Last week, Chicago food writer Michael Nagrant emailed me asking for some tips on scoring a Di Fara pizza in as little time as possible. "Haha, buddy," I said. "How 'bout after I finish moving this mountain?" But I told him that Di Fara had been experimenting with taking pizza orders on Facebook. "Maybe you could try that. Lemme know if it works. I'm really curious." Well, here's Mike's report.
Alright. So, stuffed full of Doughnut Plant doughnuts, sweet corn, and ginger ice cream from Cones in the Village, and Momo Ssam, I waddled over to the Q train around 2:15 p.m. last Sunday, on which I saw Mario Batali's homeless brother Luigi (he likes blue crocs) along the way. Pulled in to Midwood around 3, realized there were more kosher eating establishments on Avenue J than in all of Illinois and immediately felt bad for all the Orthodox Jews suffering silently in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood.
Some cops had blocked off the corner across the street from Di Fara and in between snickers I think they considered arresting me as I took pictures of the storefront with my iPhone with the kind of reverence some Catholics reserve for weeping statues of the Virgin Mary. I was relieved that there was no line in front, as I suspected there was no way Facebook was gonna score me a Di Fara pie free and clear without some kind of sacrifice.
Maybe it was karma for introducing Ed Levine to Pasticceria Natalina here in Chicago, but, damn, wouldn't you know, I walk past five dudes and a couple girls who looked straight out of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and up to the counter and stammered my name. They're like, "Mike. Facebook. Sausage onion? It's in the oven. It'll be a few minutes."
It was about five minutes before Dom DeMarco whipped out the basil shears, the snow of Parm, and blessed my pie with a swizzle of olive oil. The pie had a minor smattering of char on the bottom, but there was none of that whole black side stuff that was going on last year or whatever [above] — there was no need for a dough graft.
I brought the whole large pie over to my table and just stared at it for a couple of minutes. I ordered a regular pie for one, because damn if I was gonna get some used-up hour-old slice reheated. But, in doing so I worried people either thought I was a gluttonous bastard or Joey Chestnut's brother. Thing is, everyone around me was still waiting for their pies and so they paid no attention to the fat bastard behind the pie and instead regarded my pizza like it was a '55 Dodgers World Series championship ring.
The crust was exceptional with no tip sag. There were variations in texture from airy to crunchy and flavor puffs ranging from smokey to yeasty. It was almost like a hybrid of NYC traditional I've had before and Neapolitan crust. It was very good. Di Fara round is easily in my top 15 pies of all time, might even crack the top ten if I think hard enough.
The basil perfume is special, though like Alan Richman suggests, the olive oil pour is maybe too generous and does sog the top down a touch. The sauce is clean, but I prefer a bit more zest or spice. I also like my sausage non-encased, spicy, and rough chopped. Di Fara's was uniform and cased. Not bad, but there was no real fennel zing.
On quality and flavor and crafstmanship alone, this is one of America's great pies. However, this is the first pizza that really clarified the importance of regionality and nostalgia when picking a favorite. Having grown up on the Sicilian crust of Buddy's in Detroit and also favoring Pequod's here in Chicago, Di Fara's round just doesn't compete on that level for me. I might even go so far as to acknowledge Di Fara is better than Pequod's and maybe a Buddy's super, but flavor memory [Pizza Cognition Theory? —AK] plays a big role here (which is weird because with almost no other food does that even matter for me). But, then again none of those guys takes orders via Facebook.
Wow! It really works. Thanks, Mike!