Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pizza Quest: Brooklyn

Totonno’s on Coney Island–
****

On Saturday ten (10!) of us made our way to Totonno's Pizzeria in Coney Island. We took over two tables ordered numerous pies, and were rewarded with, in my opinion, The Best Pizza I've Ever Eaten. The crust: Thicker than Patsy's, terrifically charred. The sauce: More of a traditional "sauce" than the simple crushed tomato at Nick's and Patsy's, but not pasty, sweet, or overpowering. The cheese: Very fresh mozzarella with a bit of parmigiano (Eric thought the parmigiano a bit too much); the mozz is placed directly on the unbaked crust, the sauce over and around it (leading to nice areas of only cheese and crust). The toppings: Plain, pepperoni (excellent, though Eric thought it a bit oily), sausage (some complained it was too thick, Pete could've used more fennel), and fresh garlic (spread evenly over the pie). All in all, in my opinion, the best pizza thus far. Pleasantly salty, wonderfully charred…just terrific. Great, great pizza. (Also, as you eat here pay attention to the way the pizza tastes as it cools. Things happen, and, in this humble eater’s opinion, it gets better).

And then, afterwards, a ride on the Cyclone, a walk down the boardwalk, and a two-hour subway ride home. It was worth it, this is pizza worth traveling for. Plus, you can shoot paintballs at a real live human being afterwards. True, we didn’t “Shoot the Freak,” ourselves, but the option was there. God Bless America.

Grimaldi's in Brooklyn –
**1/2

Seven of us made our way to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn (basically underneath the Brooklyn Bridge) to try what is considered to be among the best pizzerias in the city. We ate four pies (Yeah, I had five slices, what of it?), but in our defense, Grimaldi's is a thin crust, coal-oven pizza in the vein of Lombardi's/Patsy's/John's (This, somewhat, justifies that fifth slice, no?). Here are the pies:

1 - Plain: Merely okay fresh mozzarella (extremely low moisture, slightly chewy and stringy, not creamy at all), a simple crushed-tomato-style sauce on a very thin, but not very crispy, crust (there was minimal charring, but some nice puffing and blistering). The whole thing was topped with a shot of dried herbs, and several fresh basil leaves (applied before the pie goes in the oven, so they are cooked, unlike most places that use basil).

2 - Sausage and Pepperoni: This was by far my favorite pie. The sausage (crumbled) was spicy (who likes fennel!?), and the pepperoni was incredibly tasty, slightly thick, and nicely crisped from the oven.

3 - Roasted Peppers and Fresh Garlic: Very good roasted peppers that, unfortunately, completely overshadowed the fresh garlic on my slice (Jen claimed that all the garlic was on her slice. This poor garlic distribution upsets me. A lot.)

4 - Half Ham/Half Olives: I was excited by the prospect of ham (my third pork-product of the evening), but was severely let down by this slice (as were all the other ham-folk). Near microscopic ham cubes dotted the slice, and were almost unnoticeable in the mouth. The olive-eaters faired better, with actual whole, black olives (the consensus was positive on that side of the table).

The evening ended with a nice stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan, and the following conversation:

"There was just nothing great about it. It was all good, but none of it was amazing. It had no one thing that made it amazing or really interesting."

"It was like pizza-by-committee. No risks. It was like the difference between a good cook and a chef."

"This was clean pizza. Totonno's is a dirty pizza...Di Fara's is a filthy, filthy pizza. Grimaldi's was a clean pizza."

DiFara's in Midwood, Brooklyn –
****

DiFara's gets crowded early and stays crowded. One guy, Dominic De Marco makes the every pie (with love and care) and it takes him quite a while. I called to try and figure out what was the best time to go, and had the following conversation:

Him (heavy Italian accent): DiFara's.
Me: Hi, are you open on Sunday.
Him: Yes.
Me: Is there a good time to come in?
Him: Eh, hard to say.
Me: You're busy all day?
Him: Yes, pretty much. I mean, you order toppings, it'll take longer.
Me: We'll just have to wait?
Him: He-he-he, yes.

Of course, this only made me want to go more

We headed out to Midwood (not as bad a trip as I suspected), walked into DiFara's, and immediately ordered a two pies (one regular, half-plain/half garlic, one square, half-plain/half-pepperoni). Despite the horror stories of hour-long waits for pizza, everything went smoothly (This was during the RNC, so perhaps all his patrons were out protesting? Suckers!), and we got our pies in, say, fifteen minutes or so. While everyone had their favorites, it was when I bit into my third slice (a regular, plain one), that I thought: "This is it," and realized I was eating the best pizza I've ever had. And a pizza that was different from most of the others; at the other places I've liked, the pies have had three great elements (cheese, sauce, crust) that seem somehow separate, DiFara's has a slice that is perfectly balanced, with all the elements working together. It was just amazing. The crust is slightly thicker than standard New York variety (it's closer, apparently, to Neapolitan style), the sauce seems to be a simple cooked one, and the cheese...well, Dominic Demarco (the owner and pizza-maker), puts three mozzarellas on his pies (it seems – can’t find a straight answer): Buffalo milk mozzarella, fresh full-fat cow's milk mozzarella, and an aged mozzarella, before topping off the pie with a liberal dousing of olive oil. He also offered us a (paper) plate of freshly grated grana padana to apply to our slices. A note on the square pies: though I kept referring to them as "Sicilian" while I was there, they are not nearly as doughy or thick, and are only a bit thicker than the regular round variety. The big difference is that they are cooked in greased pans, which does amazing things to the crust. It was just great pizza.

Note: There’s no alcohol served at DiFara’s, but you can bring your own.

Update: I've gone back to DiFara's four or five times since, and have always had to endure THE WAIT. Yeah, what everyone says is true: It can take an hour to get a pizza.

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