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DiFara (Review)

MMRuth Mar 19, 2008 07:41 AM

I don’t eat much pizza. But when friends mentioned a DiFara outing they were planning, I glommed on immediately, invited myself, and also offered up my husband, who generally claims not to like pizza, to drive us out to Avenue J. Given all the discussion about the line (or lack thereof) etc., I wanted to take the opportunity to go with someone who’d been before. So, last night around 5pm the five of us met up, and drove to Brooklyn. We arrived just after 6pm, parked, and went in, armed with a bag of bottles of wine and an opener, and some hand wipes usually reserved for dog that I’d grabbed on the way out. We’d discussed our order in the car – one plain pie, one round with artichoke hearts, and one square pepperoni. When we entered, we saw a hand written sign on the door, which stated that “due to an injury” the pies might take longer than usual, and to please be patient. Our DiFara “expert” went to the counter, where six or seven people were milling about, and ordered.

Meanwhile, we spied an empty small round table in a back corner, and some in our group went to claim it, and add chairs, and eventually a small square table. While my husband opened the wine, I popped across the street for some plastic cups. Glass of wine in hand, I then joined my friend, our expert, at the counter to watch Mr. DeMarco at work, as I did, off and on, for the next hour and a half. What a joy. It was like watching a ballet in slow motion, as he gracefully, slowly, moved from stretching out the dough to adding the ingredients, sliding pies in and out of the oven, reaching here and there for more ingredients, grating the cheese, drizzling the olive oil, snipping the basil, and then, finally, gloriously, presenting a pie.

My friend suggested that we offer Mr. DeMarco a glass of wine, so I went up to the counter and asked his daughter if he might like a glass. She said that it might help stave off the pain of his broken ribs, and he then accepted it, even though I told him it was French and not Italian, and certainly not an Amarone. Upon a return visit to the counter, he told me that the French and the Italians make the best wines, and that this one was nice and dry. At that point, I had a chat with a woman who’d been waiting since we had arrived. She told me that she comes every Tuesday on her way home from work to get a pizza for her 29 year old son, and has been doing so for 4 years. This led to a lovely conversation about families, and what we do for the ones we love. Seemingly quickly, we got our plain round (maybe it had been intended for slices?). I almost don’t have words to describe this pizza, or the ones that ensued. It truly was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The crust, the char, the melding of cheese and tomato and olive oil and herbs. Glorious.

We ate, we drank, we watched. Then the artichoke pie came out. The melted former mounds of mozzarella, the olive oil, the beautiful artichoke hearts … more heaven. We reinforced our supply of paper plates and napkins. By this point, most of us had clothing that was adorned with splatters of tomato, oil and cheese. The handy wipes did, in fact, become handy. More wine, then the words “pepperoni square” rang out, and we retrieved it. We’ve moved from the plain round, to a round with topping, to a square with topping. Different, chewier, but just as truly wonderful. More crust, more cheese, some of the best pepperoni I’ve ever had. More sighs of happiness. By 8pm or so, it became time to leave – two bottles of wine gone, our table littered with napkins and plates. We organized once again as we had upon our arrival – trash in the trash bin, wine bottles in the “recycling” area in the window, leftover pizza divided and carefully placed on top of layers of foil and wax paper into the small boxes, $75 bill paid, the unopened third bottle of the wine given to Mr. DeMarco, we walk out the door, smiles all around.

I think I’m in love – not just with the pizza, but with the place. We had a joyful, relaxed experience – wine, food, friends, in the presence of one who clearly loves the same.

Edit: I realized, while writing this, how rude it was of me not to offer Mr. DeMarco's daughter a glass of wine as well. Hope to correct that next time.

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  1. v
    Val55 Mar 19, 2008 09:14 AM

    How did your husband like it?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Val55
      MMRuth Mar 19, 2008 09:15 AM

      Loved it. Turns out it's bad pizza he doesn't like, and he usually isn't willing "to take the risk"! He also claims not to like cake, but that is "a whole nother story" so to speak.

