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9.12.2005

Di Fara Pizza, and the exaggeration that wasn’t

There is something you should know about Brandon: when it comes to food, his main themes are obsession and exaggeration. He takes hot sauce straight from the spoon, and he has more oils and vinegars than you and I have fingers and toes. If he’s lying awake at two a.m., he’s likely weighing the merits of salad onions versus storage onions, and if he calls at lunchtime with a quavering voice and “terrible news,” what he really means is that his once-coveted pizza oven only goes to 575°, not 900°.

And it’s not by chance that I mention pizza. The stuff is chief among the occupants of his thoughts—not surprising, perhaps, given that it’s the birthright of all New Yorkers, but in the mind of Brandon, we’re talking more than just a slice down the street. For example, we’d only just met when he first told me—in superlatives I’ve come to know well—about Di Fara Pizza, a bare-bones corner spot in equally bare-bones Midwood, Brooklyn.*


“It’s heavenly,” he told me solemnly. “It’ll change your life. It’s quite possibly the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”

Now, not being a natural exaggerator—nor a New Yorker—myself, my first instinct was to give him the old hairy eyeball. A bit of research confirmed that he wasn’t the only Di Fara disciple, but still, I was only cautiously enthusiastic. Pizza is fine stuff, but no slice had ever sent me swooning, much less happily traveling across the country and an hour and a half on a hot subway just for a bite. But then, dear reader, I set my hairy eyeball upon a slice at Di Fara.


Di Fara Pizza is a one-man show, owned and operated for the past forty years by Domenico DeMarco, a stoop-shouldered, asbestos-fingered Italian with an accent as rough as his pies are delicate.


At nine o’clock on the average night, the small shop is just beginning its evening rush. Customers arrive in twos or threes and, like us, press against the chest-high counter that separates the modest dining room—its five or so folding tables speckled with a dust of Parmigiano Reggiano—from Domenic’s kitchen: a couple of countertops, a tall steel-faced oven set to 700°, and, through a narrow doorway, a dark back room where one of his adult children can often be seen prepping ingredients or stirring a saucepot. Domenic stands alone behind the high counter, shuffling back and forth between a stack of pizza pans, a few pots of fresh herbs, and the oven. In a sort of instinctive reverence, we watch him quietly, with the fervent attentiveness of hungry—but well-trained—animals.

Di Fara’s pizza comes in two shapes: “square” and a more traditional New York “round,” as they’re listed on a board mounted high on the kitchen wall. The first is a complex, multi-step affair: a ½-inch thick rectangular crust rich with olive
oil, baked in multiple stages, topped with a stewy tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, slices from an entire fist-sized ball of fresh cow’s milk or buffalo-milk mozzarella, a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padana from a hand-crank grater, fresh herbs from the windowsill, a drizzle of olive oil, and, if requested, additional toppings such as pepperoni or sautéed artichoke hearts. Rich like a dense focaccia, oozing and saucy with fresh cheese and simmered tomatoes, it’s the sort of pizza that demands a knife and fork—preferably plastic, so as to better match the paper plates.

But if you’re a true New Yorker—or the skeptical girlfriend of one—the round pie may well have you making grand proclamations. To be more specific, the first words out of my mouth upon getting this thing into it were, I believe, “This is innncredible!” Domenic paints the crust lightly with a sweet uncooked tomato sauce, dots it with shards of fresh herbs, and showers it with shredded mozzarella, slices of fresh cow’s milk or buffalo-milk mozzarella, grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padana, herbs, and finishes with a thin stream of olive oil. Minutes later, when he pulls the finished pie from the oven with his bare hands, the outer rim of the crust has risen and puffed into a delicious thing not unlike a rustic French baguette: crisp where it meets the tooth, its interior chewy and filled with air holes. The crust is Neapolitan-meets-New York, its underside toasty and splotched deep brown, bendy but not floppy, sturdy but delicate.

I may not yet be cozy enough with superlatives to declare it, à la Brandon, “the most incredible thing in the entire world [insert vocal exclamation points]”, but I can say without a hint of exaggeration that there are few things more delicious than a warm early-autumn night with frosty bottle of beer, a few Di Fara slices, a pile of napkins, and a certain New Yorker. I’ve learned by now, anyway, that if he gets too heavy on the hyperbole, a quick twirl of the curls at the nape of his neck is enough to distract him for a moment—or just long enough to steal a bite from the slice in his hand.


