Get Saved at Di Fara

May 10, 2007 | By | COMMENTS

IMG_1.JPG

When people talk about food in religious terms, I often feel like a documentary filmmaker interviewing a member of a cult. Their eyes bug out of their heads, their hands gesticulate wildly: “I saw the face of God in the Pearl Oyster Bar lobster roll.”

Granted, I’ve been guilty of the same thing. I get a little spiritual when it comes to fantastic food. But I draw the line at missionary-style zeal: I don’t proselytize at dinner parties about why such-and-such a burger is the Jesus of hamburgers and why eating any other kind of burger makes you a sinner. I’m more of a Jewish mother than a Baptist minister when it comes to food: I may needle you and urge you to “put some more meat on your bones,” but I won’t baptize you in a bowl of Momofuku ramen.

In the pantheon of proselytizing foodies, none are worse, in my opinion, than the Di Fara-philes. The Katz’s Deli-ites may bully you a bit, but soon they leave you alone. The Ssam Bar cronies shoot you menacing looks as you walk past, but you can ignore them. Not so Di Fara-philes. They’re the Jim Bakers of the food world: verbally slapping you around until you relent and admit that Di Fara pizza is not only the greatest pizza that’s ever happened, but the greatest contribution mankind has made to the universe next to fire and the wheel.

I have felt the wrath of Di Fara-philes first hand, mostly because I’ve lived in New York for three years and–up until last week–I had never been there. “You’ve never been to Di Fara?!” they’d say as if they’d seen into the core of my soul and found a huge, festering wound. “What kind of food blogger are you?”

Like a 13-year old Jewish atheist forced to have a Bar Mitzvah, I consulted the Rabbi–in this case, Adam Kuban who told me how to get there and what to order (“Just a plain cheese pie”)–invited my friend Patty, who also hadn’t been sanctified in the waters of Di Fara, and boarded the Q train to Ave. J, ready to save our souls.

No star in the sky showed us the way, but instinct led us in the right direction. We found Di Fara, despite its unprepossessing exterior, and upon walking in I expected to hear a pipe organ or a choir: the place was church-like, with the pizza counter as altar and the disciples–throngs of greedy Di Fara-philes–pressed in, to get a look at their god, the man behind the operation, the legend himself: Dom DeMarco, the mind, body and soul of Di Fara.

Here he is, assembling a pizza:

IMG_2.JPG

Now up until this point I was skeptical. I know the spectrum from bad New York pizza to good New York pizza stretches wide, but at the good end I’ve had enough quality pies–Una Pizza Napoletana, Franny’s–to feel that good pizza can only be so good. I love those pizzas, but at the end of the day, it’s just dough, sauce and cheese. We needn’t jab our eyes out in effigy: pizza is pizza.

And yet, here is this man–this tiny man, mild-mannered, patient and soft-spoken–methodically stretching out dough. He does it rhythmically, gets it into a wide circle, and then he ladles sauce on. Not too much sauce, just enough to coat the dough but not so much it’ll drown the pie. He gets a ball of fresh mozzarella and slices it slowly, thoughtfully, and scatters it carefully–purposefully–so each bit of circle has a bit of mozzarella. He adds another cheese–is it ricotta?–and then, from a copper can that looks like the oil can from “The Wizard of Oz”–he drizzles oil over the pie. He opens the oven door and removes, with his fingers, a finished pie to a tray and replaces it with the raw one.

To the hot pizza, he drizzles on more oil. Then he goes to a grating machine and grates fresh parmesan. He takes his time. When he has enough Parmesan grated, he takes a handful over to the hot pie and sprinkles it on. Then he takes fresh basil from the windowsill and, with a pair of scissors, snips fresh basil leaves on top. With a pizza cutter he cuts the pie and everyone watching–from the smallest child to the oldest man–salivates and looks up eagerly: “Is this pie for me?” Dom knows whose pie it is. “This your pizza,” he says to two guys at the end of the counter. They get out money and pay and carry it, like the Ark of the Covenant, to their table and study this creation, completely mesmerized.

I’ve never seen anything like this.

In all my years of eating out–and I’ve been eating out since childhood–I’ve never seen a chef so magically absorbed in his work. It’s as if Dom DeMarco came out of the womb with a pizza cutter in his hand, ready to pursue his life’s purpose–a purpose he treats with the same seriousness that I.M. Pei designs a building or Bob Dylan writes a song. He is the real deal, a true artisan, and standing in his presence is indeed a spiritual experience.

