Nothing can live up to years of expectation. I avoided going to Grimaldi's Pizzeria for eons, knowing that LINES were what it was best known for. Hours in line.
Recently however, I had a plan to explore Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn and schedule things around what I hoped would be the deadest time of day - the "lull" between lunch and dinner - 3:30 to 4 PM felt just about right. And better on a winter day, i.e., not a warm day (particularly not on a weekend in the summer). This formula worked well for my visit to Totonno's and Di Fara, two other legendary pizza emporiums in Brooklyn. I have been told both have tremendous lines in warmer weather as does John's in Manhattan (see Roots of Pizza here). Grimaldi's is one of New York City's few coal-fired brick-oven pizza parlors (John's on Bleecker Street is also.)
When you have this kind of following in New York City, like it or not, they set the terms and conditions. The signs on the door clearly proclaim the no nonsense attitude: "TAKE OUT IS THE SAME LINE" and "NO SLICES" "CASH ONLY." This type of scenario was well parodied on the TV series Seinfeld in an episode called the Soup Nazi - see my story here. Perhaps signs and policies like this may seem a bit harsh, but in New York City, mayhem would ensue were strict ground rules not enacted.
The pizza was excellent - much better than I expected from a place that was so highly trafficked, touristed and written about. Legacy businesses like this can easily thrive on name alone with deterioration of product or food quality. There are naysayers, of course, many of them just wanting to show their New York City culinary expertise. But do not be deterred. Along worth so many awards and accolades, the Zagat restaurant survey rates Grimaldi's as one of the top pizzerias in New York City. If you can avoid enormous lines, it is worth the visit. The location is quite scenic - at 19 Fulton Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge, steps from the East River and Fulton Ferry landing.
A New Yorker is often as or more elated with tales of successful navigation or mitigation of typical, known obstacles. I'm not sure what was better - the pizza or my timing coup: Date: January 30, 2011. Day of Week: Sunday. Time of Day: 3:37 PM. Wait in line: Zero Minutes!