About 40 KM north of Naples lies an important agricultural and industrial city called Caserta that was once a country seat to the King of Naples. While this small city is primarily known for having one of the most extraordinary features of 18th century art and architecture, the Palace of Caserta, it’s also known to be the birthplace of legendary pizza maker Domenic DeMarco, who is the proprietor of Di Fara; a family business in Brooklyn that holds the title “Best Pizza In New York City.” This small corner shop came to life in 1964; the same year that the United States Surgeon General made the first report that smoking may be hazardous to your health, the Beatles first album was released by Chicago’s VeeJay records, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. More than 40 years later, Di Fara still stands strong.
If you ask WikiAnswers “How many pizza places are there in NYC” the response is “Kajillions.” If you look a bit further, you can find out that the New York Department of Health lists 1250 restaurants with the word “pizza” in restaurant names and 394 with the word “pizzeria.” To put it simply, there are over 1500 places that serve pizza in New York City, and many of them claim to have the best pie.
When you walk into Di Fara you’ll notice several laminated newspaper clips and plaques that lavishly praise Di Fara and rate it the number one in the city. It has been honored by writers belonging to several prominent organizations, including USA Today, the New York Times, and Zagat.
My girlfriend and I went on a Saturday around 3pm to try and avoid the rush but it was still packed. We eventually placed our order and were told to come back in about 45 minutes by Dominic’s son. It was quite the anticipation, and at the same time enhancing my appetite every continuing moment. We came back a bit early because I wanted to be able to see DeMarco work his craft. He is the only one that touches the pies, and he works at his own pace. The man is like an artist, combining his technique and skill by hand crafting each pizza to perfection. Similar to how a painter mixes several substances together in order to make paint and control consistency, DeMarco uses a distinct combination of imported ingredients to design his masterpieces. The vibrant basil is imported from Israel along with the oregano, and the cheese from Italy. He uses Grana Padano and Buffalo mozzarella which he gets from Caserta.
I remember watching the pizza come out of the oven with an intense gaze. Out came one fine looking pie. DeMarco proceeded to apply the finishing touches by taking scissors and dispersing a generous portion of fresh basil all over the pizza. Then came the oil. I swear it felt like five whole seconds had passed while his hand remained titled, graciously pouring sweet extra virgin olive oil out of an old looking copper jug around the whole pizza. At last, he took the cutter and separated 8 slices. Watching him cut it was like watching Michelangelo sculpt David, I witnessed a masterpiece being created. The pie was complete. It looked radiant, rich and altogether magnificent. He smiled as he released it to me. I took the huge circular metal tray over to my table, and it felt like I was holding a plate of gold.
We ordered half regular, half Di Fara Special Pie. It consisted of sausage, peppers, mushrooms and onions. There was a piece of sausage that was dislodged and it became my first bite. It was incredible on its own, so juicy and loaded with hearty flavor. After sending it down, I quickly tore out my first slice and sank my teeth in it. The pizza was really worth the wait and lived up to every bit of hype that surrounded it. Usually when things are hyped up this much, I end up being disappointed but not with this pie. It’s really the ingredients that Domenic uses that make the pizza unforgettable. The basil’s taste is very unique, and while the French call it “l’herbe royale" they should be referring to Di Fara’s specifically, because it smells and tastes like royalty. Even just raising the pizza to my mouth was enjoyable because the sweet smell of the basil reinforced every bite. The magnificent combination of cheeses fused together offered a wonderful texture and firmness that I found absorbed well while enhancing the flavors of the sauce, the peppers and the sweet onions. This was seriously the best pizza I ever had in my life.
I felt like a new man. The tray was spotless and I sat back laughing to myself because of how much cheese and oil I just threw into my system, but it was all worth it. Sometimes I daydream about living on Avenue J in that apartment on top of Di Fara and indulging daily just by walking down a flight of stairs. For now I’ll just have to stick with the memory of how beautiful that meal was and how I long to have it again.