When he came to me and asked what I wanted, I ordered a plain cheese pie, and then watched and waited for about thirty minutes before my pie was ready. I didn’t care. Patty got us a table and I forgot she was there waiting. I just watched him. The rituals–the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the oil, the oven, the basil–were as defined as that of any religion. I couldn’t stop watching. And neither could anyone else: that was the amazing thing. In New York City (well, Brooklyn, but close enough)–a city famous for its impatience, its rushing, its speed–people line up and wait hours (really: there’s a sign on the wall that says it could take hours) for a basic pizza pie. And all because of this little man who, like an oracle, channels energy from the gods to produce perfect pizza.

At last, ours was ready and I paid and brought the pizza to Patty who waited patiently. Here it is:

IMG_3.JPG

Maybe it doesn’t look like supernatural pizza, maybe you see it the way others see a hotel room Bible. But trust me: the colors, the sounds (blub blub blub), the smells were captivating. And I left it to Patty to have the first piece, which I documented on video:

Notice how Patty pauses before she says, “It’s really great.” That’s because her senses are processing the wonder of a Di Fara pizza. Somehow, all that love and care that goes into each pie makes each bite taste like a symphony, a sonnet, a Pulitzer-prize winning play. It’s a work of art. And after only one slice each we instantly declared that it was the best pizza we’d ever had.

So there you have it: I drank the Kool-Aid. I shaved my head and put on the toga. I am now a convert and I’m ready to convert you. You mean you live in New York and you haven’t been to Di Fara? What kind of heathen are you? I see that wound festering in your soul and it’s time you patched it up and do what the post title tells you: go to Di Fara and get saved.

Categories: Misc.

  • http://www.frenchlaundryathome.com French Laundry at Home

    My cousin RAVES about this place, so now that I’ve read your review I’m even more anxious to get up there and try it out!

  • http://inpraiseofsardines.typepad.com/blogs/ Brett

    Hallelujah! Last year I missed a flight for a few slices of Dom’s pizza. Glad you liked it. And excellent post.

  • http://chewonthat.blogspot.com Caley

    Haha, what a hilarious post! I’m a new New Yorker, and have been overwhelmed by all the must-have food, but I must try this now. I just had Grand Sichuan last night.

    Now it’s time for pizza with fresh basil!

  • http://inpraiseofsardines.typepad.com/blogs/ Brett

    Praise Cheesus!

  • Jeanne

    What are their hours – can we stand in line for a lunch pizza? June 1 – my city – can’t wait to be with you again.

  • mbaldwin

    Oh, cmon. I love a tasty ny pizza as much as the next guy, but you didn’t even mention that half of the crust on that pie was burned to cinders? I’ll admit that the pie looks good, but it sounds like you’re the same old drone that you ranted about at the beginning of the essay.

    No big deal, you probably won’t post this anyway.

  • Mbaldwin

    Damn, back to automatic posting! My apologies.

  • xb

    A wonderful post! The stuff about evangelical foodies and acolytes was hilarious and apt, and I’m glad you are man enough to admit that Di Fara had the same effect on you. This post made me want to go to Brooklyn, pronto.

  • AuntJone

    Sweet Jesus! I’m hopping a plain to NY as soon as humanly possible. There are very few foods, ok there are no foods, I am willing to wait in line for but this pizza may break that rule.

    “We needn’t jab our eyes out in effigy: pizza is pizza.”

    I’ll forget you said that.

  • Indigo

    Adam, I am de-lurking to tell you what a fantastic post this is. Your writing has always been good, but this is your best ever. And now I want pizza….

  • Matt

    Now that’s my kind of conversion experience! Sounds like the guy is the Thomas Keller of pizza, or maybe he’s the Dom DeMarco of haute cuisine…anyway, I’m with Indigo, very well-written review that is what a great review should be: as much about the people involved as about the food itself, and still making you damn hungry. Good stuff!

  • http://www.suburban-gourmet.com matt

    Wow! We don’t have all that many great pizza restaurants in Minneapolis but the one the one or two we do have are outstanding. I’ve got to make a trip to New York just for the food and just for the pizza. Maybe I’ll say lunch is always pizza, and dinner is another nice restaurant. My stomach is grumbling because of that pizza picture!!!