*Di Fara Pizza is located at 1424 Avenue J (the corner of Ave. J and E. 15th Street) in Brooklyn. It’s a far ride from, say, the Upper West Side, but from Union Square, it’s an easy trip on the Q line out to the Ave. J stop. And if you, like me, think a good pizza deserves a cold beer, don’t hesitate to run to one of the convenience stores on Ave. J to pick up a bottle or two while you wait for your pie. There’s usually a bottle opener on the counter at Di Fara, or you can rough it with your keys. And just for reference, as of September 8, 2005, a large round cheese pizza was a mere $15.00.

30 Comments:

Anonymous Melissa said...

I'd been wondering about this mystical pizza ever since you told me about it. If it's really as good as you say it is, I'm ready to hop on a plane to NY right now! Either that or I may just have to try recreating it myself. NOT that it will be anything like the real thing, of course, but in these pizza underpriveleged parts of the world we have to make do somehow...

4:24 AM, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Brandon said...

Melissa, I'll be glad to share with you my notes on recreating a Di fara Pizza if you want. I've been working on a round clone since june, I have got down the sauce and cheese combinations, but creating any sort of neopolitan/rustic baguette crust is near impossible in a home oven. Certain more traditional NYC pizzas are made in a 550 degree oven, so it is possible to make pizza at home, but a true Newyorkapolitan (as David Rosengarten refers to Di Fara) requires temperatures of at least 700 degress. (A true neopolitan and other ny style neopolitans are baked at temperatures from 800-1200 degrees.) So there are two options...
1. figure out a way to make up for the temperature(perhaps a moister dough?, super small and thin pizzas?), definetly a pizza stone thasts been pre-heated(best option for that is 1sq.ft. unglazed terra cotta tiles cut to fit the rack in your oven(only a few dollars at home depot or lowes including the cutting)
2. figure out how to get a temperature of at least 700 degrees. One method that you can google-if interested-is retrofitting your outdoor gas grill. Also there is a small pizza oven sold in italy that is about the size of a bloated tortilla maker with a heated stone on the top and bottom with just enough room in the middle for a pizz. However it is very expensive.

There are many threads on egullet and pizzamaking.com but be weary of anything that is exactly sure of some part of di fara pizza--one thing that is amazing about di fara is the freedom he has over the ingredients....different cans of tomatoes(even heard rumors of fresh), different cheeses...so each time you go there its different, but sill the best you've ever had. Another thing to keep in mind if you're ever in ny, Dominic's son opened up a place in the village called Demarco's very recently(aparently with the same recipes), which i have not yet checked out but i'll keep you posted.

Good luck! if you have any questions feel free to email me--send it to Molly and she can foward it to me. Also if anybody out there has a method for making a good neopolitanish pizza in a home oven or anything else that gets hot enough let me know...

6:19 AM, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Brandon, thanks so much for your thoughts! I'm not sure if I could justify investing in any new kitchen appliances to heighten the pizza-making experience, but you have some great suggestions - I've heard of the terracotta tiles before and it's definitely something worth looking into. And I think I speak for everyone yet to comment here that we would love to see your take on the toppings - now that you've admitted to having figured out the sauce and cheese you'd better just spill all the beans before poor Molly gets her comments section flooded with requests!

7:05 AM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Oh my god, I'm sitting here in the faculty lounge, at 8:30 am (an ungodly hour to pretend to be in charge), and I'm dying. This descriptions, these photos---aaaahhh. I've eaten Di Fara before, when I lived in New York, and you did it wonderful justice.

But not fair! I can't eat pizza anymore. Or drink beer. But a girl can dream.

speaking of dreaming, that Brandon! Do you have another one like him? A brother? A Seattle cousin.....

8:36 AM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly,
uncooked tomato sauce, shards of herbs, and showers of mozzarella? Yum. I love the picture with the big blob of mozzarella plopped right on top of the 'za. Reading your post made me realize that I have never had that ultimate pizza experience..its quite sad really. Until I can get myself to Brooklyn, I'll just have to keep looking. If only pizza could be sent through the mail.. :)

9:33 AM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Tempting. Sounds like you had a good time while you were away, Molly. And as far as making perfect pizza at home, you might want to check out (if you haven't already) Jeffrey Steingarten's thoughts on the subject. It's in It must have been something I ate.

