Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Di Fara Pizza, Paulie Gee's and The Cult of Personality

How do I even approach a post on Di Fara Pizza?

Invariably, it's discussed from one of two perspectives: the virgin and the veteran. These tropes are as stale as it gets (just look on Yelp).

The virgins write as if entering a sacred (likely Catholic) shrine for the first time (I think they picture themselves in an Indiana Jones movie). Photographs are a constant, but everyone still seems to show an incongruous reverence normally reserved for a pope, head of state or Lady Gaga. After an already eternal wait, they meekly place their order, waiting in line for their baptism in pizza grease and holy extra virgin olive oil. Finally, once the pizza itself has become a mere formality, they depart slightly heavier, but spiritually reborn (or something like that).

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.
Veterans, on the other hand, burnish their credibility by claiming to have been among the first to try Di Fara. (While Midwood locals reminisce at how Di Fara used to be before the crowds.) They worship at the alter of Pope Dom DeMarco, and write about Di Fara in tones of a wise man leading a rapturous flock to a holy Midwood pilgrimage, spreading salvation to those poor souls who's heathen lips have never touched the most holy blessed pizza in existence.

If my comments show anything, it's that I'm sorely lacking in whimsy or the ability to accept anything with more than jaded cynicism (being only 26, this deeply disturbs me). More importantly, I've overused the Catholic imagery and relied too much on sarcasm. No one wants to sound like this guy (which I probably did after my first draft).

Still, I'm also compelled to admit that, until recently, I too was a Di Fara virgin.

Sure, my experience was less stressful than others. Steve got there early on a Saturday morning, allowing me to dodge the wait while seizing a prime table (the largest) directly across from the counter.

Waiting for our pizza, we talked about food (as we almost always do). Even while catching up with a college friend who I hadn't seen since graduation, our discussion eventually circled back towards eating. At the same time, the conversations of other line-waiters stamping foodie bingo cards grew louder as more people packed into the narrow restaurant. 

Hearing these conversations (almost exactly like ours) only exacerbated my cynicism. Why the hell am I waiting for a pizza like this, I wondered. The likelihood that the answer really was "because everyone else is in line," and I'm not all that special (despite what my mother says), was frightening.

Now I question whether I have anything to say (assuming you care in the first place) about Di Fara that hasn't been written a million times before. I started Law & Food in order to tell interesting stories about food and restaurants, but how many times can you read about someone going to DiFara's (I guess it's too late to worry about that if you've read this far), before you too become jaded to all of it?

I do take a little pleasure in contributing. I think it’s just that I’m a contrarian asshole that this stuff gets to me (a hypocrite too!), but shouldn't I be out looking for the "next" Di Fara rather adding to the endless praise?

Back to the pizza. Relax, focus on the food (and make sure to breathe). It's just pizza, albeit very good pizza.

The traditional pie arrived quickly—half plain half pepperoni. Nearly as good (and as oily) as I'd hoped. I dug the mozzarella, Grana Padano and the herbal bite of basil (allegedly sourced from Israel). The cheeses combined with the acidity of the tomato sauce displayed a near-perfect synergy of toppings, while the crust was suitably chewy (but in the parlance of Adam Kuban, it displayed notable tip sag).

And yes, I lost a measure of cynicism when I heard DeMarco ask, “Issa dis your pie?” after our sausage and eggplant Sicilian pizza came out of the oven (after another forty minute wait).

Even still, my overanalysis likely prevented complete enjoyment of the decadent Sicilian pizza (as it does with so many other things) before me. Sitting at my table, a dated, framed Time Out magazine proclaiming the opening of DiMarco's on Houston (with Parker Posey and Ethan Hawke staring back at me) proved almost too much of a distraction while strings of melted cheese and droplets of oil fell from my chin. For a brief moment I felt as if I had achieved the state of mind that others had written about so fervently, but soon realized that I was probably just experiencing a rush of endorphins from the cheese and oil burning through the roof of my mouth.

Sometimes it's better to think less, respect the moment, and let that oil drip.


On a lonely Greenpoint block at the opposite end of Brooklyn sits Paulie Gee’s, which opened earlier this year. Paulie was a longtime commenter on Slice who turned his homemade pizza passion into a restaurant (much like Jeff Varasano in Atlanta, but after only one meal almost two years ago, I think Paulie's pizza is better). Now, like DiMarco before him, Paulie is the spiritual focal point of his pizza joint—presiding over a giant wood burning oven with the word “Napoli” prominently tiled above the opening.

Ambiance-wise, Paulie Gee’s is about as far as possible from the utilitarian (read: grimy) Difara. High, angled ceilings and reclaimed wood dominate. The effect is to make the room feel far grander than its size (well-spaced tables don't hurt either). A battered wooden bar near the entrance also proved to be a great place to drink a Bluepoint Toasted Lager while waiting to be seated. Though the interior of Paulie Gee's (along with his more radical toppings) contrasts with Di Fara’s classic style, both are presided over by a lone man slinging pizzas.

Even with our Di Fara lunch happily bubbling away in our bellies (I guess I didn't mention that this was less than six hours later, how's that for a legit day?), we decided to order four pies for the three of us.

First was the "Baconmarmalade Picante." With fior di latte, spicy bacon marmalade and red onions, it reminded me of a Roberta’s pie (they love their thinly sliced red onions). The spicy bacon marmalade was a bit of a disappointment—sweeter than I expected with a not very pronounced bacon flavor. Still, the crust, which, to me tasted like a perfectly cooked naan, was unassailable-- chewy with only slight tip sag. Not as exciting a pie as I'd hoped, but I could taste flashes of brilliance in the first crust, leaving me hopeful for the others. 

Next up was the Porkpie White, served with soppresatta, sweet Italian sausage, Fior di Latte, more red onion, garlic and basil. Good, but not great. Compared to the sausage at Di Fara that morning, it barely registered. Disappointment flashed in my mind.

Yet redemption arrived in the form of our last two pies. The Parma D’or, which we’d ordered more out of "blogger obligation" than true desire, turned out to be the best pizza of the evening. A mound of baby arugula (enlivened by a bit of lemon juice) concealed a perfect crust topped with proscuitto, parmesan shavings and fior di latte. This pie blew away the exact same pie from Keste that Steve and I had eaten earlier in the year. Really, it wasn’t even close (gauntlet officially thrown down).

Finally, the Helboy-- soppressatta, fior di latte and hot honey is Paulie Gee's version of a perfect pepperoni pie. Again, the crust was excellent, with the added sweetness of the honey complementing the spicy soppressatta and tomato sauce.

Tales of overnight success (and concurrent, overnight hubris) are as old as Manhattan. Yet people like Dom DiMarco and Paulie Gee are the reason everyone is looking for the next "True Foodie Experience" to feature on their blog/website/in-flight magazine, etc. The lines are a testament to how few there really are, but that's all the more motivation to find the next mecca.

Di Fara Pizza
1424 Avenue J
Brooklyn, NY 11230
Di Fara Pizza on Urbanspoon

Paulie Gee's
60 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Paulie Gee's on Urbanspoon


  1. Two pizza meals in one day! You lucky/unhealthy bastard! What transpired in those six hours that made you crave another helping of pizza?

  2. Nothing changed, I'm just a well-trained professional.