    2. Pat Hammond Mar 19, 2008 09:34 AM

      it's been a long while since I was last at DiFara, but your post definitely has me hankering! Thanks for a great write-up.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Pat Hammond
        bobjbkln Mar 19, 2008 11:08 AM

        MMRuth, thanks for that wonderful review. You clearly had the right attitude for eating at DiFara's. Sorry to hear about Dom's broken ribs, but it must have been recent. We were there less than two weeks ago and he was fine (although it still took nearly an hour and a half to get our broccoli rabe round pie).

        1. re: bobjbkln
          MMRuth Mar 19, 2008 11:13 AM

          Thanks - we got our three pies within, I'd say, an hour and fifteen minutes or so of ordering, and they were nicely paced. His daughter - Maggie? - was writing down orders and keeping track, I noticed. She was really very sweet and friendly - asked us if it was our first visit (must have been the glow in our eyes that tipped her off!). We'd finish one, a moment of silence would ensue, discuss, etc., and then the next one would be up. From everything I'd read, the attitude was key. We were there for however long it took to get our pizzas. Bringing the wine and opener was certainly a good call - though I did notice a liquor store very close by, as well!

          1. re: MMRuth
            d
            David W Mar 20, 2008 11:12 AM

            Nice review-by the way, for your next trip I'd recommend bringing your wine again-that liquor store doesn't have much to offer by way of decent wine.

      2. v
        vinegarhill Mar 19, 2008 11:02 AM

        I was there yesterday six hours before you at noon. My girlfriend and I were thinking we could beat the crowd by going right at opening time on a weekday. There was already a large group of tourists from Boston waiting. Someone said that Dom wouldn't be there until 12:30 at the earliest. We were too hungry to wait, so we bailed. When do people think the best time to go is? I think I'm going to try 3pm next time.

        1. d
          David B Mar 19, 2008 01:02 PM

          MMRuth - this post was so incredibly well written and descriptive that I literally had to leave my desk and go down and grab a slice when I finished reading it. Unfortunately, it wasn't from DiFara....

          2 Replies
          1. re: David B
            MMRuth Mar 19, 2008 01:40 PM

            Thank you. I was actually reticent about posting this, given all the snarkiness that sometimes (often?) ensues on DiFara threads!

            1. re: MMRuth
              t
              Tay Mar 19, 2008 09:25 PM

              I too thought you wrote a beautiful review and I am not a DiFara devotee. It almost made me want to try going again...
              And then I snapped out of it :-}
              Seriously, it was a a pleasure to read of your experience.

          2. l
            Lucia Mar 19, 2008 01:45 PM

            Just wanted to chime in since I was lucky enough to be at this dinner. Really an all around perfect meal experience. My favorite part (besides watching Dom) was the pepperoni square.

            1. j
              JFores Mar 19, 2008 06:54 PM

              Woah. How did Dom hurt himself? I'll be getting over there within the next few days. I'm home, but I have to stay in a REALLY out of the way part of Queens with no subway access... and I don't drive... VERY frustrating as I nearly went to Di Fara with my friends today.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JFores
                MMRuth Mar 20, 2008 07:47 AM

                I don't know how he hurt himself - sorry.

              2. rose water Mar 21, 2008 04:07 PM

                As lucky participant 3 of 5, I have little to add to MMRuth's wonderful review except:

                1. having Dom's daughter around is lovely. She keeps a list, so there's more of a semblance of order. The obnoxious guy in front of me who ranted about all the ways he could make the place better and asked her if she could help make the pizza was met with a patient smile. "It's his thing," she said, proudly gesturing at her dad. It sure is. And I'm thankful for it.

                2. MMRuth describes sighs of happiness. A highlight of the evening was watching her (and others) swoon. Part of my job is to teach medical students and doctors in training about addiction. Experiencing a pleasure response so profound, and watching others experience that rush, is a fun reminder of those pleasure/reward pathways at work.

                3. For all the no-topping purists, I stand by my favorites--the artichoke and the pepperoni. I'm thankful to my lovely dining companions that they indulged my dictating the order. Thick pepperoni, charred at the edges, and luscious artichoke, in a sea of milky oily cheesy greatness.

                4. Glomming on to people traveling out to DiFara's is always the right thing to do. (And it was a pleasure to eat so well with such great people).

                I for one am incredibly thankful this place exists, and wish Dom a speedy recovery.