10:28 AM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

thanks for the tip, molly. i will certainly trek out to bklyn for a slice. probably even further than 1.5 hours from astoria, but looks-sounds-reads like it's worth it. have beer, will travel.

11:22 AM, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Samantha said...

Hi Molly and Brandon,

I'm definately going to check that pizza out this weekend, a good friend lives in Brooklyn and he is a pizza fanatic. And of course Dave and I are always excited to find out about new spots in my favorite city.

Take care!

11:35 AM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

You killed me with this one, Molly. Killed me. Sure I like my homemade pizza but goddamn I miss the NJ/NY slices.

I haven't tried Di fara but I'll try to next time I'm home.

12:38 PM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I've read about Di Fara pizza from a few sites now, but never one with such detail! Great post, and many thanks to Brandon for revealing his research. The oven heat issue is an understandable concern - hmm, I'm wondering if some of the tandoor home cooks I know would know any alternatives?

By the way, if you're ever in the area, I'm a strong believer in the merits of Montreal style pizza (different from NY, like bagels, it is a seperate entity). I would love to trade favourite hangouts for my next trip to NYC.

1:26 PM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Melissa, I'd only recommend buying a plane ticket for pizza if you're, say, Donald Trump, but yes, it's that good! And as for the at-home pizza possibilities, listen to Brandon: he's on the beat. I second the suggestion of terra cotta tiles as a starting place. He bought me some at Home Depot over the summer, and they've been great not only for (mediocre) pizza attempts but for my crusty sourdough breads as well...

Brandon, mon chou, you're doing a fantastic job of living up to my description of you.

Shauna, I'm sorry to torture you at such an early hour--and with loads of gluten-filled goodness, no less! Please accept my apologies. And as for Brandon, sorry again--he has two sisters, but no brothers, and his male cousins are taken. I'll keep my eyes peeled, though, m'dear.

Michele, if I could send a pie over to Paris, I would! You can console yourself, though, with the knowledge that I'll never be able to get, for example, a true Laduree-quality macaron over here. Sniffle, sniffle...

Nic, yes, Di Fara pizza is nothing if not tempting! And as for Jeffrey Steingarten, fear not: both Brandon and I have read his pizza piece. My copy of the book is, as a matter of fact, looking pretty well-worn. It's one of my favorites--both informative and drop-dead hilarious.

Margrocks, get on that subway, honey. And please do share your impressions, post-pizza...

Samantha, I wonder if your Brooklyn friend has been to Di Fara? If not, it's high time--and for you, too! Please do let me know what you and yours think of the pie...

Amy, maybe we should make a joint trek to Brooklyn next summer? The beer is on me.

And Tara, if you learn any words of wisdom from your friendly tandoori cooks, please pass it this way! And tell me more about this mysterious thing that is Montreal-style pizza. I'm intrigued! And as far as NYC hang-outs go, I'd love to swap ideas...but you should know that there are many, many other bloggers out there who know NYC infinitely better than I do. For example, I spent an evening last week with Julie over at A Finger in Every Pie, and she pointed me to some wonderful spots: an ethnic market called Kalustyan's, and a Moroccan restaurant with terrific lamb tagine...

6:16 PM, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous leslie said...

that sounds just heavenly! you're making me hungry. haven't eaten since 3:45am and now it's already 10:30am. i think i'm craving for that pizza!

7:30 PM, September 13, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Thanks for the tip "A Finger in Every Pie", Molly! I'll check her out. There is no trip to NYC in the works as of yet, but since the city has been the basis of a lot of posts I've been reading lately, it seems I need to make a trip - expressly to eat!

As for Montreal style pizza, it is as debateable as New York style. There are places that believe in a thicker, pan or Chicago style crust whereas there are others with (my preference) a crust that sounds similar to Di Fara's round. Crispy and fire-browned, with toppings mixed into the cheese before being put on the pie so that they do not slide off when eaten. Also like New York/Montreal bagels, there seems to be "something in the water" that makes the crust simply taste better. If ever you want, email me and I'll bore you with all the details (and some other recommended "must eats").

