A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Jan 1.

Lunch -

DiFara Pizzeria – 1464 Ave. J, Midwood, Brooklyn
Three slices of mushroom and sausage pizza, one slice of mushroom pizza, a bottle of IBC root beer, a bottle of Orange Crush, a can of Wild Cherry Pepsi

A new year, a fresh start. What better way to inaugurate 2005 than joining the illustrious ranks of the Polar Bear Club. Still a little nauseous from last night’s holiday festivities, I boarded the Q train and set off for the depths of Coney Island. I met Vince and Libby at the aquarium, choked down a lukewarm, foil-ensconced egg sandwich on a plain bagel and headed down toward the water. The Hungry Marching Band was loudly playing on the boardwalk, providing a soundtrack for the shirtless or bathrobe-wrapped men and bikini-clad women to dance to. On the glass-infested shore, we lined up en masse, undressed and waited for the call to run into the Atlantic. A pack of drunk men with gigantic beer bellies raised up a stuffed polar bear and an American flag and roared a call to arms, and away we went into the drink. It was certainly an experience, a baptism by ice, and certainly a very memorable way to mark the new year. That said, I could not wait to run back to dry land and begin the search for my now missing genitals.

After changing and picking up our snazzy blue “Did It” certificates, the three of us got on the uptown Q and got out at Avenue J in Midwood. I don’t think I’d ever been in this heavily-Orthodox neighborhood, but after all of the incessant hype about DiFara, I had to go out there and see for myself. It was, like the Polar Bear Club, quite an experience.

The pizzeria has survived since the 60’s, the entire time under the mindful eye of owner-master chef Dominic DeMarco. Walking inside, you instantly believe that it’s been around so long, because it’s doubtful the décor or even the tables have changed since then. But for since a modest place in a peaceful neighborhood, you also have many clues that you’re in for something special. The walls are plastered with high praise, from the 28 Zagat rating to the many articles pronouncing it New York’s best. The small space is crammed with eager customers, all angling among the chaos to get in their pie orders, shouting out, “Dominic!” “How you doin’, Dominic?” “Happy New Year, Dominic!,” like high school nerds trying to be seen talking to the quarterback.
For all the commotion, Dominic didn’t really seem to care. He went about making each pie to order, slowly and methodically kneading the dough, pouring on a ladleful of sauce, shredding fat, generous slices of mozzarella, liberally splashing around extra virgin olive oil, and coating all of this with another layer of mozzarella balls. “He’s getting lazy,” one of the Italian regulars informed us cheerfully. “He usually breaks up the balls before he puts them in.” Everyone seemed to know his every move, following the process like fans singing along with the band at concerts. I loved it too, never having witnessed such precision and utter disregard for efficiency in a pizzeria. Even though we waited about thirty minutes for our pies to come out, the display became a kind of performance theater or a cooking show too real for the Food Network.

As for the pizza itself, it was very good. The sausage was an excellent choice, because as I predicted, it was a much higher quality Italian sausage than the usual processed garbage you see polluting your slices. The toppings were plentiful and the taste of the fresh gooey cheese on the sauce and thin dough was just right. Vince proclaimed it was the best pizza he’s ever had, and corroborated his statement by finishing off seven slices. Libby put in a valiant effort of three mushroom slices, and I did my share with four. My main criticism I guess is that as time went on, the cheese dried up and cooled down and the pizza lost its bubbling fresh-out-of-the-oven look and took on a less appetizing day-under-heat-lamp look. Because of that, I think my last slice wasn’t quite as good as my first tastewise, but that still remains far better than most other places. As for where it stacks up in the pizza pantheon, I still give my much-vaunted nod to Grimaldi’s, more because I prefer their style of slice and the more spaced-out red-checkered-tablecloth atmosphere. But a visit to either DiFara or Grimaldi’s would make for a very great meal. Already, I’m craving a chance to try the square slices at DiFara that looked oh so good as hordes of hungry diners snapped them up with a smile. 8/10

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – 65 Bayard St., Chinatown
One scoop of longan sorbet, one scoop of almond cookie ice cream in a cup

We had to make a stop at my favorite ice cream shop in the city (not to be confused with Il Laboratorio del Gelato, my favorite gelato/sorbet shop or NYC Icy, my favorite Italian Ice shop) for dessert. I hear the usual suspect flavors are pretty great, but I can never make it past the Asian flavors like ginger, taro, red bean, lychee, and the best of all, almond cookie, to ever try them. 9/10


Katina’s – 390 7th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn
A Belgian waffle with ham, coffee with milk, one of Davin’s French fries

Davin happened to be up from Virginia, so I met up with him, Sean and Matt, who all wanted to meet up with old friends of theirs in Park Slope. It was one of those nights where I was just happy to go along for the ride, especially when it led to a 24-hour diner in Park Slope. Although I don’t go to them that often, I love diners for all of the opposite reasons I love fine dining. Diners are comfortable, casual, relaxed and simple. They’re the recliners or the sweatpants of the culinary world. I had a waffle while Matt had a Philly cheesesteak and everyone else had a burger. If they’d all been smoking and we were all half-trashed, I would have almost believed we were all back in Virginia. 5/10


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