As a quick refresher if you’re reading this feature for the first time, I’m currently on a quest to convince my friends who are all threatening to leave New York City to stay. My subject thus far has been my friend Kate, as her threats of moving away are the most pressing. Now that we’re on the same page, let me tell you the tale of one rainy Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn.
When people think New York City, they think of a lot of things: yellow taxis, summer smelling like hot garbage, pigeons with deformed extremities, bagels, etc. Something that almost everyone can agree on is that there is nothing that defines New York City quite like the perfect slice of pizza. That and the hysteria that surrounds something that has been deemed otherworldly, resulting in flocks of people lining up for it for hours (see: cronut). So armed with that knowledge, I decided to find a place that was the intersection of both of these: a slice of pizza so good that we would have to wait to taste it for hours. What’s more New York than that? Maybe if a pigeon missing half a wing and several toes flew into the pizza place while we were all waiting and shat all over the dough? It does somehow feel like a perfect metaphor for life in New York; you wait really long for some huge payoff, everyone cramped together fighting for the same thing, hoping they get it next, only to have it destroyed at the last second by an interloper. But alas, that part didn’t happen!
Our pizza bang bang (as all of my journeys with Kate have ended up becoming bang bangs) started at DiFara Pizza, located in Midwood, Brooklyn. I’ve long heard tales of it being the best pizza in the city, although somewhat far afield from the hustle and bustle of the Sbarro’s in Times Square (And yes, that is a reference to Sbarro’s being Michael Scott’s favorite slice of New York pizza from “The Office.” I watch seasons 1-4 pretty consistently now that “30 Rock” isn’t on Netflix anymore. So there’s a peak behind the curtain at my home life, I hope you’re happy. I regret letting you into that part of my life). This is all to say that if you’re a strap-hanger like myself, getting to DiFara’s can be a bit of a journey which is part of the reason I had never been. However, if I learned anything from dragging Kate out into the ass-end of Astoria in my last post, it’s that I learned nothing so why not drag her way the fuck out into Brooklyn. Of course, it being nowhere near anything I’m familiar with, I showed up late. Getting out of the Q at Avenue J, we saw an unassuming looking pizza place that looked maybe like it was closed, maybe was actually a place called MD Kitchen, and maybe a shoe and watch repair place. All of these I can only assume are meant to deter and distract those who weren’t quite ready for what’s been referred to as “legendary” by Anthony Bourdain and “far away” by me earlier in this post. It was in fact open and packed to the gills with people, so we joined the crowd.
A vaguely amorphous line seemed to have formed in the small pizzeria, so confirming with the guy in front of us that he was in line, we got in back of it and waited. And waited. And waited. The frantic energy from the kitchen scurrying to get out orders was transferring to some of the customers. And by some, I mainly mean me. Other people started to form in line behind us, but we seemed to be making no progress and had at this point been there for 20 minutes without moving. It seemed like no one was even ordering, yet somehow the place was chock a block full of people and pizzas were being churned out left and right. The math didn’t make sense to me, and I say this as someone who minored in Japanese. I could feel Kate questioning why I thought this slice, this wait, this possible shoe and watch repair place would be what swayed her into staying behind in New York. I had to act somehow, so skipping the man in front of us who I initially asked about the line, I asked the people directly in front of him. “Excuse me, are you guys in line?” “Oh no, we already ordered a long time ago.” The guy in front of us turned back to me and gave me a look as if to say, “Can you believe this?! This whole time we’ve been waiting in a non-existent line behind people who have already ordered!” I could believe it. You know why? Because you told me you were standing in line to order, so I lined up behind you. That’s why I can believe it.
Once we had cracked the case of the not moving line, we made our way to where it looked like they were potentially taking orders. We weren’t looking for a full pizza pie, again this was to be an afternoon pizza bang bang, there just simply isn’t enough room in the human body. So we were opting for slices. Kate and my boyfriend left it up to me to order our slices, after all, this was my idea and it was my cross to bear. Even though the man who told us there was a line had led us astray before, I wanted to be polite and let him order first since he was clearly there before us. But sometimes politeness doesn’t get you ahead in life. For example, this time. Because I stood behind him, watching him timidly raise a finger, then put it down, continuing to not order. I made a mental note to myself, if he didn’t order in the next five minutes, I was going to let my inner New Yorker out, get assertive, jump to another part of the counter, and order before him. I was about ready to scream to Kate and my boyfriend to just order if they get the chance, and fuck this guy in front of us because it’s been an hour, when I realized someone I went to High School with was directly in front of Kate. You should know that Kate had been saying my name loudly at different intervals for probably 15 minutes at this point. You should also know that I have a somewhat unique name and there was no way that this person didn’t hear my name said and also see me. However, without ever once making eye contact, we both carried on with the rest of our respective visits to DiFara’s not acknowledging the other person. And those are truly the best interactions in New York City. I know you, I have nothing against you, never thought you were a bad person, but I’m in no mood for small talk right now, I’m hardly in the mood to wait for this pizza and I haven’t even ordered it yet. If for no other reason, people should stay in New York City because it’s the best city to avoid people even in small, cramped spaces.
