Thoughts from Di Fara First-Timers
"I just wished that the slice hadn't been quite so oily; I felt as if I had to slurp through a puddle before getting to the true, vibrant flavors."
As promised earlier today, here are the quick-and-dirty notes from the Di Fara first-timers I led on our Midwood expedition earlier today.
We ordered a plain round pie, a plain square pie, and a special artichoke pie (round). Total damage: $85 big ones!
Alaina Browne, Serious Eats general manager
Adam told us to meet there at 11:30 a.m., so I assumed that's what time the pizzas start coming out of the oven. I got there almost fifteen minutes early, and there were already 4 people in line outside the closed storefront, which didn't open until noon. As soon as the doors opened, Adam got our order for 3 pies in and we watched Dom at work, while the small space started filling with pizza smoke. When our pizzas arrived, a hush fell over our table as we all dug in. The plain round and plain square were completely different pizzas, but both delicious. The round pie's crust super thin and crisp around the edges. The square pie is a messy pile of tomato sauce and cheese, over a thicker crust good for absorbing all the fatty pizza juices. Worth the wait? Yes, at least once in a pizza lifetime.
I'm glad I no longer bear the shame of being a Di Fara virgin.
Grace Kang, Serious Eats intern
Based on today's experience, I think Di Fara is best with a group of friends and a couple of different pies. The friends both to keep you company and so you can also try a bunch of different toppings as cheaply as possible. While I really loved the pizza, I agree with Adam in that I think the plain pie crust on this trip was a little lacking. It felt flat and just didn't seem as dynamic as I expected it to be. A big part of the visit was watching Dom make the pies. Snipping the basil, spreading the dough just so over the peel, commiserating with the folks who sadly have "five pies ahead" of them, it all made for a good time. It also probably helped that we didn't have to wait two hours.
So, to sum up: good once-in-a-while experience (with a group and on a weekday morning). The end.
Robyn Lee, Serious Eats editor, A Hamburger Today editor in chief
My favorite part of the experience was watching Dom make the pies. It was almost zen-like; he made pizza-making look like the easiest thing in the world (of course, he's had enough practice), impressive considering the hot and humid atmosphere and the plumes of smoke whirling around the room. I particularly liked the finishing flourishes on the pie—the snipping of the basil, sloshing of olive oil, and sprinkling of grated cheese.
As for the pizza, the regular slice was my favorite (although I also liked the square pie and the artichoke pie). Crust was satisfyingly crisp and thin with a bit of chew, not too flimsy, not too hard, and toppings were nicely balanced. No complaints here. I don't think I'd be that happy waiting over an hour for this pizza, but I can see why it's special. I'd look forward to bringing other noobs to Di Fara, perhaps not just for myself.
Carey Jones, Serious Eats New York editor in chief
I'd expected to love Di Fara's pizza, but I hadn't expected to watch the man himself behind the counter. Though I knew Dom made every pie (working with Adam, one absorbs pizza lore through osmosis), I hadn't realized the entire operation was in full view. Watching him stretch the dough, drizzle (douse?) the pizzas in oil, and finish each one with a fistful of basil was like watching a monk lost in a ritual. He never looked up, never broke stride.
We tore apart the round pie. My first drippy bite didn't immediately dazzle me. In truth, I tasted the oil more than I did the pizza. It was only as I kept eating that I began to appreciate the milky pools of buffalo mozzarella, the secondary bite of the grana padano, the brightness of the tomato sauce, the fragrance of the basil. And the crust—the crust was incredible, thin and pliant with just a slight char. I just wished that the slice hadn't been quite so oily; I felt as if I had to slurp through a puddle before getting to the true, vibrant flavors. I'm no slice-dabber, but I prefer the taste of pizza to olive oil.
I wouldn't say that I preferred the Sicilian, exactly, although after my first cut I reached back for more. I'm not usually a Sicilian fan, but most of the slices I've had seemed more like focaccia than pizza—bubbly, airy squares with a precarious slick of tomato and cheese on top. DiFara's square slices didn't resemble those in the slightest. The crust had real heft, with a dense, nutty bottom crust. The tomato sauce oozing over the edge developed an almost caramelized quality. And though I doubt it had any less oil than the round pizzas, the balance was better; it seeped into the crust, rather than pooling on top.
In the world of pizza, my loyalty ultimately falls to the Neapolitan-style pie, rather than the streetside slice; I like a bit more lift, a raised cornicione, that doughy chew. But I don't think I've ever had a better slice, in New York or anywhere else, than my round-pie slice at Di Fara. And I know I've never had a better cut of Sicilian.
My Own Observations
I figured we needed a plain round and plain square as benchmarks. Di Fara virgins should experience the purity of the baseline pies before going for toppings. But we did order one of the special artichoke pies. I am not a fan of the artichoke pie there myself (the 'chokes are often bitter, and the leaves that are exposed to the air often char too much in the oven heat), but it seems to be popular with many people, so I thought it might be a crowd-pleaser today.
I thought the crust was a little underwhelming today. It wasn't undercooked, but it seemed to be a little pale. It was also tougher and crisper than usual. And the whole "heavy hand" thing seems like it's getting a bit out of control. There's too much drip, too much goo going on. Lots of cheese and oil and sauce in the middle of the pie, leading to a lot of tip sag, and not enough coverage toward the end crust.
It's always interesting to take Di Fara noobs out there. When I was a noob myself, the only hype it had gotten was from Jim Leff's first book. I had never heard of the place, and there was no expectation—hyped or no—to live up to.
These days when I take firsties out there, I always worry that it won't stand up to the hype. We had an exceptionally easy time of it today, with Alaina getting there at 11:15 to hold down the line. We entered around noon and were the second group to place a whole-pie order. We left by 1 p.m. I do wonder what my colleagues would have thought if we had gotten there at peak time and had to endure a two-hour wait time in a very hot and smokey restaurant.