I will go practically anywhere to find good food. When I spent a year in Paris, I woke up one morning and declared I wanted Belgian waffles. So what did I do? I boarded a train that very morning and went to Belgium to get some.
Which is why I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me six whole years as a Brooklyn resident to finally visit Di Fara, home to what many believe is New York’s best pizza. With Grimaldi’s a 15-minute walk from my apartment, and plenty of places to grab a slice, it just seemed too far away.
Then I started reading food blogs this summer, and it seemed like everyone had a story to tell about Di Fara and its 70-year old owner, Domenico DeMarco. Descriptions of his perfectionistic approach to pizza made me realize it was time to make the trek.
Located on Avenue J in Midwood, Di Fara is a non-descript spot with just 5 or 6 tables and peach walls that could use a good scrub. It took a little over 10 minutes for Daniel and I to get there by car and we now know that the Q train is just a few feet away.
Ever since Domenico opened Di Fara over 40 years ago, he has made every single pizza himself. He works 7 days per week, 12 hours per day and only takes 3 1/2 days off per year. He has seven children who often help him, though they’re usually relegated to taking orders and stirring pots of sauce. On the rare occasion that their dad gets sick, the entire place shuts down.
The night we were there, Domenico shuffled back and forth between a marble slab covered with flour, cans of Filippo Berrio and an antique cash register while his daughter Maggie manned the counter.
He was hard at work when we arrived, diligently preparing each pie and only looking up once or twice to smile at a regular. Sometimes he muttered a few words with his thick, Italian accent but for the most part, he was a man of few words. It was all about the pizza.
He gave each pie his undivided attention, repeating a meticulous set of steps very slowly. There weren’t large tubs of grated cheese or enormous vats of sauce to help move the process along. He made each pie one by one, breaking up balls of Buffalo mozzarella and making mini mounds of Grana padano with a hand crank grater.
Each pie received a generous swirl of olive oil before going in the oven, and the minute it came out, Domenico completed the final—and my favorite—part of the process.
He fetched a fresh bundle of basil and ceremoniously snipped off a few pieces.
When Maggie started handing out slices, Daniel and I joined the crowds of people waiting and lucked out with the last two.
Unlike many of the doughy, thick slices sold throughout the city, these were a bit more delicate, flimsy even, but perhaps because they’re only eaten fresh from the oven while the cheese is dripping off. Each bite was complex, the tangy and slightly sweet tomato sauce mingling with the mellow mozzarella and more pungent Grana padano, and the small puddles of olive oil so rich, fragrant and filling.
I'm a sucker for a good slice of Sicillian and Di Fara definitely serves one of the best I've ever tasted. To achieve its crackly crust, Domenico first bakes the dough by itself and then a second time once all the other ingredients have been added.
It was thick without being too bready and came with the perfect proportion of cheese and sauce. Domenico's slow as molasses style made it easy to eat a corner slice, digest a bit and then tackle another.
As a first time visitor, the long wait didn’t bother me. I passed the time by reading almost all the articles hung haphazardly on the walls, then stood at the counter with a crowd of other customers, hypnotized by Domenico's gentle manner and stubborn devotion. What impressed me the most is that no one, and not even a very hungry man who looked and sounded a lot like Tony Soprano the night we were there, muttered a single complaint.
People seemed to recognize and appreciate Domenico’s dedication. It was easy to get antsy, or even territorial. When pies popped out of the oven, his daughter tried to pass them out to the people she thought had been waiting the longest, but such a system didn't always work.
If you’re lucky like we were, the wait won’t even be that long (we managed to eat three slices each over the course of an hour). And should you get stuck there even longer, rest assured that it's so very worth it.
1424 Avenue J