Patsy's in East Harlem: Balance, Perfection
The sixth slice is as good as the first. Yes, I just said 'sixth.'
I would like to piggyback off of the Real Slim Shady's recent comments on America's Favorite Pizza Weblog and take it one step further with respect to his top two NYC pizzerias. I recently visited both Di Fara and Patsy's within 24 hours of each other, and my memories of both are still fresh in my mind.
When Patsy's of East Harlem is "on," as AK likes to say, they are not only number one in New York, there is some serious distance between them and Di Fara, and I'll tell you why: balance. I may sound like a broken record to some of you, but let's lay it down, and if the comments pour in disagreeing with me, then so be it.
When Patsy's is on, it is everything that New York pizza is supposed to be, it is the prototype, the zenith, the very pinnacle of "New YorkNeapolitan" pie. Ladies and gentlemen, the last three times I've been in to visit, it has most certainly been 'on'—the crust is thin and crisp but with that wholesome doughy goodness inside, it is cooked all the way through so the slice doesn't collapse on you, and the sauce, basil and cheese, (applied in that order) are of top quality. They don't skimp on any of these, nor do they pile it on. The sixth slice is as good as the first. Yes, I just said sixth.
Granted, I also know what Adam is talking about when he describes Patsy's failings in consistency, but I have not found that to be the case lately and, particularly, last week. Put simply, there is no better example of a great NYC pizza than Patsy's on a good day.
All of that said, Dom DeMarco of Di Fara, without question, uses the best ingredients that money can buy—the bufala mozzarella from Caserta, San Marzano tomatoes, grana padano, the pure olive oil, all the way down to the Israel-imported basil—you can taste the quality in every slice. He also uses a gas-fired oven (right) that he keeps at 750 degrees. What that pizza would taste like in a wood or coal oven, I don't know, but I think I'm not alone in saying that I would like to find out.
But here's where opinions will begin to diverge (if they haven't already): either Dom could ease up on some of these ingredients (he has a very heavy hand when it comes that final pour of olive oil before pies go in the oven, the grana padano is added twice—once before a pie goes in and once when it comes out) or there are just too many ingredients piled onto his margherita pie (maybe one less mozz). The same amount of these ingredients on a Sicilian? No problem, the crust is strong enough to handle all of that goodness.
But am I the only one who feels like a geriatric at feeding time when I sit down to eat one of Dom's plain slices, complete with drool from watching him shovel pizzas in and out of his oven for the past 45 to 75 minutes? The slice always collapses on me unless I eat it with one hand supporting the bottom and the beautiful blend of cheeses, tomatoes, and olive oil seems to have a mind of its own and need to be ushered back onto the crust. It's a sure bet that I'm gonna leave Di Fara with some kind of stain, most likely that viscous blend of olive oil and tomato sauce!
But maybe that's part of the charm and that's why people love Di Fara and why they love Dom—his pizza is one thing that will never change, and he sticks to his guns, which is hard to come by these days. And I love Di Fara, don't get me wrong, but I can't be the only one out there who feels this way.
Incidentally, I visited Di Fara last week while Epi-Log's Michael Park was in researching his groundbreaking exposé, "Secrets of Di Fara Pizza" (see picture of him taking picture of Dom in a beret, right; I think I'm gonna frame that one). This guy needs to catch a clue and quit asking questions like "do you still like making pizza?" Dom is still the only one who makes the pies there, right?