The itinerary? DiFara, which I'd already had a less than pleasant experience at, Totonno's of Coney Island, Motorino East Village, with a final stop at Keste. Little did we know a wholly pleasant and unexpected wrench would be thrown into the spokes of our trip resulting in one of the most unique and pleasant food experiences I've had to date. April 15th, 2010 would forever be remembered as the 2010 NYC Pizza Conquest. That title may have to be changed slightly as we've already got plans for another trip in the works. Yep, that's how we roll. Keep reading to find all the cheesy details.
I now present to you a few do's and don'ts of enjoying pizza at Difara.
Do go at 11:30am on a pleasant Thursday in April. This will guarantee you either the first spot in line, or, in our case, the second place in line. We waited about 4 minutes before our first plain round pie was handed to us. I was speechless. Do place your order (you can see PB modeling this practice below) at the takeout window while you wait for the doors to be unlocked.
This allows you to secure your seating immediately upon entering the establishment. Luckily for us, after a few friends joined us (more on that in a minute) we were 7 strong and we had taken over the entire back of the pizzeria. Don't go at 2pm on a blisteringly hot Saturday in July. You may not see a line outside, but trust me, once you get inside and place your order watch as Dom's son flips 4 or 5 pages into his notebook before taking your order. Each of those pages translates to about 30 minutes of wait time. Also, don't expect to enjoy the comforts of A/C while you wait either, cuz he ain't got one. Now that we have that squared away, onto the pizza.
We ordered two plain round pies and 4 or 5 sicilian slices. The first major topic of discussion was the fact that Dom no longer added a liberal dose of olive oil to the pies after they came out of the oven. This was a huge plus for me because I felt there was entirely too much oil on the pie we ordered on our first trip. As soon as he started snipping basil onto our pie my stomach let out a growl that could've been heard across the street.
The entire place filled with the smell of fresh basil. Dom handed off our first pie and after letting it rest a minute it stood up beautifully.
No knife and fork needed. I hadn't even taken a bite and my hopes were already soaring. The first thing I noticed as I picked up my slice was that the cornicione was crisp preventing the classic NYC slice fold.
I took my first bite and I was beyond words. I had never had such flavorful cheese on a pizza. The excessive amount of toppings we ordered on our first trip masked the delicate balance Dom has created on his plain pie. The tanginess sang in my mouth along with the herby blast from the fresh basil. The flavors really came together in the end. This pizza was infinitely better than on our first trip. On top of that, the cornicione was perfectly salted and delicious.
The combination of char and salt, even though I usually prefer a softer crust that pulls apart easily, lead to my first learning experience of the day: when done right the cornicione is my favorite part of a slice. I would've eaten the crust by itself and been completely content. PB and I entertained the idea of manufacting a machine that solely produced perfectly salted and charred pizza crust. It would make us friggin' millionaires. Now don't think we're through with Difara just yet. Oh no, we still had those big juicy Sicilian slices to tear into.
I spotted a corner slice with a huge honkin' leaf of basil on it and quickly claimed it as my own.
Thankfully I had the foresight to do so because the last bite of that slice, the corner itself, may have been the best bite of the day for me. The crust on the Sicilian was nothing short of a revelation. Dom coats the pan with olive oil before placing in the dough and the resulting crust is a combination of soft, crispy, and chewy the likes of which I'd never had.
The Sicilian slice at Difara has a cult following that rallies around it's superiority over the plain slice and I'll be honest, I just submitted my application. Consider this the first step of my initiation--All hail the Sicilian.
Now for that wrench I mentioned earlier. A good friend of PB, who just so happened to have opened a pizza joint of his own in Green Point, Paulie Gee, met up with us for a slice or two at Difara. I had heard a lot about Paulie's backyard exploits on Slice. He was a really friendly guy and spoke openly about the trials and tribulations of opening his own pizzeria.
As we were settling up on the bill and about to head out the door Paulie mentioned that he would like to open his doors a little early to host a private pizza tasting of sorts. He also volunteered to pick up his favorite Sicilain pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens for us which he would reheat in his oven.
Not much more really needed to be said, our planned itinerary went right out the window as we all readily acquiesced to his request. But first things first, we still had to hitch a ride out to Coney Island for some classic coal oven pizza from Totonno's. Paulie Gee's would follow.
We emerged from the subway and I was immediately taken aback by the sights, smells, and sounds of Coney Island. I wanted ice cream and funnel cake... NOW. I fought hard to subdue those urges as we had a lot more pizza to eat so we pressed on the few short blocks to Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano.
While I wouldn't necessarily say that Totonno's was my favorite pizza of the day, it was hands down my favorite pizzeria of the day. It just had this welcoming casual air about it, the space itself being nice and open and not cramped as I feel most eateries in NYC are.
I just got a very welcoming and inviting feel from the place. I could see spending countless hours here whiddling away the day enjoying the great pizza with good friends.
We ordered a half sausage and half cheese and a round of Brooklyn lagers which I have detested in the past, although this time around I kind of liked it. My beer tastes seem to be changing daily. At this rate I should be quaffing double IPAs in no time. Actually now that I think about it, I had a pretty good one at DuClaw while watching the Caps game on Saturday... GASP! It has already begun! Anyway, back to the pizza.
Much like Difara's cheese, the very first thing that hit me was the super bright acidity of the sauce. It jumped off the slice. Now this is my kind of pizza sauce. Keep your sweet sauce, give me the tangy baby. I wouldn't think twice about bathing in this sauce.
On the flip side the cheese was very subtle, adding only a light creaminess. The cornicione was airy and light, much lighter than Difara, with a wonderful char. The crust was extremely thin and almost seemed like it wasn't cooked all the way through, as it was doughy underneath the toppings which leant a unique textural contrast to the slice. I would've liked it if the great flavor from the cornicione permeated throughout the pie as there wasn't quite as much leopard-spotting on the undercarriage.
The plain cheese slice was fantastic. The sausage on the other hand didn't quite do it for me as I felt that while it tasted great with a nice strong savory sage flavor and a sweetness at the end that balanced the acidity of the sauce, it had an unpleasant gummy texture.
On the bus ride back to White Marsh later that night I remember thinking to myself that if I were to take someone up to NYC myself, I would probably take them to Totonno's because it just felt like the quintessential NYC pizza experience. Two pizzerias down, two more to go. Stay tuned for part 2.