Di Fara: Pizza that's worth the wait

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.

Di Fara
1424 Avenue J
Brooklyn, NY

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Anonymous said...

Oh man. I'm sad to admit that I've still never been to DiFara's and I just don't know why! Can I hitch a ride with you next time you go? :)

annulla said...

Oh, no. I'm now the only person left in Brooklyn who hasn't yet been to DiFara's.

OK, once we get past next week's Festival of Turkey, I'm going to make a pilgrimage to Avenue J.

Lia said...

Luisa, of course you can hitch a ride! It's been a few weeks since our first visit, so I really want to go again soon.

Annulla, you won't be disappointed!

Anne Stesney said...

That does it. We're going! The benefits of being unemployed are that I can go for lunch.

Shauna said...

I love this place. Thankfully (or maybe not), I still didn't know I had celiac when I lived in New York. The best slice I ever had I ate there, when I was standing up with my friend Sharon, after waiting in line for an hour, moaning over our slices. Oh god, the memory is so clear.

Anonymous said...

Lia, I think this may be one of my favorite posts yet. I'm not sure when I'll make it to Di Fara, but I'm certainly curious now.

Anonymous said...

Lia, I love this post. I think it is one of my favorites. I can't believe I have lived in NYC for so long and never been to Di Fara. Jeff and I are both dying to go now. Do they serve anything besides pizza?

Molly said...

Oh Lia, I'm so glad that you finally made it to Di Fara! Brandon is obsessed with Domenico's pizza, as you know from my post, and it is hands-down the best slice I've ever eaten. We both love it so much that we went there to celebrate on the night that we got engaged! So, SO good.

Lia said...

Anne, yes you have no excuse for not going now! Plus, you're the lucky one who can go later in the afternoon when maybe it's not as busy.

Shauna, it really is a place that you can't get out of your head once you've experienced it. I thought the pizza was amazing, but also developed a slight crush on Domenico. He's too cute!

That's saying a lot Judith since you're definitely my most devoted reader. Thank you! And you should block off a Di Fara day on your calendar very soon. You won't be disappointed.

Amanda, thank you too! You and Jeff have to go soon. They did have a menu listing other Italian specialties, but people seem to just want the pizza.

Molly, it was your post in particular that inspired me to finally go, so thank you for writing it! And of course thanks to Brandon for bringing you there.

Marc said...

I have been wanting to get to Di Fara for a couple of years now, but haven't gotten that far into Brooklyn. As of now, Grimaldi's is my favorite in NYC, I'd say.

Lia said...

Marc, I'm a big fan of Grimaldi's as well, although I hate waiting in those long lines. Did you read about that new pizza place in Carroll Gardens that was written up in the Times last Wednesday?

Marc said...

Lia, what is the name of the pizza place in Carroll Gardens? Any reviews on the place? If it's good, maybe I'll get over there this fall.

Lia said...

Marc, it's called Lucali. I actually just wrote about it last week. The NY Times reviewed it earlier this year as well. I thought it was great!

Anonymous said...

Arnel I was there the night you took the pictures. I didn't remember until a friend said he saw me onlie. I pass the place all the time. I plan to go back soon. I have paid more for pizza. My daughter is a celiac. You helped pass the time.


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