Last summer my best buddy from culinary school Garren (a native of the Bay Area but whose wife is from Manhattan) called me up and said he wanted to take me for some pizza. This being the land of a thousand slices of all shapes and sizes (mostly humongous), with a joint in every corner, pizza was the farthest thing from my mind to munch on what with my limited time in the city. BUT, since G said he was buying, I thought what the heck -- a free lunch is hard to come by these days.
I was ecstatic to discover that the slice we were going to get was no ordinary slice, but one from the now legendary Di Fara's over in Brooklyn. Once just a quiet neighborhood place on a quiet street corner, it is now considered by rabid fans to be the holy grail of pizza. Definitely worth investigating.
Armed with my trusty camera, we hopped on board a J train and sped off for Midwood in Brooklyn. G and I amused ourselves with stupid stories until I realized that it was going to take a bit before we got there. Man, this place was in the middle of the J line! After what seemed like a really long time, our subway was ABOVE ground. What I thought would be a plain ol' pizza run turned out to be a pizza pilgrimage. Finally we got to Ave J. I asked G where Di Fara's was - and he pointed to this really tiny shop front. Didn't look like much - oh fine, I'll be honest - it looked positively dingy.
Open the door,though, and a wave of aromas hit your face. Something just told you yummy things were coming into your mouth. Behind the counted was Dominic De Marco - the 70+ year old proprietor and pizza master who's been at it here apparently since the early 60's. He makes everything on his time FROM SCRATCH, so it's not unheard of to wait for 45 minutes for a slice. Yes, you read correctly. There weren't that many people when we were there, but there were a few standing patiently in line for.. you guessed it.. 45 minutes. G asks them why they seem so calm - and one guy just answered with such reverence that he would wait an eternity for anything from Mr. De Marco's ovens. Whoa. This better be good!
It was then that I started to notice a few things. One was there were two kinds of pie: the usual wheel shaped one and a square one with a thicker crust. The second thing I noticed was the fresh basil plant in a pot that the old man would snip leaves from and cut 'em with scissors over slices before serving. And lastly were these two huge ass jars filled with porcinis and artichoke hearts in olive oil. Oh mommy. You don't see touches like this in most New York joints!
G and I decided to get one regular slice and one square one. The regular slice was topped with pepperoni (we wanted to be as basic as we could get), a great flavorful tomato sauce, and mozz. The crust could've been a bit crispier, but it tasted good. However, it was just that -- good. Not sure I would take another 30 minute subway ride for it though. I mean, just a few more stops and we would be in Coney Island - the END of the J line!
The tides turned, though, on the square slice. This.. this is what made me a believer. An awesome crust, chewy with a bit of a crunch.. topped with the same great tomato sauce, mozz, some grated cheese which I now know is Grana Padano (a great touch) and lastly some rich porcinis in killer olive oil with a background of balsamic vinegar and finished with fresh basil and chili flakes. Pardon my French but HOLY SHIT.. this was SO GOOOOOODDDD!!! If we both weren't married I would've proposed to G then and there. Damn. That's a pizza.
How does this tale end? On a rather stupid and funny note.
So I go home to good 'ol Manila and tell my friends about this place. Just so happens one of my closest friends was getting married in New York, and a lot of us were flying over - so naturally I told everyone I'd take them there.
It's October, in the middle of the fall weather - which for us tropical types is like the middle of winter - and some of the guys are late. We're all meeting up to hop on the subway, including my little girl Clara (her first time to ride a subway). Yes, this was another pilgrimage.
We were hungry, and tired and somewhat jet lagged even. So we get to Avenue J, and the street seems awfully quiet. From afar I see Dom De Marco walking into Di Fara's. Yes! My friends would finally get to try what I was hyping about. Slices with mushrooms for everyone?
Hell no. They close on Mondays. I didn't hear the end of it.. and I STILL get it a few months later. *Sigh*