One Man's Pizza is Another Man's...
I consider myself a pizza aficionado (or should I say snob) and have sampled many of the legends. For old-school, brick oven, coal-fired style I’ve been to original John’s of Bleecker Street, Grimaldi’s just over the Brooklyn Bridge, Patsy’s in East Harlem, Lombardi’s in SoHo, and the original Totonno’s in Coney Island. I’ve experienced the pleasures of the perfect New York “regular” slice at Joe’s on Bleecker. For Sicilian slices, there wasn’t much better than Sal’s in Mamaroneck. Back in my college days, I often ditched dorm dinner to drive over an hour for the clam pie at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven or a meatball “apizza” from Zuppardi’s in nearby West Haven. But I had never been to the much celebrated Di Fara’s Pizzeria in Midwood, Brooklyn.
The crowds waiting to eat at Di Fara are as legendary as the pizza. Di Fara definitely took planning; being open for lunch from 12 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. and then closed until 6 p.m. made the timing tough. Do you get there before six and hang out outside waiting for it to open? Do you time it so you arrive after the first wave has ordered? Or do you make Di Fara an afternoon-long lunch break? It all seemed too complicated until, finally, Gerry and I ventured to Midwood in 2007; leaving in the late afternoon hoping to arrive just as Di Fara’s opened for dinner. It just so happened that our group was scheduled to convene the following night at a traditional, not so celebrated place. What follows below is part one of what turned out to be an eating doubleheader.
Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, Midwood, Brooklyn.
Gerry and I knew it would be a challenge. Zio couldn’t do it (the termites were beginning their early spring spawn and his talents were needed elsewhere). Mike from Yonkers claimed other commitments like a job. Eugene claimed other commitments such as working out, if that can possibly be believed. Rick was a Di Fara veteran and a hard-working executive; consecutive eating orgies might appear to be frivolous. That left only Gerry and I. We were braced for back-to-back expeditions to the outer boroughs and the culinary pleasures they promised starting with a long anticipated trip to the much hyped Di Fara followed by a trip to Queens and a Japanese place picked by Eugene called Yamakaze.
Normally we wouldn’t consider a food destination if we classified it as “much-hyped,” but for Di Fara we were willing to make an exception. Yes, the pizzeria had been ballyhooed in all the local publications, many claiming it to be the best pizza in the city. And after making the trek we found it surrounded by Kosher bakeries and grocery stores on Avenue J in the heart of Jewish-orthodox Midwood, Brooklyn. The exterior was non-descript, the interior cramped. The few tables inside were either occupied or empty, but for bits of congealed cheese, olive oil, sauce, and crust from possibly a generation of diners still on them. The walls, where the paint wasn’t peeling or crumbling, were covered with accolades from all the usual suspects: New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Newsday, the Daily News, The Times, along with a photo of Di Fara proprietor and master pizza maker Dominic DeMarco and his daughter with Rob Reiner, and a framed, and very apt quote credited to Mohandas Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Gerry and I both were prepared for a wait. We knew Dom DeMarco took pride in making every pizza himself and his way, which was, so we heard, painstakingly methodical. There is no defined ordering system at Di Fara. When we walked in there were a number of people scattered around the counter. Was there a line to order? I asked but all I got in return were bemused smiles and shrugs. I took that to mean that there wasn’t.
But when Dominic’s daughter, who was the old man’s only help that evening, actually asked us what we wanted, we knew we had to be ready with a quick answer. That didn’t leave any time to peruse the options so Gerry and I went with the easiest: a regular “round” pie and two slices of “square.” And to our surprise, there were actually two hot square slices available as well as a just vacated, oil-streaked, tomato sauce-stained table. The slices would work as the perfect appetizer as we waited for our pie.