'Eating at Di Fara is like eating in a coal mine.'
For almost as long as I've been writing about Di Fara here, my wife has threatened to write an anti–Di Fara screed. That day has come. Here, I let her rant and then respond afterward. Take it away, "Girl Slice"! —AK
'Girl Slice' says ...
As the wife of the "Slicemeister General," I get asked on a fairly regular basis if I like Di Fara, which is arguably the pizzeria on which Slice's reputation was based. I emphatically answer NO. I do not like Di Fara at all. I have been four or five times, and I have never had a good time. Why not? Let me enumerate:
- 1. Why is it so smoky in there? When I have visited Di Fara, there are times that my eyes have burned so much that I was crying... from pain and unhappiness, not from deliciousness. Eating at Di Fara is like eating in a coal mine.
- 2. Why do you have to arrive so early? If you are a Di Fara newbie, let me warn you. You cannot just drop by for a slice or a pie or even call to make reservations. No. You have to get there at least a half hour to an hour early and wait outside. This is ridiculous. My ancestors escaped Communist China so that we could live in America, where the streets are paved with cheese. Instead of celebrating this wonderful freedom, so-called foodies wait in these long and stupid lines for bread topped with cheese. Which isn't even that tasty.
- 3. Which brings me to the next point. Di Fara: It's not good. Yes, I said it. Go ahead and stone me, Slice'rs. Di Fara is not that good. It's often burned, the sauce can be bland, and worst of all, it's way too oily—the second pour of olive oil that Dom DeMarco pours is what transforms the pizza from average to downright bad.
- 4. Oh! And the lack of a system. Yes, yes, they write your name down in a book. Great. That book means nothing. If you're not up at the counter, getting ready to jostle and snatch pies out of the hands of your fellow diners, you will never ever be served.
- 5. Which might even be good, considering that there are approximately four tables there, so in addition to waiting in line forever, you have to designate one member of your group to protectively surround a table, while another member waits to commandeer pizzas up at the counter.
- 6. The price. I don't actually have any issue with paying high prices for good food, good service, and a comfortable environment. Di Fara has none of the three and paying $35 to hack like a canary in a coal mine, after waiting in line with other idiots for more than an hour, and then having to take part in a disorderly chaotic madhouse to grab an oily slab of bread, and then perching on a small chair is the epitome of groupthink.
I have long admired Jeffrey Steingarten, never more so than when he posted his epic comment on Slice saying, "And so when I stumbled upon another series of disappointing peans to Di Fara, I finally could not longer stifle my continual instinct to increase the volume of truth in the Cosmos rather than decrease it."
Adam says ...
1. Why is it so smoky? — I will concede this point. At times, it is smoky in there—usually when Dom DeMarco has burned a pizza. This was happening a little too frequently in 2007, when word on the street was that something was wrong with the oven there. Whatever it was, they seem to have fixed it, because I haven't gotten a burned pizza the last several times I've been there, and the smoke seems to have disappeared.
"Eating at Di Fara is like eating in a coal mine"? Really? If a coal mine tasted this great, I'd excavate it with my mouth.
- 2: Why do you have to get there early? — It's just like anywhere else that's good. When a place is good, people line up. You just go a little earlier, take some friends, and pass the time in conversation. If you want any old pizza NOW, there's a kosher pizza joint down the street from Di Fara. Nobody lines up for that. I'll let you go find out why.
3: Di Fara is "not even good"? — I've already dealt with the "burned" issue. I haven't seen that problem in a while now. But "not even good"? "Bland sauce"? What are you talking about? The sauce is great. It's bright and fresh-tasting. Just thick enough, and a tiny bit chunky. And the semidried cherry tomato pizza (above)? It's crazy good. And Dom seems to have responded to complaints about the "heavy hand" in pouring olive oil. It hasn't been nearly as oily as it was a couple years ago.
The interesting thing about Di Fara is that Dom is not just a bug in amber doing things the way he's always done them. That's sort of a false notion I think a lot of Di Fara–goers subscribe to. As his daughter Margaret Mieles notes in that heavy hand link (above), her father changed his methods at some point in the late '00s, becoming more generous with ingredients. And when I chatted with Dom Jr. once, he noted that his father reads the reviews here and there and responds to them. For instance, Dom Jr. told me that his father used to not make all the pies himself. But once he read the press trumpeting this notion, he felt like he had to give the people what they'd read about. And so he changed his M.O.
So, long story short, it's my guess that the heavy hand has become more moderate again. And I think the pies are the better for it.
4: The lack of a system — But there IS a system now! The book you mention DOES mean something. The place is much, much better run in the last few years now that Margaret is in there essentially serving as a project manager. She takes your order, writes it down along with your name, and then guides the process along. It's much better now than the days when Dom just used to either try to remember your order and/or write it down on an empty pizza box and then lose track of it.
That sheet means that you don't HAVE to hawk over Dom anymore, like you did in the past, to make sure your presence was a sort of constant reminder of your pizza order.
5: The lack of tables — OK. This part, yeah. If you even want to eat in, you HAVE to employ a strategy. Getting there before it opens and sending a member of your party to hold down a table is key. What else you gonna do? The place only has a few tables.
The best thing to do is go with two to three other people. A larger group makes it easier to occupie a table. And then designate one person as the order person.
- 6: The price — The price? I don't know. I went recently with four friends. As I recall, you did not want to go so that made it a party of five, which is a difficult number to divide slices by easily. Anyway ... we got three pies (2 rounds and a square), which completely filled us up. Add to that a round or two of sodas. We got out of there for $100 even. I'd say $20 a head for some killer, world-class pizza and soft drinks is worth it.
I guess Di Fara is one of those things you either love or hate. I love it. Always have.
And for anyone wondering how I can live with someone who hates the place, consider this: nobody's going to steal the Di Fara leftovers I bring home.