I will consult my tandoori home cooks and let you know my findings!

8:38 AM, September 14, 2005  
Anonymous stephanie crocker said...

Crunch-ewy is like one of my favortite things a crust can be!

This post gets printed out and stuffed into my travel folder, waiting my first trip to New York, which, hopefully, will be soon! Thanks for sharing.

8:47 AM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Molly, I guess we were in New York at the same time! Weren't we oh-so-lucky with the weather?! I wish I had known about DF before I left... I did have pizza once during my visit, at a place whose name escapes me at the moment. It was good, but not amazing, but then again - maybe I'm not a big enough pizza fan to critique it as carefully as Brandon does. This is truly the most enthusiastic post on pizza that I have read in a long time! Next time, Di Fara...

1:44 PM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Metro Foodie said...

...to think someone had to fly across the country to remind me of this Midwood wonder. I swear it's been 4 years since I've had those artichoke hearts. Glad you could give Di Fara such fantastic bloggin' airtime.

2:28 PM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Tisane For One said...

Molly,
I have been reading your blog for close to a year now and your writing is just so enjoyable! Brandon, you have an amazing find in this woman so keep impressing her (and the rest of us) with such wonderful discoveries as "Di Fara Pizza" :-)
Ok, I think that I will need, ok I think I MUST make a trip to NY and try this pizza - I LOVE 'american' pizza and I think this particular one deserves the 28 hour trip...mmmmmm

6:38 PM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Leslie, eating at 3:45am? I thought *I* got up early! Whew! That sounds like a perfect hour for cold leftover pizza, straight from the fridge...ahh.

Tara, I desperately need to find an excuse for buying a ticket to Montreal. If I find one (or if a benefactor comes along--anyone?), I know exactly where to go for tips! Thank you, m'dear.

My pleasure, Stephanie. And thank you for that delectable neologism, "crunch-ewy"! I may borrow that from you one of these days. And by the way, I'm still trying to find a morning to come by your kitchen space, but I'm now working full-time, so my mornings are taken. Grrrr. Are you ever there on the weekends? I'm still itching to try your goodies, and I need to take you up on your (now very, very old) offer for shortbread to send to Brandon!

Jennifer, I'm so sorry to have missed you! We West Coast girls could have teamed up to show NYC a thing or two. From the looks of your blog, though, you did a fine job without me! Next time, maybe, we can team up for a trip to Di Fara...

Metro Foodie, hurry up and get a slice of that "Midwood wonder"! Four years? You're dangerously overdue.

Tisane, you are too sweet, m'dear. I'll make sure Brandon sees your comment and obeys. And if you do make it over here--to either coast--anytime soon, don't be shy.

7:13 PM, September 14, 2005  
Blogger KibitzingShiksa said...

Oh dear... I miss New York food so much!!! I never made it to Di Fara, but there was a small family owned Italian place near my apartment that had absolutely TO DIE FOR veggie pizza- and after you got to know the owners, you could order fancy dinner stuffs as well. Heaven.

6:29 AM, September 17, 2005  
Anonymous A Lynn said...

Molly - Whatever are you doing across the country in Seattle - Brandon is some-sort-of-gorgeous!!
J-Mack and family are in VT now.
Next time you visit Brandon in NYC make a trip to Woodstock. Wonderful co-ops and restaurants just waiting for your critique

8:56 AM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

KibitzingShiksa, I love your name. And now, do tell: what part of NY did you live in? And what was the name of this "TO DIE FOR" place, hmm?

And Lynn! You're so sweet to stop by! I'm very glad that you approve of Brandon. And speaking of men who are some-sort-of-gorgeous, that grandson of yours quite a pretty picture too. I saw some photos of him taken on Tina's recent trip up to Tahoe, and I can't believe how he's grown! Aaaa-dorable. And as for Woodstock, yes, it's been far too long since I've been to Vermont, so a road trip may well be in order. ..

3:39 PM, September 17, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Oh, Molly -- thanks for the shout-out. I had such fun with you on our downtown splurge.

I curse the fact that somehow during my twelve years in Brooklyn I never made it to Di Fara, although I used to go to an amazing Turkish restaurant in Midwood (Sahara by name). You see, thanks to a Seattleite this Uptown New Yorker will now have to make the trek back out to Brooklyn for a DiFara slice.

