, and work together very well – and that is a huge factor in our success.”

Grimaldi’s is open 11am to 10pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11am to 11pm Friday through Saturday, joining other restaurants at The Summit at Fritz Farm, a retail and living development at Nicholasville and Man o’ War Boulevard.


Q&A with Executive Chef S. Cory Lattuca

Last thing you cooked at home? 
Grilled Eggplant Rolatini, and a birthday cake for my daughter’s sixth birthday.

Favorite food from your childhood?
Pizza!

How would you describe working in your kitchen?
Intense and fun. We are a display kitchen, so it is important that the cooks are enjoying themselves as well as working hard.

What chefs do you admire? (Lexington or others)
Jet Tila. Alton Brown. Amazing chefs that have perfected the balance of using the traditional cooking rules to create something that is anything but traditional.

Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
A1 sauce.  Lots and lots of A1 sauce.

A meal or a dish that, as a young chef, was an inspiration?
Seared Foie gras with apricots and a balsamic reduction. It completely changed my notions of what food could be and was the first of many times where my preconceived notions of flavors and textures were completely wrong.

Last restaurant where you dined?
Libertine Social at Mandalay Bay.

Any tips for at-home pizza makers?
Get a pizza stone or steel. Your oven can’t be too hot. Until you have mastered stretching and cooking pizzas, buy pizza dough, don’t make it.  Once you have the technique down, then make your own dough.

If someone wanted to be a chef, what 3 things would you say?
1. Practice constantly. 
2. Never go cheap on knives and kitchen shoes.
3. Enjoy your weekends while you can.

Is there a dish on your menu that will follow you wherever you go?
Pepperoni Pizza. You can’t beat a perfect version of a classic.

Favorite meat and way to prepare it?
NY Strip. Rare plus. Just a bit of salt and pepper seared over charcoal.

What does “hospitality” mean to you?
To me it means family. I want customers to feel like they are walking into our home. From hostess, to server, to kitchen, the focus should be on a singular guest experience.

Quote you live by?
Life is too short to eat bad pizza.

Where can we find you on your day off?
The nearest golf course!

 

 

 



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