- 1180 Scheel’s Drive, Sparks, NV, 89434
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
- Official Web Site:
The RGJ's Food & Drink section doesn't typically review chain restaurants. Standardization is almost never culinarily compelling, and good food rarely emerges from corporate committees.
But once in a very great while, a chain restaurant has the right bona fides — and enjoys enough praise from people who know food (as opposed to those who simply like to eat) — that Food & Drink must perforce take notice. And dig in. And assess.
Thus, it is with Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria at the Outlets at Legends at Sparks Marina, a member of a chain with locations in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Texas, New Jersey and New York, including the original opened by Patsy Grimaldi beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
Grimaldi's possesses one of New York City's few coal-fired ovens, a signature shared by its restaurants west of the Hudson. According to the company, the ovens burn anthracite, a coal with fewer impurities, to reach cooking temperatures of up to 1200 F.
The company also says it's hired a chemist to analyze and recreate the composition of Brooklyn water so that pizza dough (and therefore crust) made beyond the borough would be as authentic as possible.
I'm not sure if the dozen or so people (among them former New Yorkers) who urged me to visit Grimaldi's knew any of this story, but no matter. They knew good pizza. I decided to trust them.
This trust isn't misplaced, I think, as I take my first bite of a small sausage pizza (though at 16 inches across, this small would be a medium at many pizzerias).
The crust is thin, crisp yet chewy, and sports the smoky, blistered bottom that coal ovens create so well. The sauce and its classic San Marzano tomato sweetness alternate with oozy patches of mozzarella, something possible because Grimaldi's mozzarella slices are first placed on the pizza crust, then splashed with sauce — not arranged on a crust that's already been covered with too much sauce.
The sausage is nicely seasoned.
My slice easily folds in half, as any slice of a New York-style pie should. For a moment, I'm back on Columbus Avenue, slice in hand, heading over to the guy on Broadway who sells books from a blanket.
And then I'm pulled back to Sparks. But it's not so bad.
Grimaldi's offers well-spaced tables and banquettes, a roomy bar crying out for more customers, framed photographs of Gotham landmarks, and chandeliers fashioned from empty wine bottles.
And if red-check tablecloths aren't my favorite — carrying whiffs, as they do, of raffia-robed Chianti and "That's Amore" kitsch — others, no doubt, like the tradition, and I can certainly overlook them.
Grimaldi's is a pizzeria on the nicer side, and packs of galloping children (à la kids karaoke night at a certain south Reno pizzeria) would not be appropriate.
One afternoon visit, our waitress correctly reads my party as experienced eaters who want to enjoy a good gossip more than we want chatty service. She tidies and refills unobtrusively, almost silently; two tables over with children, she rightly doesn't curb her enthusiasm.
Reason to go
Grimaldi's is topping-driven rather than specialty-pie driven. Toppings range from $2 to $5, something to remember if you're one to load up the 'za.
Which I do with a small pesto, ricotta, ham and sun-dried tomato pizza. Bright, herby pesto and intensely flavored tomatoes — cheeky lads both — take rich but retiring ricotta out for a ride. It's a combination to remember.
A personal calzone filled with ricotta, mozzarella and spicy pepperoni is no modest meat pie. It's 12 inches across and sliced crosswise into six pieces, allowing several to spill their gooey cargo from both sides (though with too much ricotta).
Caprese salad, alas, seems less than obligatory. The basil lacks gusty freshness and is dry, the tomatoes are bland and the mozzarella is too firm -- as if the plate had been assembled beforehand, then chilled awaiting someone's order. Caprese salad is so simple, it should be made with farmers market-fresh ingredients, or not at all.
But on second thought, who needs Caprese at a pizzeria? Go to Grimaldi's for the pizza. All else is distraction.