A firm handshake grips you, and the guy attached to it elaborately compliments your kid. It’s the sort of warm welcome you might expect at somebody’s home, but Frank is working the door of Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria, in the Casa Paloma shopping center at Ray and the I-10.
The pizza there is New York-style, and Frank is New York-style, too.
(Frank, in case you were wondering, has a last name, but for some reason the folks at Grimaldi’s didn’t want to reveal it without approval from the corporate big-wigs, who were said to be out of the country. Checking out pepperoni Napolitano, no doubt.)
Anyway, Frank is a veteran of the restaurant industry—as a Ruth’s Chris Steak House manager, among other positions. He says he retired to the Valley, and, after some personal losses, found himself alone in a city where he knew few people.
But his talent and experience wouldn’t remain untapped for long.
Pretty soon he was offered the opportunity, by Grimaldi’s General Manager Beth Larocque, to come out of retirement for a position as greeter and schmoozer-at-large at the west Chandler Grimaldi’s.
He seized it, and now happily roams the floor, helping give diners at the nearby outpost of the chain the sense that they’re eating at a friendly mom-and-pop joint in Brooklyn—like the famous and still thriving original Grimaldi’s location on Front Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge.
This impression is reinforced by Larocque and her attentive staff.
Most family restaurants these days make some effort to entertain kids while they wait for their meal, but Grimaldi’s has a particularly amusing gimmick for this. Along with the standard crayons and sheet of puzzles, they gave our 10-year-old a small triangle of pizza dough to knead and mold and shape.
I was envious.
Not that the food, all by itself, wouldn’t make a pilgrimage to Grimaldi’s worth the trip. As long as you prefer thin New York-style pizza, as opposed to Chicago’s thick, “deep dish” variation, you’d have a hard time finding a better pie in the East Valley.
It’s baked in anthracite-fired brick ovens—supposedly founder Patsy Grimaldi chose Brooklyn for his first pizzeria because Manhattan didn’t allow coal ovens at the time—and the result is a light, almost crispy crust that serves as a flavorful yet subtle canvas for the toppings.
Thus the menu is basic, even somewhat limited—traditional meat and vegetable toppings, and a few varieties of salad.
On our visit, my wife and I split a tasty Caesar salad and a large pizza, half pepperoni (hers) the other half pepperoni, mushroom and meatball (mine). The meatballs are especially memorable, thin-sliced, with a fine-ground texture and a smoky flavor.
Our kid, meanwhile, enjoyed a small personal pizza, with mushrooms and meatballs. She attacked it with enthusiasm, but only managed two slices of it before declaring herself full.
Nonetheless, she found she had room for dessert.
With some guidance from Frank, we decided to try splitting the tiramisu and a slice of the chocolate cheesecake, three ways.
The wise Frank didn’t steer us wrong—both treats, made on-site, were top-notch. The cheesecake was distinctly but not overpoweringly sweet, while the flavor of coffee was kept similarly subtle in the spongy, creamy tiramisu.
Even if I wasn’t in the mood for pizza, I’d consider dropping by for dessert after a movie. Maybe by then there’d be two names on his ID tag.