The old man is back and — dare we say it? — better than ever.
Domenico DeMarco, the maestro who mans the ovens at DiFara Pizzeria in Midwood, returned to the world stage this month to do the only thing he knows how to do: make the city’s best pizza.
Frankly, I was worried for Dom. Last month, during the fallout from the Taco Bell rat incident, the Health Department shut him down, claiming its inspector had found “evidence of mice or live mice.”
Dom’s loyalists were appalled at the closure (most of us wouldn’t care if Pfizer set up a laboratory full of mice in DiFara’s backroom as long as Dom was allowed to keep cranking out his ethereal pies). But for me, the closure came on the heels of two less-than-inspirational visits to the DiFara shrine. Maybe it was the hour-long wait for a slice — yes, you need to wait an hour for a slice at this palace of pizza, and sometimes you have to fight to hold your place in line — but I noticed a subtle decline in quality.
For the first time in nearly a decade, I started wondering whether the old man had finally lost his touch.
So even before the inspector shut the place down — and failed Dom two more times before finally allowing him to open three weeks ago — I was filling my poison pen to write yet another Brooklyn Angle that would shock the world: DiFara’s was no longer the best slice in town.
But before I dared write such a paradigm-shifting story, I wanted to give Dom one more chance. He’s been on Avenue J for 43 years, so he certainly deserved one.
When I got there, the line was out the door as usual, so naturally I worried that Dom was faltering again. But there was a revived spirit to the joint that went beyond the freshly painted green walls. Despite the crowds hungering for a slice, people were laughing and trading stories. Tourists were snapping pictures, even.
“You think this line is bad,” one guy in a Sanitation Department vest said to me. “I once waited two hours for a slice here.”
I asked him why.
“You kidding?” he said, putting his thumb and first two fingers to his mouth — the universal gesture of why someone would wait two hours for a slice of pizza.
Dom was working feverishly as always, though his “feverishly” looks more like the deliberate motions of a metronome. He’d take a lump of dough (which he makes by himself, of course), roll it out, pour on a sauce he makes from fresh, imported Italian tomatoes, drop on the first layer of hand-grated mozzarella, and toss it into the 500-degree oven just in time to take out a fresh pie (which he often does by hand). If the pie is a Sicilian, he adds buffalo mozzarella, one half-pound ball per pie. It’s like eating a cloud.
As Dom worked, regulars kept telling the maestro how good it was to have him back.
By the time my pizza finally came out, I knew I was, too.
It was the same as it ever was — and somehow each bite tasted just a bit sweeter knowing that Dom was back behind the oven again. Someday, I told the Sanitation guy, I would tell my kids that I saw DeMarco cook — just like my dad is always telling me about what it was like to watch Jackie at Ebbets Field.
I asked Dom how he felt, but he just smiled.
This man of few words expresses himself fluently in pizza.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.