Eating For Two: Slice editor in chief Adam K. was originally going to grab a quick couple of slices at new Village pizzeria DeMarco's before heading home after work Tuesday night. But then the idea struck: Why not also visit Di Fara's, the inspiration for the Manhattan newcomer? And so we sampled plain slices from both pizzerias that night. The photos at left above are from DeMarco's; those at right are from Di Fara. Click the image below right for an enlarged view of the interior space of DeMarco's take-out operation. The photos above also
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ADAM K. .::. Late last year, shortly before leaving town for the holidays, we said we'd report on DeMarco's Pizzeria & Restaurant, the new Di Faraassociated pizza spot on the corner of Houston and MacDougal in Manhattan. We meant to do it in 2004, but things were hectic. We've returned from holiday and are slowly revving back to speed, so here are some observations and comparisons, from Tuesday night visits to both shops and a return visit to DeMarco's for lunch yesterday.
Di Fara Pizza is, of course, the renown Brooklyn pizzeria run by Dominick DeMarco and family. When word of this impending Houston Street pizzeria first hit the Web (we read of it initially on eGullet and Chowhound), that location's management was calling the place "Di Fara's NYC" and no one was sure who owned it or what affiliation it might have with the DeMarco family, for whom it was finally named. We're still unsure how great a role the family is playing in the operation, but one thing's certain: Dom himself remains firmly ensconced in his usual spot in Brooklyn.
Location: 146 West Houston Street (corner of MacDougal)
Phone: 212-253-2290, 212-253-2291
Hours: Sun.Thurs., 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., opens at 11:30 a.m.; closed Mondays
Payment: Cash only, for now.
Cost: Plain slice, $2.50. Consult menu below for full range of prices and offerings.
Dom's been slinging slices at Di Fara for forty-plus yearsall with an amazing concern for craft and high-quality ingredients. In fact, we've never seen anyone but Dom making the pizza at his shop. The big question was, How would a non-Dom-helmed Di Fara spin-off stack up to the original?
Quite well, actually.
It goes without saying that a DeMarco's slice will never be the same as a Di Fara slice. Dom's pies have been honed against forty years' hard workseven days a week, with hardly any vacations or holidays. But the DeMarco's slices this weblog had Tuesday night for dinner and yesterday afternoon for lunch were very good approximations of the master's craft.
Present was the familiar three-cheese blend of grana padana, regular mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella (DeMarco's is using the same Grandé-brand fior di latté that Dom includes on his pies)all evenly distributed. We witnessed the pizzaiolo dousing the pie with olive oil just before popping it into the oven, another Dom flourish. Lastly, the slices we sampled (all plain), featured a similar well-proportioned balance of crust, sauce, and cheese. Heck, even the take-out portion of the restaurant exhibits a no-frills practicality akin to Dom's shop in Midwood. (The Manhattan version is tidier, however.) Oh, and both establishments sell plain, regular slices for $2.50. We did not, however, see any of the DeMarco clan in there directing things.
The first thing you might notice about DeMarco's round pies (left) is that they're larger than Di Fara's. They're also more uniformly circular; Dom's pies exhibit an almost artisanal irregularity in their shape. Though the slices in the photos at top appear to be the same size, use the paper plates they rest on for reference. See how much bigger the DeMarco's piece is? When we visited last night, the pie on the counter had been sitting long enough that its gooey molten cheeses had congealed. (This was another differenceat Di Fara's a hot-from-the-oven pie doesn't last long.) Without the steaming-hot, oozey cheese (some would call is gloppy), it didn't quite look like a Di Fara pie. That didn't bother us, though; we still liked the looks of the slices on hand, what with their splotches of sauce clearly visible among the cheese. Our slices got the reheat, and while we waited, we watched the pizzaiolo build a pie, carefully studying a cheat sheet above the make table. Some people might scoff at this, but we took it as a good signthe place is clearly concerned with adhering to Dom's recipes.
We first thought DeMarco's crust was thinner than Di Fara's, but just less than an hour later, at Dom's shop, we observed that the thickness was pretty similar. As seen in the comparison shots at top, Di Fara's crust displays a bit more charring, but DeMarco's had an adequate amount. Both crusts were crisp; Di Fara's crust, however, was notably chewier. DeMarco's was a smidge crisper, attributable, we think, to the reheat. For our lunch visit to DeMarco's, we were lucky enough to get slices from a pie straight out of the oven. Without the reheat, the crust had a very good, honest crispness to itnot the hard-to-gauge steroidal increase that comes with a second stint in the cookerbut it still lacked the toothsome chewiness of Di Fara's.
Moving up from the crust, the sauce at DeMarco's was good and fresh, with a slightly sweeter-than-Dom's taste. We don't know if DeMarco's gets its tomatoes from the same source as Di Fara, but it was close. It didn't seem as savory or as complex as Dom's, but it worked and we were pleased with it nonetheless.
The third component of a slice's trio of elements, the cheese, well, we've discussed that earlier. One difference here was that DeMarco's had pre-grated the grana padana and regular mozz; Dom grates those as needed, for the greatest freshness. Still, we didn't notice a difference, and it's probably not practical for DeMarco's to grate on an as-needed basis. It was also interesting that when we sampled the dinnertime slices Tuesday, the cheese, even with a reheat, didn't go all melty and soupy like Di Fara's. However, on the following day's fresh slices, such a gloppiness was in evidence. It's a trait that we think makes it difficultand definitely messyto eat a hot slice at either place, but it was nice to see DeMarco's match this Dom signature. (We usually follow the lead of one of our friends, impatiently waiting five or 10 minutes while the soupy mixture settles down a bit.)
OK. We've gone on quite a bit here, so we'll wrap up. DeMarco's is very good. And it's only been open a short while. We suspect it'll only get better, and we think it already beats many of the other renown pizza spots in the neighborhood.
Some tips, though: Like Patsy's in East Harlem, there are two operations on corner of Houston and MacDougal. There's the "Pizza Express" component, where you can get take-out or eat in, standing at one of two narrow bars along the walls. The Pizza Express location, sadly, offers a limited range of soft drinks. Noticeably absent was Slice's favorite, Dr Pepper. Even the upper-right quarter of Dom's refrigerator has more of a selection than the entire unit at DeMarco's. (To be fair, the delivery menu, bottom, lists a greater variety than was on display. Maybe you just have to ask.) The Pizza Express part is where you should go for slices. The fancier, part, which features a bar,
is pies-only serves slices along with whole pies and other menu items, but it's table service. (And you enter that section through a door that faces MacDougal Street.)
All Slice posts on DeMarco's [The Slice Archives]
OUTTAKES FROM DEMARCODI FARA TRIP (Click images for larger, pop-up versions.)
All Slice posts on DeMarco's [The Slice Archives]