The best pizza in Brooklyn and my favorite shot at La Esquina

Through the kitchen, down the stairs, to dinner....

Through the kitchen, down the stairs, to the dungeon....

As hyped up as it is, for me Halloween in Hollywood has always proved to be anti-climactic. So this year, my friend Josh and I decided to fly to New York – kamikaze style – to celebrate the ultimate witching hour. We took the red eye from LAX Friday, arrived in JFK first thing Saturday, and left again on Sunday afternoon. After landing at 7 a.m., we dumped our stuff at my friend Nitro’s house in Brooklyn, went costume shopping during the day and to my favorite restaurant in the big apple for dinner: La Esquina, a Mexican dungeon hidden below a street level Taqueria in SoHo.

Round 2

Round 2

This was followed by bar hopping, gawking at a zoo of the most hyperbolic outfits I’ve ever witnessed, and drinking copious quantities of tequila across town. We ended up coming full circle back to La Esquina – with an even bigger entourage – for more of the best shot I’ve ever had: a “Completo.”

Penguins

Apparently it’s a Mexican specialty, but I’d never heard of it and I was certainly on a mission to make up for lost time that night. A Completo is comprised of a shot of your choice of tequila – the bar there boasts 130 different kinds – accompanied by another shot glass filled with a spicy chaser called sangrita (no, not sangria). Rather than down it, I slowly sipped away at consecutive rounds, taking pleasure in alternating between the two flavors: the smoothest tequila imaginable (unfortunately I have no idea what brand it was) and this bloody-mary-type concoction of tomato juice, lime juice, salt, chili powder and Tobasco – probably exactly the same ingredients used in another of my favorite beverages: a Michelada. After a few of these, we noticed most of our friends had mysteriously vanished.

We made our last stop of the night at some dive bar called The Cabin Down Below, also hidden underground (below a pizza joint on 7th and A), before finally retiring at a somewhat-reasonable hour in order to wake up for pizza at the legendary Di Fara’s. No one believed we would actually get up early and make it to Midtown, Brooklyn, before catching our flight. But they also don’t know the lengths I will go to for food.

On Sunday morning, the alarm went off, and an image of pizza infiltrated my marinaded brain. I jumped out of bed, dressed, packed, bid our host adieu, and got a taxi to Avenue J where this legendary pizza joint has been located since 1964. Throughout these 35 or so years, Di Fara’s founder, Domenico DeMarco, has single handedly made every pie to enter his customers’ watering mouths. Some of his seven children work in the family business but none of them are allowed to steal his thunder. He has worked almost every day since he set up shop in 1959 and if he can’t go to work (such as back in January when he broke his knee cap) the restaurant is closed until he can. He doesn’t stop for lunch, eating his sole meal after he closes: a pizza with a bottle of wine every night. Only recently, now that he’s in his 70s, has he decided to take it a bit easier, closing the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays – to the horror of his devout groupies.

The Menu at Di Fara's

The Menu at Di Fara's

Considering our time constraints, I was worried because every blog and article I have read about Di Fara’s mentions what a nightmare the line is, sometimes taking up to two hours to tackle. However, when we got there, DeMarco’s son took our order almost immediately. I am a crap decision maker when it comes to choosing food – on a good day. On a hungover day, I can’t decide at all.

Josh's Pizza

Josh's Pizza

I stared at the menu while my marinated brain went into overdrive: artichoke or no artichoke. Broccoli rabe. Or not. Garlic…? For sure. Eggplant? Yes…. Right? Luckily they were out of artichoke so that was one less addition to worry about. I ordered my slice with baby eggplant, porcini mushrooms and garlic. Then Josh got the same – but with broccoli rabe. Shit, why didn’t I ask for that? 

He ordered two slices… We sat down. Is one slice going to be enough? I raced back and urgently asked for another. Ha. 

Pork Slap Pale Ale

Pork Slap Pale Ale

My favorite thing about the place is that it’s BYOB. While the pizza was baking, Josh went and got us an alcoholic antidote from the liquor store next door. The pizza arrived in Josh’s absence and I stole one of his rabe slices before he could notice. Heehee. I had requested Peroni but they didn’t have any so instead Josh brought back the most esoteric brand of beer he could find: Porkslap Pale Ale. I was skeptical but it turned out to be perfectly flavored and creamy. Just what the doctor ordered.

1424 Avenue J

There’s been a lot of controversy over the fact that DeMarco has just raised the price of a slice to $5, extortionate for a pizza corner shop in the middle of a crummy Jewish Orthodox-with-a-Russian-twist neck of the woods, but totally worth it in the grand scheme of things. DeMarco supposedly imports the finest ingredients he can find: a combination of fresh and canned San Marzano tomatoes, Colavita and Philippo Berio oil, and not one but three types of mozzarella. Apparently, each mozzarella has different moisture and salt contents which, when baked together, DeMarco discovered results in a killer combo. The first is called “La Bonita” and it’s from the pizzaiolo’s hometown in Italy, in the province of Caserta; the second is Fior di Latte, a buffalo mozzarella; and last is regular mozzarella from the Grand Cheese Company. After the pizza has been taken out of the oven, he also sprinkles grana padana, a parmesan-esque cheese, along with freshly cut Israeli basil, for the ultimate finish. Despite all this talk of cheese and oil, the pizza isn’t overly greasy. I have since learned that the absence of an orange oily film on the pizza is a sign that the cheese is high quality. And there was no oily film – until Josh and I went back to the counter and drenched our slices with parmesan and chili oil.

Domenico DeMarco

The pizza base is thin and cripsy, just the way I like it. In fact, just as the Duchess of Windsor once said you can never be too rich or too thin, no pizza can ever be too thin or too crispy as far as I’m concerned. DeMarco makes the dough three to four times a day so that it’s always fresh. He also manages to time the baking down to a T, coming out of the oven with the dough bubbles just blackening enough without burning it. “You see the pizza, and it’s got a lot of black spots, it’s Italian pizza. If you see pizza that’s straight brown, it’s not Italian pizza.” His pizza is definitely Italian.

I took a bite and felt a great sense of comfort ooze over me. To be honest, the garlic was so overwhelming I could barely taste anything else, but I didn’t care. I can never have enough garlic and DeMarco definitely didn’t hold back with the fresh pungent chunks of it. I ate one slice and proceeded to work on the next by which point Josh was already long finished. I started the second slice and sadly realized there was no way I could stuff it all in. As per usual, my eyes were way bigger than my stomach and I begrudgingly gave a very enthusiastic Josh the rest.

Having satiated our pizza craving and started worrying about making it to the airport on time, we bid DeFara’s adieu, caught a cab and arrived at JFK 45 minutes before our flight. One minor detail…. It was taking off from La Guardia. 

Click here to read slice.com’s Di Fara Pizza timeline.

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3 Responses

  1. Never enough garlic for me either! Soul sistah. That airport mix-up is hilarious…

    xx Sara

  2. You should try the pizza in Lombardi’s in Little Italy. Probably the best pizza in the world!!!!

  3. whoa, you actually took the time to docment all this,,,,good shit!

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