Just when I was about to give up on all of it, the man in front of me ordered a slice. The guy taking the orders wasn’t sure how long it would be because he didn’t know when they would make their next slice pie. “I want three slices if that’ll make it easier,” I immediately interjected. “I also want a slice,” said a woman behind me. This is the only way any of us wanted to associate with each other at this point, to help each other out in our quest for pizza. The guy taking our order scribbled all of our names with the number of slices we wanted haphazardly onto a legal pad. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way the names were jotted down. And that very nicely lined up to our experience at DiFara’s thus far. We then spent the next hour plus of our wait for our slices alternating between standing outside and trying to stay dry from the rain, and watching the madness unfold inside the pizza place.
We watched as the younger employees, possibly sons of the owner, rushed to take phone orders, get the dough ready, cut the basil onto the finished pies, try to decipher the legal pad of orders. There seemed to be an easier way to streamline the whole process but that would definitely feel out of place here. The draw of this place was the complete anarchy that preceded the “best slice in New York.” Would all of this craziness somehow come together in a way that would make Kate want to stay? Was it all so ridiculous that she would laugh and say, “Huh, I kinda get it now.” At one point, someone came in with a camera and loudly said, “I come here every five years to take a picture of the old man and make sure he isn’t dead.” Then he took pictures of an old man making pizzas behind the counter and left without ordering anything. Looking at the old man, unfazed by the insanity happening around him, I thought that maybe that’s what happens when you stay in New York forever. He seemed at peace, happy to knead some dough, sprinkle on some ingredients, and throw the pies into the oven, even if sometimes he kinda missed and closed the oven door on the pizza so part of it was hanging outside. Hey, no two pies are alike! I liked the cut of old man DiFara’s jib, and thought if I could channel some of his low key energy, maybe I could transfer it onto Kate and she’d decide to stay. But I may have already been too late as Kate was starting to play a game in which we all guessed how much longer we’d have to wait. We were all wrong. It took longer than all of us predicted. None of us could be as chill as old man DiFara, and truthfully that isn’t even his name. It’s Domenico DeMarco, and the name “DiFara” was apparently given to the pizza place by his lawyer in 1959 when he did a classic mashup between DeMarco’s last name and his then business partner Farina. Having been there for almost 60 years, DeMarco still hand-makes every pizza to this day. Would the story of an immigrant from Italy making his way to being one of most popular pizza places in a city full of world class pizza pull at Kate’s heartstrings, making her realize that despite the sometimes endless slog of bullshit that New York throws at you, occasionally it churns out the classic story of the American dream being realized? The answer is no, because stories like that don’t exist anymore and New York City is ridiculously expensive. Old man DiFara having a big break in a pizza saturated city, all while writing orders at random on a legal pad wouldn’t succeed today. A pigeon would shit on his legal pad and then he wouldn’t be able to afford his rent and would be forced out and turned into a Starbucks before he even really got off the ground.
We finally got our slices, eating them on the street while ordering a cab to go to our next pizza place. It was, despite all that waiting and all that realization of a New York that just no longer is, a fucking delicious slice of pizza. I looked to Kate hoping to see the overly cooked thin crust and the olive oil dripping down her chin would translate to a need to stay in New York and eat all the pizza, but instead she just bluntly said, “Yeah, that is really good.” And we got in our cab to go to the next place, L & B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst.
L & B’s offers a much different pizza experience. For one, this pizza used to be sold out of a horse drawn wagon in the 1930’s and 40’s. Then over time it turned into a sit down pizzeria in the 50’s, which is where we went. The horse that used to sell the L & B pizza’s I’m pretty sure died more than 50 years ago. So right from the get go, we’ve got a story involving a horse and a big dining room with seats that we can sit in immediately, two major differences from DiFara’s. You would think the differences would end there, but no! L & B’s famous pizza is a Sicilian pie. And if you aren’t well versed on pizza styles because you’re more of a Domino’s pizza tracker kinda gal, a Sicilian pizza is the one that’s square. I’m not typically a Sicilian fan, but this is not your typical Sicilian. It’s a little bit sweet, it’s crust is fluffy and doughy and perfect, and someone once got murdered over the sauce recipe. If your pizza’s history doesn’t include a horse and a murder, are you even really making pizza?
I told most of L & B’s story to Kate on our cab ride over, highlighting the fact that we wouldn’t have to wait. “I don’t really like Sicilian pizza,” she said. There are things I need to research before I drag Kate to these places, and those things are me simply asking her if she likes the things I’m taking her to. I will not learn my lesson. We got to L & B’s and were seated immediately and had our pizza in front of us about 8 minutes after we walked in the door. And yes, I ordered for her and made her get the Sicilian pizza because THAT’S WHY WE WERE THERE. I barely looked up to see her reaction because I was too busy audibly moaning with every bite I took. When I finally came up for air, it was clear that Kate liked it, but in the way that one is impressed with something they don’t actually like, but respect why other people might like it. Looking around the dining room, which very much had a small town feel, like a place parents bring their children after their softball team loses to make them feel better, or a place where you might see someone who looks like Rider Strong but 100% is not Rider Strong, but also a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a mob boss talking to a hit man in a corner booth, Kate asked, “How do you find these places?”
Between DiFara’s and L & B’s, these were two places that on the surface seemed very random. But they’re old school Brooklyn institutions that are touted as some of the best pizza in New York. If you spend enough time in this city, you hear about these places that aren’t so hidden gems. You’re not a Michael Scott eating Sbarro’s in Times Square anymore. So maybe you should stay Kate? Or is the literal and proverbial wait for the ultimate New York slice just too long and you’re running the risk of a pigeon coming in and shitting on your dreams/pizza?
Until next time,
I Love You, New York? Do you love me?