Patsy's Pizza in East Harlem –
Sinatra’s Favorite Pizza -
Our Valentine Dinner

Patsy Lancieri, who opened Patsy's Pizza may have been directly trained by Gennaro Lombardi, the Father of American pizza.  Then again, he may not have been.  But then, what is history without mystery?  Sorry we can’t solve this one for you – at least not yet.

What we do know for sure is that Patsy’s makes some wonderful pizza and they’ve been doing it for a very long time.  Patsy’s Pizza opened in 1933.  Sadly, we didn’t get there until Valentine’s Day, 2009.

Cary: Every man should have a wife who is happy with a dinner of pizza on Valentine’s Day.  I am a blessed man!

Cary & Lillian outside Patsy's

Patsy’s has two doors: the door on the left is for the restaurant, the door on the right for takeout (that’s where the wonderful coal-fired oven lives, but we didn’t know that at first).  We got very lucky walking in when we did -- got the last table in the place, and everyone else had at least a 20 minute wait.

We ordered a large pie, half with fresh basil.  We always like to try the basic pizza before reporting to you. We also like fresh basil.

Because we didn’t look at the toppings list, we didn’t know that we could have had the pie with fresh mozzarella, so we got it as they serve it, with aged ‘mutz’, more New York pizza than Neapolitan (or neo-Neapolitan, as it’s sometimes called).  While we waited for our pizza, Cary did his usual scan of the walls for the pictures of Sinatra.

The Search for Sinatra

Lillian: I was never a big Sinatra fan, mostly because of the elder family input. On the pop side, they were more into Jimmy Roselli and Jerry Vale...I think Frank was a little too "street" for their tastes even though there was a certain fondness for Dean Martin. Thinking back, I did really love "Strangers in the Night" when I was little girl, and the movie version of Guys and Dolls was a favorite of mine.

When Cary and I got married, he used to serenade me with Sinatra songs. I downplayed it a lot, saying I didn't really care much for Sinatra, but secretly I thought it was so romantic.

We knew that Patsy’s was Frank’s favorite pizzeria in New York City; we knew that Sinatra had once ordered one hundred pies from Patsy’s to be flown out to Palm Springs for a party.  We knew that he praised Patsy’s from the concert stage:

Click here for audio

"Did you ever have pizza at Patsy's on 117th St.?" Sinatra said at a 1976 concert at the Westchester Premier Theater.  "It's the greatest in the world. I don't care where you go, all the way to Italy, there ain't nothing like that."

So Cary was surprised when he got halfway through the restaurant without seeing a single photo of the Chairman.  Then, there it was… a very large oil painting of Sinatra!  Our guess: circa 1980.

portrait of Frank Sinatra

What about Patsy's pizza?

Patsy's Pizza - half with basil

Patsy’s is historic New York coal-fired pizza.  We’ve gotten used to tasting fresh mozz on the pizza that comes from glowing coals, but Patsy’s regular pie is so delicious we didn’t mind at all. For our tastes, the added basil enhanced the overall flavor, but both halves our our pie were excellent: just the right char, perfect balance of dough, cheese and sauce - everything you look for in great pizza. The crust, which to us is the most important part, was light with lots of airy holes in the cornicione, the outer crust. It had snap, a certain crispness without being crunchy. For us, it could have been a little chewier, but who's complaining?

Our friends at Slice have said that the pizza at Patsy’s has been ‘uneven’ – not always top-of-the-list, but we can’t say that. We definitely scored on that Valentine’s night – may you be so lucky whenever you visit Patsy’s in East Harlem!

We had one more thing to see at Patsy's: the oven. You can't build a coal oven in Manhattan anymore, so the old ones are worth seeing. We asked a waiter, who led us through the kitchen to the oven. We felt very special until we realized that we could have gone in the other door and seen it from the street!

Still, coming in from the side gave us a good close-up view:

patsy's coal oven

To make our Valentine's dinner at Patsy's Pizza complete, a friendly dark-haired fellow who said he was a Patsy's regular, offered to take our picture in front of the place! The results are at the top of this page.

Thank you, sir, and if you read this, please write in and tell us your name -- we misplaced our notes!

Patsy's Pizza, 2287 1st Ave (between 117th Street and 118th Street), New York, NY - (212) 534-9783

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