                4 Replies
                1. re: rose water
                  Steve R Mar 22, 2008 09:48 AM

                  I was wondering who MMRuth took to guide. Glad they liked it so much. As one of those that usually gets no toppings when I go, I like going with groups so I can do both... he's had this large jar of imported marinated olives around for a year or so that's just great on the round pies. You'd like it. Maggie provides a sense of calm there that her brother doesnt. And she makes soup that's great... ask about it.

                  1. re: Steve R
                    MMRuth Mar 22, 2008 10:18 AM

                    Yes, rose water was indeed our guide - and we were most grateful to have her with us!

                    1. re: Steve R
                      rose water Mar 22, 2008 05:25 PM

                      The first time I went to DiFara's, years ago, all the reviews mentioned the great non-pizza options available if Maggie was available. I'd not seen her there ever, and had forgotten the recommendation. I'm curious about the soup and would love to hear more about it (though I get out there so infrequently that I don't know that I could bring myself to get anything other than the great pizza). And you're absolutely right, Steve R., Dom's son is often around, and often makes lists of the pending orders, but he doesn't provide the same sense of calm.

                    2. re: rose water
                      k
                      kathryn Mar 23, 2008 01:55 PM

                      Re #3: count myself in your camp. I had to convince my friends that the artichoke on the round was the way to go. Afterwards, they were all raving!

                    3. a
                      abee Mar 21, 2008 11:02 PM

                      I arrived at DiFara's that same day for the first time. I got there a few hours later- around 8:30pm. There was a group of college-age people there (~6) who had just gotten their first pie (out of 3) when I walked in the door. There was a woman there who was waiting for her pie, and a guy who walked in with me who I believe ordered ahead.

                      I went right to the counter and Dom's daughter took my order (a regular pie- to go) and I set myself up towards the right of the counter so I could watch Dom work while I waited. Several other people arrived and by the time 8:45 rolled around, it was quite crowded. I occupied myself watching the pizza's being made, and enjoying myself. It was kind of mesmerizing. A man and his son who seemed friendly with Dom came in, and I was worried they might be bumped up, but by the time I left they were still waiting.

                      One rather annoying woman kept bugging Dom's daughter, asking when her pie would be ready, because she was really busy and important (paraphrasing here) and had to leave. I think she arrived after I did, but I can't guarantee it. When "my" pie was ready, and having it's basil and cheese put on it, a couple walked in and watched. Dom ended up giving them the pie, at which point the daughter apologized to me. She explained that she was going to give that pie to me, but they had been in earlier and had to leave. I got the next pie out of the oven, and I was out by 9:15 at the latest.

                      I have to agree with MMRuth, that it's not just the pizza but the ambiance of the place that really makes it the experience it is. Watching Dom make the pizzas is amazing- the care and precision involved is truly stupendous. I had a solid half an hour drive home (to Jackson Heights) and my husband had gone out for the evening. I wolfed down two cooled down but delicious slices, and went out to meet him. The next day, the two of us ate the rest which I had frozen. Amazing, but probably most of all to me who had the experience of watching this pizza being made from start to finish.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: abee
                        e
                        elecsheep9 Mar 22, 2008 05:52 AM

                        I think that DiFara's is easily as good reheated the next good. In fact, I am a fan of a crispy slice, so I like the extra crisp that a quick reheat gives.

                        Man do I have to get back to DiFara's.

                      2. vvvindaloo Mar 22, 2008 10:45 AM

                        Thanks so much for this beautifully descriptive review. I haven't been out to Midwood for DiFara's in several years, and keep telling myself I should give it another go- it just hasn't happened yet!
                        Now that you have shared such an intriguing account with us, I am going to move it up on my priority list :)
                        FWIW, I am somewhat of a pizza purist, myself, but I think that pepperoni on the square pizza and artichoke on the round are two excellent choices for getting a thorough sense of what DiFara's has to offer.
                        Grazie ancora!