  • Sam

    If (when) I get to NYC again, I think I’m going to have to go off my diet (for my health, not to lose weight) and have some of this pizza. :)

  • http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/ Anne

    As much happiness as I feel for you that you got to eat this incredible pizza, I feel just as much envy. It looks amazing.

  • Louise

    Being a foodie I have to ask; how was the sauce? Did you find the cheese combination salty? Do you prefer thin crust pizza? Does he use regular flour or bread flour? I wonder where he comes by fresh basil on a daily basis (lucky him)? I’ve always loved your writing and wish you could extend it when writing about the food you taste. Go ahead, pique my interest, please!

  • Allison

    Good lord, I would die for a good slice of pizza right now. There isn’t much in the area of an amazing pie here in Kansas, but hopefully I’ll be eating some real pizza when I take my trip to Italy. I think they know a thing or two about a good pie..

  • http://avocadogreenoven.com avocadogreenoven

    I am totally a DiFara-phile. I plead guilty. I don’t think it’s ricotta, Adam, I think it’s a mixture of mozzarellas.

    Last Christmas, my husband and I drove about 200 miles and half a day out of our way for a DiFara pizza. We were supposed to be at my dad’s house in NJ in time for dinner. Keep in mind that I see him about once a year, if I’m lucky, as we live in NC. But I was possessed by that pie, and certain we could magically be in two places at once. Unfortunately we got to DiFara there at 5 pm on a Friday, as if there is any time that there isn’t a wait. We got in line (sort of, if you’ve been there, you know how it is). We ignored the mean-looking men in back of us spiting angrily in Russian-accented English about how people who cut in line would probably choke on their food. (hey, don’t look at me!) Forty-five minutes later, I got out my cell phone, hunger, anxiety and dread knotting my stomach.

    “We stopped for some pizza,” I told my dad. “We’re going to be a little late.”

    “But you were going to eat dinner with us!” he pouted. “Meatballs!”

    Silence.

    “What kind of pizza is this?” he demanded. It’s me or the pizza, he was telling me.

    We left empty-handed. Oh my God. Maybe I should have choosen the pizza.

  • http://elegantsufficiency.typepad.com Stephanie

    Hilarious post! Quite brilliant… and my I wish that pizza wasn’t an ocean away.

  • Lizzy

    I am a di faraphile/tottono’s-o-phile. So glad I grew up in brooklyn!

    To the person talking about the pizza being half burnt, you just dont understand the magic of Di fara’s. I once had to pick sausage off the entire pizza because it was completely burnt, but thats just the price you pay for having amazing pizza, especially when Dominic is so swamped. You just don’t get it. : (

  • http://shebrews.typepad.com eydie

    I am really, really, hungry now! Too bad I am so far from that place….

    great writing! Loved the delicious words you use!

  • Ben

    Just so you know, because clearly you don’t, it’s not parmesan for g-d’s sake, it’s Grana Padano.

    It’s as if you’ve learned nothing.

  • Ben

    “I wonder where he comes by fresh basil on a daily basis (lucky him)?”

    You stupid heathen, he grows it on the plants that sit in the window, isn’t it obvious?

    (seriously, he grows it himself)

  • http://www.avocadogreenoven.com avocadogreenoven

    I have another DiFara story: my friend and I got saved on a Monday afternoon last October, a few short hours before our plane was scheduled to whisk us back home. We had a single slice left, which I decided to bring home to my vey lucky husband, carrying it carefully through airport security and the like. And when I got home, I almost didn’t give it to him. Di Fara’s pizza isn’t a religion – it’s a cult. You see what it drives nice, sensible people to do?

  • mike

    I waited over 3 hours on cold winder nights for a pie. I’ll tell you something thou… It was worth it!, they recently got shut down but the DOH, and all i could think of was “i hope the lines are shorter now” mmmm it taste like … love!

  • christina

    Ben- wow, back off with the animosity.

    Nice post, AG. I liked the crack about drinking Kool Aid.

  • Sarah

    Okay, I’m going to have to leave work early….ummm maybe miss a few days! You have me convinced. I’m jealous; that I live all the way up in South-Western Ontario and can’t try this masterpeice. We do make a good pie up here, and have other culinary delights. But you make this pizza look like a god. lol

  • http://www.sliceny.com Adam Kuban

    I don’t think I said, “Just a plain cheese pie,” as that’s redundant. A “plain pie” is one with no toppings—just crust, sauce, cheese. It’s likely I said “plain pie.”

