Monday, December 07, 2009

Road Trip: Di Fara

Continuing on our NYC pizza tour, we made our first foray into Brooklyn. We met up at 5:30 on the Q line at Union Square and then rode out to Avenue J to get to Di Fara. A couple of things to note here: 1. Avenue J is more than 1 or 2 stops - when I finally checked, it was still 9 stops to go, 2. the subway never runs normally on Sundays - so we ended up on an express that skipped J and we had to get off and go back 2 stops. Okay, so it wasn't like we were hiking through the Serengeti or something, but we did still find a local guide (when we were chatting about how much further she spoke up, S asked a few questions and soon she was giving us the Orthodox guide to Avenue J - according to her, Di Fara's is pretty much the only non-kosher pizzeria in that neighborhood, and her son prefers PizzaTime (but, of course, they hadn't been to Di Fara's so she couldn't compare)).

Stepping out of the subway station, I had directions and S had a map, and anyway, it's really only about 40 steps (go left young man, go left). And, I wasn't disappointed when I saw it. It looked just like it should - it looked like it had been there forever.

Apparently, the 'rule' is that it's open for dinner from 6pm until 9 or whenever they run out of dough. Others have recommended showing up before 6 to get in line. Due to the subway, etc., it was actually almost 6:30 when we got there, but ... they still weren't open and there was only a small line (3 people actually, in front of us). One guy had been waiting an hour - but it was his first trip. One woman hadn't been waiting very long, and she mentioned that she preferred Roberta's, but not why she was waiting outside for this then. The third guy had this raspy voice with a hood and a scarf covering the bottom half of his face (did I mention we waited to go until the first weekend it snowed in NYC, so it was a bit chilly). The raspy guy told us that it was great pizza, definitely worth waiting for and that he had once waited 4 hours. S then repeated the reasons this was one of our ten - which included that it had been deemed 'transcendent' by Ed Levine.

The doors were finally (only about 5 minutes of real waiting time, so right around 6:30) unlocked and we all (there were now probably 15 of us) piled in. The guy behind the counter takes orders on a tablet divided into 9 squares; he writes the orders in each box with your initials in the upper-left-hand corner. Meanwhile, behind him, there's one guy grinding cheese and the other guy putting together the pies. I waited to place the order while others got a table (there are only about 15 seats in the whole place) and drinks.

I was nervous when a few minutes later a couple I hadn't seen waiting got a hot pie. I'm still not sure how it worked - had they ordered it at lunch? is there a special number you can call? I don't know. But they and the family of 4 that had parked the bikes out front both got served before the only three people we had actually seen as waiting in front of us. But there were only the two 'special cases' and then the three before us did actually start to get their pies.

I don't know that I was that hungry when I got there, but watching them grind the cheese, smelling the pies, seeing them cut the fresh basil onto the hot pies... pretty soon, I was starving. And before too long, we had ours. We ordered two round ones: margarita (because you have to do it to be consistent) and a Di Fara special (because, why not - it was sausage, mushroom, onion and pepper - which (minus the peppers, which are easy to pick off) is a favorite combo of mine).

A, S and I all reached for the margarita to start. H grabbed a special - noting that she might not even try the margarita. She later changed her mind. We all agreed that the margarita was actually the better pie - by far. Somehow, the toppings just didn't quite work on the special. It was off balance. The margarita had a great crust that was pretty thin, but had enough heft to it that you still knew it was there. It was not at all soggy - perfectly dry (in a good way - but definitely less bready/thinner than any of the others that we've had recently). It then had a bit of sauce and three kinds of cheese. The cheese worked for me. I liked it. That said, I did not feel transcended. It was a good pizza. It wasn't (in my (as well as A's, H's and S's) mind) a transcendent pizza.

So, the summary is that it was a fun trip. I might recommend not doing it on one of the coldest days of the year (they leave the door of the shop open - it can get windy). But it was fun to visit Avenue J, though I probably don't need to do it again.