My Brooklyn Diet:
After watching Dr. David Kessler, the esteemed former Surgeon General, tell me on PBS not to eat anything I crave, I decided to fight back. I went to Peter Luger Steakhouse for lunch, ordering their famous Luger Burger. This is a classic chop house burger. I had it “medium” meaning it was pink inside, juicy, charred on the outside (or more properly, seared), on one of their own buns, and with their great French fries. This is perfection, and it’s $11 with French fries, one of the true food bargains in New York City. Luger’s wasn’t crowded at lunch on a Wednesday and it was pure fun.
Driving away to my friend’s house, he told me that he lived five minutes from Di Fara Pizza on Ave J. I have never been to the legendary Di Fara and suggested maybe we could stop there and sample the pizza. He laughed and said, the line would be out the block, but we could try. As he’s a friend of Domenico De Marco (he’s been going there since the early ’70s long before it was famous), he thought he might get a break. But as it turned out, at just a little after 1 p.m., there was no line and we actually found a table in this genuine hole-in-the wall (for ambiance it makes De Lorenzo in Trenton look like The Four Seasons). As far as I know, Di Fara is the only pizza place of this caliber to serve slices. They had two remaining of their regular cheese pizza and warmed one up for me. At the same time, we ordered a square pizza slice, and they made a fresh pie to accommodate our request (which took about 30 minutes).
The cheese pizza slice was startlingly good, as good as any pizza I’ve had anywhere, as good as De Lorenzo, as good as Una Pizza Napoletana, as good as Pepe’s and Sally’s. Uniquely as far as I know, he puts olive oil on top of the pie, just before he bakes it. This oily slice, that was charred on the outside, was sensational. The rich sauce is simply wonderful, the cheese exceptional. Long after we consumed our delicious single slices, out came the square pie which emerged as a golden masterwork, truly a marvel to see, slightly reminiscent of seeing a glowingly fresh baked deep dish pie at Giordano’s in Chicago. I’ve seen these square pies (different than a Sicilian style pie) called “Brooklyn” pies, but at DiFara it’s a “square pie” for $25. The crust is very rich and crunchy, the oil sits on top of the square, and the cheese is savory. The sauce is different than what he uses on the regular thin crust cheese pizza, but equally good, though I found the oil a little more prominent, which gives it a unique texture and flavor compared to other pizzas I’ve eaten.
My friend Larry told me that he notices that Domenico De Marco (who is the only one who makes these miraculous pies) sometimes varies the amounts of cheese or seasonings, improvising a little. I watched him making pies and he is very committed, very serious. No smiles, nothing but concentration. In all my travels, I don’t believe I’ve ever come across such good food out of such a modest venue. The characters eating there were, as in most pizzerias I’ve been too, friendly and talkative. One fellow advised “Don’t let the pizza hit a box, eat it here while it’s hot.” Another, who I mentioned De Lorenzo’s in Trenton, NJ to, shuddered in horror “I never go to Jersey, this place IS IT!” In fact he mentioned hearing about John’s and Lombardi’s, but had no interest in crossing the river. He barely considers Grimaldi’s to be in Brooklyn. Everyone agreed that Di Fara outclassed Grimaldi’s by miles.
Di Fara Pizza goes to the top of my list of classic American thin crust pizza emporiums, joining De Lorenzo’s, Pepe’s and Sally’s.