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Monday, June 1, 2009

DiFara's & The Problem of Pizza


DiFara's: a baffling temple of pizza and existential soul-searching

When I moved to New York 5 years ago, I had a couple of weeks of down time before I started my job. Not knowing a soul in this city, I spent my days taking the Subway to various locales and trying pizza. It was not long before I made my way to Midwood, Brooklyn to try DiFara's, the now mythic pizzeria. Five years ago, word about DiFara's was just starting to get out and it was becoming well-known. Today, it is a wildly popular destination for foodies, psuedo-foodies, foodie-posers, and other such individuals.

To describe DiFara's as the greatest pizza I ever tasted would be an understatement - it was perhaps the finest culinary experience of my life. Perhaps it was the greatest anything experience of my life. It was a beautiful summer day, I had just moved to the city I had dreamed of living in, I was in this random part of Brooklyn that seemed very "New Yorkey," and DiFara's itself seemed so "New Yorkey" - there just didn't seem to be any place on Earth where it could be other than Brooklyn. And the pizza? A masterpiece of fresh, flavorful awesomeness.

For quite some time I made the trek to Midwood, sometimes going alone, sometime bringing out-of-town guests and friends I made since moving to New York, and the pizza was always beyond amazing. Each time I bit into my slice I still could not believe how good it was.

I'm not sure when it was, but around 2-3 years ago, perceptions of DiFara's (mine included) started to change. There were rumblings on the blogs and message boards that things were going downhill. It started becoming more popular, and people theorized that fame had gone to Domenico's head, or perhaps the extra work required to churn out even more pies was taking its toll on the master. Burnt pies were becoming more common, and technique seemed to be changing (using scissors to cut fresh basil onto the pies). I can't explain it, but the pizza seemed slightly different. It didn't seem as good. It was still quite good, mind you, but it just wasn't reaching the peak of perfection it so reliably hit in the past.

Last weekend I paid a visit to DiFara and had one regular slice and one square slice. The regular slice had been sitting out for a little while, and it didn't have the signature gran padano cheese that Dom usually sprinkles on. The square slice I ate fresh out of the oven seemed closer to hitting the mark.

The regular slice. The gran padano is conscpicuously missing.

Action shot: Domenico cutting fresh basil onto a square pie

A most delicious square slice

Still, I cannot help this nagging feeling that things have changed. Part of me wonders if it has anything to do with the pizza itself. All of this raises intriguing and perhaps disturbing questions of memory, the perception of "reality," and subjectivity. For instance...

- Did I really experience DiFara's as being so amazing, or am I only remembering that I did.
- Has DiFara's pizza remained the same, and if so, have my emotions and subjective biases clouded the truth?
- What is truth?

Before going to DiFara's last weekend, I spent some time at Coney Island. It was a misty day, the mists covering what lay in the distance. Ah, how symbolic of the DiFara's predicament! Have I ever truly known DiFara's pizza? Am I being swept along by an anti-DiFara's wave of sentiment which is not based in reality but only the fickle whims of man?

Ah, DiFara's! Ah, humanity!

The mists of Coney Island and my soul