When I described for my friend Brett my favorite pizza in the US, if not the world (fresh sweet corn, crumbled feta, cilantro, lemon zest), served by my favorite place in Berkeley, CA (The Cheeseboard), he rolled his eyes. And snorted. Yes, snorted.
'That's not a pizza!' he spat-snorted. 'Come to Brooklyn. I'll show you a real pizza.'
So I did. Go to Brooklyn, that is, while I was in the US last month. And he did. Show me a real pizza. He let me eat some of it too. (Dave and his camera missed out, unfortunately. Sorry Dave!)
If Brett's a representative sample I think I can safely assert that New Yorkers are pretty obsessive about their pizza. They believe they live in one of the world's pizza capitals. I'm not saying that they don't - I'm just saying they believe that they do. In his quest to demonstrate that years of residence in the San Francisco Bay Area had so warped my food consciousness that I no longer knew a frou-frou Sunshine State (CA is the Sunshine State, isn't it?) sorry excuse for a pizza from a real pizza, Brett took me to Di Fara's. It's a New York institution. I have to say, I loved it the minute I walked in.
Stacked ovens (two of which require a step ladder to reach), a counter, a refrigerated drinks case, and about seven tables - Di Fara's is not much to look at. But the smell of that pizza shop could get even a food poisoning victim salivating. Garlic and tomatoes and sizzling Italian cured meats and wheaty dough, that what Di Fara's smells like. The aromas wafting about in there are intoxicating, and maddening too, because if you order a pie special, rather than just taking a slice or two from what's on offer for the coupla-slices customers, you'll be waiting a good while. Even if you phone your order in ahead, as we did.
Dom Di Fara makes the pizzas. And he's been doing it for eons. Di Fara is the sort of long-standing family-owned food business that I take for granted in KL and don't too often stumble across in the US. It was a delight to watch Dom work. He's slow and methodical, lavishing care and - dare I say it - love on every single pie. Dom keeps a steady pace no matter how many customers are lined up waiting for their pie or a slice. He won't be rushed and he won't be distracted. He treats every pizza as if it's the most important pizza he'll make all week. He's a true craftsman.
Buffalo mozzarella, sauce house made with imported Italian tomatoes, a healthy sprinkle of honest-to-goodness parmesan, substantial dough base randomly blistered on its rim and bottom. Fresh basil and oregano leaves and a sprinkle of dried oregano, not sprinkled from a canister but pulled from fragrant dried whole branches, a nice touch. We went with a few different toppings on one pie. What Dom called 'wild mushrooms' - obscenely huge, meaty chunks of porcini from a jar - were my choice and they were a standout, but in the end I have to admit that in the case of a pizza this good less is more. When it comes to savoring the honest flavor of Dom's crispy and chewy dough, and his tartly piquant tomato sauce softened by that milky buffalo mozzarella, the fewer distractions the better.
Yes, Dom Di Fara makes a real pizza. I'm a convert.
Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn. Tel (718) 258-1367
Update: A comment below led me to this ode to Di Fara's, Dom, and his pies. It's a pretty wonderful read.