Saturday November 27th 2010
Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY
I’ve said it before that New York is the only city in America where you can get a decent pizza. Sure there might be the occasional place hidden away in some other town (but definitely not Chicago) where they’ve got an acceptable one, but the ratio of consistency reigns far higher than anywhere else in the city of New York. In all my other visits to the city I’ve sustained myself on affordable slices from a variety of pizza joints within a convenient proximity to where I was hanging out, places that despite being far superior to anyplace I’d go in Providence or Philly or where ever, still were not even close to the best for New York. There’s been a few places I’d heard the folklore of, legendary, near mythical New York pizza places, but few had tales as impressive as Di Fara’s. Di Fara’s, as I’d heard the story, was a Brooklyn pizza joint run by this one guy who has worked there every day for like sixty years or something, and he’s the only one who makes the pizzas. He’ll have an assistant to take care of all the bullshit like stocking the soda cooler and sweeping the place up, just so all of his attention is concentrated solely on the pies, each of which is made entirely to order, taking an hour plus to complete.
Luckily the northbound traffic wasn’t as bad as the southbound and the Philly contingent arrived before we did, and they arrived just in time, placing the last order before Di Fara’s assistant locked the door. Apparently everyday at 4pm they lock the doors for a few hours to catch up on orders. We got there about a half hour later and mimed to the other half of our group through the windows, until when the time was right the assistant unlocked the doors, unleashing a trapped horde of people who had been forced to stand around waiting inside post meal. Stealthily, we swam upstream through the exodus crowd and got inside undetected. I was able to catch this glimpse of the owner taking a pie out of the oven, sprinkling a handful of freshly grated parmesan, and with a barbers finesse trim his handheld bouquet of basil with a scissors over the top. Despite the surly city crowds that congested his counter area waiting impatiently for their food, despite the state of disrepair they’d left his dining room in, and the gusts of cold air they brought inside with their selfish desires to leave, he remained focused, working very slowly, not allowing his natural pace to be compromised by the increasing demands and pressures. He strode between the oven and his prep area with a geriatric caution, balancing steaming pizzas at varying degrees of doneness on his paddle (some with crusts approaching the char-zone), almost oblivious to the wild crowd that nearly threatened to cross over onto his side. This is one of the only scenes I’ve witnessed that I would feel comfortable using the word ‘Zen’ to describe. I got the feeling that even if no one was coming to his restaurant and ordering the pizzas that he’d still just make them all day anyways, it just so happened that there were other people around paying him money. This is clearly his calling.
After what we estimated to be an hour and a half wait (which I came excited about, and proved to be fun), the pizza was born. Party Tom retrieved it from the counter and sort of plunked it on our table in which I felt was a rather disrespectful and negligent manner for something that had been so delicately and lovingly crafted. Could we go back in time, I would have gotten it from the counter, supported the box from each corner as I carried it to the table, laying it down like an infant child, peeling the lid back slowly, causing a shroud of steam to obscure the jewel bespectacled pie, allowing it to fade into focus in a dreamlike fashion as the mist dissipated, but hey, it didn’t work out that way. So in an unceremonious style we each separated a slice and began to eat. A silence befell the table.
The crust was quite thin, crunchy but not overdone, it had a slight stretch, provided a good chew, and had a nice sour tinge to it. The sauce was of the pulverized tomato variety, containing large tomato chunks, very simple and nice. The mozzarella cheese was portioned out not in a modest or skimpy way, but definitely wasn’t overindulgent. That combined with the dusting of parmesan provided ample cheese flavor. This wasn’t a pizza that relied solely on the cheese, it was entirely about all the ingredients combining to form one thing, all aspects were as important. Of course everyone just sat around the table saying things like “Hmmm…yeah this is good.”, but you could tell everyone knew they should be saying something more, its just that no one could tell what. You could give someone these very same ingredients, and they’d have trouble replicating it, there is a simplistic genius at work that has been perfected over decades of near constant practice that I don’t know could be matched.
Not to bring things down, but before you go to get a pizza here, be warned that one large, yet pretty regular sized, pie is $28 dollars. Split between five people it was pretty affordable, but no one got filled up, we all just had a tasting, a wonderful tasting, but yes just a tasting. You’d really be dropping some cash here to walk out food coma style. While eating, I noticed at least two newspaper cut outs they had framed on the wall in which defenders of their prices were interviewed. The headline of one was “$4 for a slice too much? This man thinks not.” And it’s $5 a slice nowadays.