                        1. Polecat Mar 22, 2008 11:05 AM

                          Somewhat off topic but peripheral: the neighborhood itself. With DiFara's as the bait, I've lately been rewarded with just walking around either before they open or afterwards, scouting out myriad kosher bakeries on Avenue J, Coney Island Avenue, etc. Some beautiful old houses on the side streets as well. For those, like myself, who don't live close by, why not make a day of it? For those who might, miraculously, have the room after a DiFara's pie, I've found some better-than-average bakery items at Isaac's, just across the street, barring Saturdays I'm guessing. Midwood, in and of itself, is worth the trip.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Polecat
                            vvvindaloo Mar 22, 2008 01:54 PM

                            I was planning on doing just that sort of thing, polecat. I occasionally drive over to Bensonhurst from my parents' house (where the cars are :)) in order to pick up pastries from Villabate on 18th Ave. Recently, I have been thinking of spending more time in the area the next time I go, possibly venturing over to Avenue J for pizza... I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of various periods of architectural styles in the NY area, and have been known to take long walks just to see what interesting layout lies around the next corner, and the next, etc. I've also spent sundays at open houses without any intention of moving whatsoever, just because I can. But that's another topic, entirely.
                            Anyway, great suggestion, polecat!

                            1. re: vvvindaloo
                              rose water Mar 22, 2008 05:28 PM

                              How does Villabate compare to 18th Ave Bakery: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/34932... , which I thought had fantastic sfogliatelle?

                              1. re: rose water
                                vvvindaloo Mar 23, 2008 08:29 AM

                                Well, I should admit at the outset that I am not a huge fan of sfogliatelle. I can take them or leave them. I did read the thread you linked, though, and will say that my mother, a consummate sfogliatella eater, really likes DeLillo, and enjoys them more than any other mentioned. That said, I don't think I have ever been inside the 18th Ave. Bakery. If I did eat anything from there (which is possible), it was unknowingly.
                                As for Villabate, I love them because they are a true Sicilian Pasticceria. Their cassata, covered in a rich green marzipan coat and piled high with candied fruits, is second-to-none. Their pastries (some of which is outstanding while some is so-so) are beautiful and colorful -- the epitome of the phrase, "eye candy". But the reason Villabate really stands out from the crowd is in their ricotta, which they ship from Palermo. The closest thing to a cannolo in Palermo is a cannolo from Villabate Pasticceria. Ditto the Sfinge di S. Giuseppe (aka St. Joseph Zeppole). Ricotta, pistachio, and chocolate enveloped in either crispy cannoli shells or light egg pastry. The time to get them is from October through April, when the weather permits shipping ricotta without spoilage. If you do plan to go, I'd be happy to get more specific about which items are worthy of the trip and which I would skip (of which the sfogliatella is one).

                                1. re: vvvindaloo
                                  rose water Mar 23, 2008 03:15 PM

                                  that sounds exquisite, thanks.

                            2. re: Polecat
                              rose water Mar 22, 2008 05:34 PM

                              I'm glad you're exploring the neighborhood, Polecat. I've been curious. Please report back on any other discoveries.

                              http://www.orchardfruit.com/ is another nearby place that was recommended to me a long time ago--reportedly exquisite but very expensive fruit. I've never remembered to get the details *before* traveling out there; next time I'll be prepared.

                              1. re: rose water
                                t
                                Tay Apr 5, 2008 03:54 PM

                                rose water
                                The Orchard has very high quality, albeit, very costly, fruits. They do all my gift baskets and w/o fail I receive a call/email (Even from the recipients of condolence baskets) raving about the incredible fruit.
                                You pay a lot but always get great quality.

                              2. re: Polecat
                                r
                                redgirl Mar 23, 2008 07:40 AM

                                ostrovitsky's - same side on ave. j at east 12th is a much better bakery option than isaac's. there's a lovely small russian store also on avenue j. you'll find jars of jam at 1/3 of the price as they sell in park slope or bheights and great sliced salamis and russian bread. (they are open on saturday, unlike any of the kosher stores.) of course, there is the orchard - top end specialty fruit and veggie store on coney island avenue between j and k.

                              3. shindiganna Mar 25, 2008 12:04 PM

                                Thanks for your loving description. Slow food movement in a pizza joint :) It's a relaxing meditative experience.