Next time you're in New York, we'll have to hit Arthur Avenue...

7:28 PM, September 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

You are most welcome, Julie, and next time, I will definitely take you up on your Arthur Avenue offer! In the meantime, I'll have to tell Brandon to keep an eye out for Sahara, and get thee to Di Fara! [Ooof, rhyme not intentional, I promise.]

7:49 AM, September 20, 2005  
Blogger DEe said...

sniff sniff... here i am after 26 hours of continuous essay writing, been craving proper NY/NJ pizza for at least 72 hours... i'm dying. and then i see this post... Ahhhhhh... I REALLY REALLY NEED PIZZA..... unfortunately there is no way in hell i could go for one right now, being in supposed to be sunny singapore, but strangely not. its even cold. first time i have been able to put on long sleeves in years.

the option is a 45 dollar pizza at a restaurant. that is not nearly as good as yr 15 dollar large cheese pizza.

so now i can onli look and drool. pretend i smell fresh pie wafting in through my window.

and continue my essay writing...

lucky all u in NY...

9:12 PM, October 16, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

DEe, I hear you! Seattle is awfully far from Di Fara too, so I'm in a near-constant state of pizza withdrawal! Hang in there, and if nothing else, hunger might give your essay more passion. Maybe? Oh well, one can hope.

8:48 PM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger Marc said...

I loved Di Fara when I tried it for the first time last month, though it had too much olive oil from that watering can that the owner uses. Otherwise, it would have been my favorite pizza.

12:38 PM, June 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter Catapano said...

Question for Brandon. I have lived 1 block from Di Fara for 15 years and am well acquainted with it. I have watched Dom make the pies for all those years and I see you are trying to recreate. You mention the oven temp. which explains why one can't do it at home. but the mystery that's plagued me for years, is why can't another pizza joint get close to the product he makes? It can't just be the temp because pizza places have these hot ovens. Or even the ingredients because those can be reproduced. The key may be THAT particular oven. Then there is the myth/theory that he is some sort of higher being, which is good for business. But my guess is that the magic happens before the doors open, during the making of the dough (combined with all the other factors -- oven , heat, ingredients, etc). Still, it's just a guess. After all these years, it's all I have. Maybe other pizza chefs just don't care as much...

I have a whole mini-memoir I could write on my relationship to this place, but I'll spare you. Suffice to say, it was much different when I could walk in any time of day or night and get a slice, or even a hero or an entree (also sublime, but there is no time to make them any more.) But I scored two slices last night, and I am still feeling good. It's not just food.

11:01 AM, November 16, 2007  
Anonymous LadyJayPee said...

DH & I just spent the Christmas holidays with his daughter in NYC. Based on your post, upon arrival, we made a beeline for Di Fara's and indulged in a regular cheese pie. The pie & the venue were all as you said. FABulous pizza and the devoted regulars who were there that night were right there rooting for us...excited for us to have our first taste. It was a great experience. Thank you so much! ~LadyJayPee

12:04 AM, December 29, 2007  
Blogger Shelby said...

I know I am so late in commenting to this post - but I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that you loved this pizza so much. I grew up only a few blocks away from Di Fara and can say with no reservation that it is the greatest pizza I have ever had in my life. My dad waited TWO HOURS for a couple of pies last week when I was home for the weekend, just because he knows of my unparalleled love for the stuff.

4:12 PM, February 23, 2008  
Blogger Emily C said...

I know I'm almost 5 years late to this post, but I just discovered your blog recently (I've been steadily reading your posts, working backwards in time :)). I have absolutely been engrossed from the moment I started reading it, and I plan on purchasing your book ASAP :) I tried the recipe for the Chana Masala last night, and it was amazing (although I did substitute a couple ingredients due to my lack of having them in the pantry, and my laziness at not wanting to travel to the grocery store).

Seeing that this post is about pizza, and especially Brandon's love of pizza, I was wondering if you or he had ever tried New Haven, CT pizza. I'm from CT, so maybe I'm biased, but I think that New Haven has some of the best pizza restaurants in the USA. If you by chance are ever in CT for a visit, or book tour or something, be sure to try out the pizza here! Some good places to go are - Pepe's, Sally's, and my personal favorite Modern Apizza.

7:23 AM, April 02, 2010  

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