    Also: Yes — it’s a cheese combo of fresh mozzarella (usually imported buffalo mozzarella), regular mozzarella (Grandé brand, I believe), and grana padano.

  • http://www.leftoverqueen.com/ Jenn

    Okay, here is the big question….was it cooked in a wood burning stove at high temperature? That is the be all end all of a BRILLIANT pizza.

  • sgny

    It is an old regular pizza oven. It is the quality and the freshness of the ingredients that make it special but above all it is the experience. He takes the pies out of the oven with his hands. Nice. He operates in two speeds… slow and stop. There could be two people or twenty people at the counter the pace never changes. You would generally walk out of a place that had service like this but the pizza is great and you get to watch a real pizza maker do his thing. Great experience but make sure to bring your patience depending on when you go.

  • Philip

    Jeez. It is as if some of these people have never heard of the Dominator.

    -

    Oh, cmon. I love a tasty ny pizza as much as the next guy, but you didn’t even mention that half of the crust on that pie was burned to cinders?

    -

    When you are dealing with oven temperatures, especially in a steel deck oven which are notoriously inconsistent at that temperature, you are going to have ‘hot spots’ and you are going to have burnt pies. It happens at every one of the artisan pizza places, period. Coal fired, wood burnt, steel deck. It happens.

    -

    Being a foodie I have to ask; how was the sauce? Did you find the cheese combination salty? Do you prefer thin crust pizza? Does he use regular flour or bread flour? I wonder where he comes by fresh basil on a daily basis (lucky him)?

    -

    A foodie who doesn’t know about DiFara? Lies.

    The beauty is, he changes the brand of ingredients that he uses based on the freshness and availability at the time of purchase. Generally speaking his sauce consists primarily of imported D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes, and not much else. It’s a purse tomato sauce left to be what it is supposed to be- tomato. The cheese combo, like Adam said, is fresh buffalo mozzarella, grande whole milk mozzarella, and topped with grana padano at the end. Let us not forget the drizzle of olive oil before entering the oven and after leaving the oven. The dough is more of an unknown. At various times he has told people he uses General Mills All Trumps flour, Caputo ’00′ Flour from italy, or a mix of both. No one really knows though it has been researched and attemped to be replicated for over a year now on pizzamaking.com. And, yeah, the basil is from his windowsill. Google ‘off the broiler difara’ for another great write up with more pictures.

    -

    Okay, here is the big question….was it cooked in a wood burning stove at high temperature? That is the be all end all of a BRILLIANT pizza.

    -

    …Come on. His oven is right beside him in the first picture. Also, plenty of artisan pizza makers are learning how to replicate and, in my opinion, surpass the old coal ovens of yesteryear. Dom and Brian Spangler of Apizza Scholls are perfect examples of this.

    Love,

    a cult member

  • Stuart

    I am coming to NY in August and need two things? First is good cheap accommodation near Times Square and secondly where is the best Deli to get a Pastrami on Rye.

  • Phil

    Hilarious take on the subject. I’ve sensed that I might be annoying people or coming across as a total crazy when I’m frothing about DiFara. Thanks for confirming.

    I love the burnt parts. The crust has a texture that is superior to other pies, and the charring is part of it, IMO.

    The first time I went there I was a total skeptic, and I was getting tense about the “line” (more of a slow motion, silent free-for-all). As soon as I got my pie I was over it though.

    There are so many examples of places that are supposed to be the absolute best in any category, and often they don’t measure up to the hype *cough-peterluger-cough*. DiFara is truly a culinary treasure, though.

    I have to realize that if someone doesn’t swallow the kool-aid, that just means one less in line in front of me!

  • http://www.widecircles.ca arnold jais

    Well that’s yummy I was there once for pizza with my children, the taste won our heart and we go there every last Sunday of the month. My family is fond of pizza before going there we use to buy it from a 24hr shop but it doesn’t fulfill our appetite but after tasting the pizza here we could say one thing “IT WAS MIND BLOWING”.

    ______________________

    ARNOLD

    Wide Circles

  • ashu

    I think that it is really a impressive discussion.love the burnt parts. The crust has a texture that is superior to other pies, and the charring is part of it.

    ———————————————————

    animesh

    Wide Circles