                                1. brooklynbrownie Mar 25, 2008 06:34 PM

                                  Great review! We had our first DiFara's experience 1 month ago and we've been back ummmm...3 times since! And hope to go again soon. Truly delicious. We've been wanting to try the artichoke for awhile and after your review, we'll definitely do so next time. Hope that Dom feels better soon!

                                  Some photos from our first visit to Di Fara's (we wanted to capture the magic of our "first time" :)) http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycblond...

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: brooklynbrownie
                                    MMRuth Mar 26, 2008 05:42 AM

                                    Those pictures are making me very very hungry. Wished I lived closer!

                                    1. re: MMRuth
                                      brooklynbrownie Mar 27, 2008 10:43 PM

                                      MMRuth, your post inspired me, so last night I had my husband and his brother pick up a square pie last night that was 1/2 artichoke and 1/2 onion. Oh man. So delicious. I hope you get your next Di Fara's pie very soon. In the mean time, I've added some new pics to my flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycblondieandbrownie/sets/72157603974712771/

                                      Thanks again for the great review and the topping inspiration. I gave you a shout out on my blog. :) http://blondieandbrownie.blogspot.com...

                                      1. re: brooklynbrownie
                                        MMRuth Apr 7, 2008 10:15 AM

                                        Not fair of you to post more photos - it's such a long drive for us and, despite our wonderful evening, it's going to be a while before I convince my husband to drive out there again!

                                        1. re: MMRuth
                                          brooklynbrownie Apr 9, 2008 09:28 PM

                                          Aww... MMRuth, after your awesome write up you deserve another trip to DiFara's and soon! I'll be sending good pizza thoughts your way! :)

                                          Last week, I couldn't get out to Di Fara's so I tried my hand at a tribute pie for a pizza dinner party. Now I won't say that I have Dom's touch or his 900 degree oven...but the dough recipe I got from Slice was really good and not that hard to make--and I'm not a person who regularly makes dough in advance. Anyway, It was fun to put together my own version of the regular (semi) round pie. I even used scissors to cut the basil. ;)

                                          Here's a link to my homemade effort: http://blondieandbrownie.blogspot.com...

                                          Perhaps this will tide you over until your next Di Fara's trip!

                                          1. re: brooklynbrownie
                                            e
                                            elecsheep9 Apr 10, 2008 04:11 AM

                                            Your pizza looks delish!

                                            I used to make my own dough based on a recipe from a pizza book that I picked up somewhere. (The author must have been from Park Slope as he mentioned getting cheese curd for homemade fresh mozz from the old, now defunct, fratelli ravioli.)

                                            To simulate the gluten content found in Italian flour, the recipe calls for a mixture of regular flour and non-self-rising cake flour. I would pop it in the bread machine on dough setting, and in an hour and a half, i would get a terrific dough that yielded ridiculously thin crust pizzas!

                                            And like yours, I could never get them round either -- they always ended up more oblong. But even still, I gotta say, those pizzas were better than 95% of the pizzas I've had around. Although, truly a different style of pizza.

                                  2. m
                                    mburdge81 Apr 7, 2008 12:10 PM

                                    This epitomizes the exact experience I had for my first DiFara's experience. I was there on a Friday night, March 28th. I really can't tell you how long I waited because the time went by so fast just watching Dom work his magic. To those concerned about Dom - he broke some ribs at home. He slipped and fell when he was in the bathroom.

                                    13 Replies
                                    1. re: mburdge81
                                      n
                                      Nii Apr 12, 2008 04:06 AM

                                      I was at DiFara's on Monday during my trip to NYC. I'm from London and we just don't have these hole in the wall pizza joints. I looks like the sort of place people frequent to reminisce about the 'old days' of good pizza. The conversation I heard certainly made me think this. It also reminded me of all the long gone fish and chip places I grew up knowing as a child, which have all but disappeared. Anyway, the wait wasn't too long. I ordered two slices with garlic and pepperoni - the hand cut basil was a great finishing touch. The ingredients were delightfully fresh and the pizza was good too. I just couldn't believe how old Dom looks!!

                                      1. re: Nii
                                        a
                                        allieinbklyn Apr 13, 2008 12:57 PM

                                        Was it really $75 for three pies???

                                        1. re: allieinbklyn
                                          t
                                          Tay Apr 13, 2008 01:10 PM

                                          Well, each pie is $25 so.... :-}

                                          1. re: Tay
                                            g
                                            ginsbera Apr 13, 2008 02:54 PM

                                            and thats with toppings, personally I like the plain....lets the pizza standout more

                                          2. re: allieinbklyn
                                            MMRuth Apr 13, 2008 03:14 PM

                                            Yes. But on the other hand, it was $15 each for dinner for five, plus leftover slices. In my opinion, a great price for some truly wonderful food.

                                            1. re: MMRuth
                                              t
                                              Tay Apr 13, 2008 03:26 PM

                                              I'd have to agree with you. Even with the increased prices, you still cannot beat the value.

                                              1. re: MMRuth
                                                vvvindaloo Apr 13, 2008 03:38 PM

                                                I'd say you got a deal. I was there not too long ago (and waited longer for two pies to go than I did when I stood in line at Toys'R'Us for a Nintendo Wii). One young guy sold another young guy a square slice from his pie for $20. Guy #2 left happy!

                                                1. re: vvvindaloo
                                                  t
                                                  Tay Apr 14, 2008 02:13 PM

                                                  that's just crazy lol! ..
                                                  I'm always expecting to hear about a cottage industry of: "Slice Scalpers" hanging around,outside selling slices at 'Black Mkt' prices... :-}

                                                  1. re: Tay
                                                    vvvindaloo Apr 14, 2008 03:28 PM

                                                    well, just to round out the story for you:
                                                    it was a very hectic scene, with people waiting 2 hours for their orders. I don't know why, bc I am not a regular, but plenty of people were pretty annoyed with "junior", the son. Anyway, after hanging around all of that time in close proximity, some of us began conversation. One guy was behaving very flirtatiously toward me, but I tried not to notice and just kept focusing on watching the pizzas being made (they looked more and more delicious as the hours went by, believe me). The guy was actually very entertaining (clearly a regular), and he kept showing off and started cracking jokes to pass the time
                                                    (shouting across the room to everyone walking in that they ran out of cheese, for example). So we were all having a part-friendly, part-awkward conversation, when one guy behind me, who was probably at least 5 or 6 pies behind us in line, started grumbling about the wait. Guy #1 was there with a posse that had already taken over a large chunk of the seating area. When their first pie (a Sicilian) finally came out, guy #2 could hardly contain himself and asked, jokingly, "what do you want for one of your slices?" Guy #1 responds, half-jokingly, "twenty bucks". And they both went through with the exchange! Some of us laughed, some were visibly annoyed. Then Guy #1 turned to me and offered me a slice at "1/2 price", with a wink. I joked back, "keep dreaming", and he went to sit down with his pizza. About ten minutes later, his next pie was ready. He looked up and saw me still standing there waiting, and smiled at me. He then proceeded to remove a square slice from his table, put it on a dish, and bring it to me at the counter. I tried to protest (even though it looked damn good) and he wouldn't hear of it. He picked up his second pie and walked away. So there I was, inhaling this slice in front of an impatient mob. But I didn't care :). I offered to buy him a soda or something, but he refused. I could see his friends were teasing him and looking at me, which was kind of embarassing. He told them to get over it, and that the other guy had paid for it, anyway!
                                                    On my way home, I kept thinking about the fact that I had just lived a Seinfeld episode :)

                                                    1. re: vvvindaloo
                                                      d
                                                      David W Apr 14, 2008 05:09 PM

                                                      So I guess that means you are "DiFara's Slice-worthy"...great story.

                                                      1. re: David W
                                                        vvvindaloo Apr 14, 2008 05:47 PM

                                                        Ha! You bet I am.

                                                        1. re: vvvindaloo
                                                          brooklynbrownie Apr 14, 2008 06:27 PM

                                                          Haha! That's awesome. Only in New York, kids. ;-)

                                                      2. re: vvvindaloo
                                                        t
                                                        Tay Apr 15, 2008 09:58 AM

                                                        VV
                                                        That's an outstanding, only in NYC kind of story..
                                                        Thanks for sharing it with us.
                                                        I'm now contemplating doing the full makeup & heels, thing.
                                                        :-}

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