Di Fara’s - The Pilgrimage

Well hello there sports and food enthusiasts.  It is I..the artist formerly known as the Sports Foodie.  Technically I know that I am still “sportsfoodie” because it says so on my tumblr account, and frankly I don’t know how to go about changing that.  While I have yet to develop a new moniker, the term “foodie” has bothered me for quite some time, and now I’m stuck with a cutesie relic from a bygone era.  As if the only photo I had for my avatar contained a paisley shirt, Z Cavaricci trousers, and flared bangs. 

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You may have noticed that I have not posted about sports or food or anything else for that matter in about a year.  That’s because I got a new job with NBC, I moved, and generally got very busy with life.   

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Plus with Twitter, Instagram and Pintrest and all…it’s just become so much easier to update in mini  (Also, I dont really use Pintrest.)

However…today, I got the fever.  Something changed.  I took a pilgrimage.  To a pure and holy land…a place where tomatoes and olive oil drip seemingly from the vine (the actual kind..not the app), and directly into your mouth.  They say this place serves the best pizza in all of NYC.  They are correct.  they

The establishment: DiFara’s Pizza in Midwood.  The man: Dom Dimarco, artisan.

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As someone who has studied storytelling all of my life, I can tell you that most good stories start at the beginning.   And the tale of this pilgrimage starts with my wife and children leaving town early on vacation.   I had to remain in NY for a few extra days with work (I TOLD you it is an important new job), so I had a few days to kill over the weekend.  I eagerly called my single friends to see who I could hang out with, just like the old days. 

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I quickly learned that I no longer have single friends, and that everyone else had left WITH their wives and kids on vacation together. 

Plan B…chill out with my dog Harley, clean and organize stuff.  I was going to run every day with Harley, and kick start us both out of our Winter Slumber.  We did a night run on Friday.  It was exhilarating and different.  Then a nice long run yesterday.  Today, it was about 10 degrees with the wind chill and I decided that I had had enough running with the dog.  As for cleaning and organizing, I remembered that on the weekends I’m lazy.

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So, what to do?  I came back to my standby.  The old “Find a new restaurant, and then write about it” move.  K.I.S.S.

The trip to DiFara’s would work perfectly.  It was the kind of place that I’ve heard about my whole life but embarrassingly have never gotten around to experiencing. Like visiting the Cloisters or watching “My Left Foot”.  It’s also the kind of place I couldn’t convince the family to go to.

Because DiFara’s is legendary not just for it’s pizza, you see, but also for it’s wait.  So the notion of piling up the family in the car, taking an hour long trip to get there, followed by a 45 min wait minimum…that’s just a bit too “food enthusiast” for my group.  They would reasonably ask “why wait that long for pizza when there are great pizza shops here in town?”.  And I would not be able to provide a reasonable answer to that question without the kids realizing that Dad’s a loon.

So today was my chance to be unreasonable with myself.

I made this call around 1:30 pm.  After studying the menu and the internet, I decided that I would not be a sucker and go all that way for one $5 slice, but rather would order an entire pie for $28.  Math!

In order to do that, I thought it best that I exercise.  So I got on the lifecycle and put in 48 hard minutes, followed by 16 minutes of P90X Ab Ripper.  I had not done a p90X routine in some time, and when I put in the DVD I instantly recalled why.  Because I hate Tony Horton.

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So after I showered,  I excitedly get all my stuff on to go.  At this point, I check my watch and realize I have to make a veteran call.  it’s about 3pm and according to the DiFara’s website, Lunch service stops at 4:30 pm and dinner service does not resume until 6:30.  If it takes me 58 mins to get there, that will only leave me with 32 minutes to order and eat.  Not going to happen. 

So I simmer down, take a seat on the couch, and start the countdown clock to 5:30pm, when I plan to leave.  I nap.

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5:30pm.  The time is nigh.  I take Harley for a quick walk around the block and.. God DAMN it is cold outside…feed him, and get on my way.  Waze tells me it’s going to be exactly 56 mins until arrival.  I get on the freeway, and then my first little bit of magic strikes.  For some reason I turn on XMU, a station I never listen to, and The XX is playing.  A LIVE recording.  Now, you’d think that The XX live would be awful, but it’s not…the delicate cheering somehow makes it even more transfixing than recorded The XX.  Soon, I’m in an The XX daze..I ask myself “I thought they were British but she sounds a bit French.  Are they playing in a club?  A small theater?  I wonder if they’ll come to Larchmont any time soon?  Do you always have to call them “THE XX”, or is it cool to just say “XX” every so often?”

Next thing you know, WAZE directs me out of my The XX hypnotic trance and off of the 278W.  The time is nigh…a least more nigh than it was previously.  I look for a spot.

Suddenly, fear strikes.  I did not call before I left to verify that they are open today.  Their website says Wed-Sun, but their website looks as though it was made in 1996 on a GeoCities page by Dom Dimarco’s 3rd cousin Joey.  I berate myself “It’s a HOLIDAY WEEKEND you DUMMY!  Why didn’t I call?” I get out of the car, and the wind slaps me into a renewed focus.  I make my way down the street. 

I spot it in the distance.  I see a light.  And people.  I see Di Fara’s and it is OPEN!

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My pilgrimage continues.

I walk in, and take a minute to get my bearings.  Very small…woodpanels (natch). Framed signed Tony Bennett 8x10 (natch) about 3 picnic style tables against the back walls, seats about 10-12 people max.  There are about 8 people in front of me, but I cant tell if they ordered or not. 

Behind the counter is the man himself.  Dom DiMarco.  He is old and hunched over.  He moves very slowly.  He makes his pies with a quiet fortitude.  I’m not sure how long Dom has been doing this, but I have a feeling it’s since he was 8.  Give or take 102 years.  I instantly feel very fortunate that I decided to do this.

I’m still not sure what the story is with ordering and sitting.  Is there a list?  Doesn’t strike me as a “list” kind of joint.  Before I get around to asking, some kid pops in from the cold, walks to the counter and asks the guy next to Dom for a “Square pie”.  He pays him, and steps back. 

Annoyed I didn’t act sooner, I walk up to the guy next to Dom.  He’s internal and shifty eyed…I’m going to call him “Mikey”.  Mikey asks me my name, and I tell him.  Mikey writes the information down, hieroglyphics style in a small yellow notebook, the kind you see in thriller movies where they find they crazy killer’s belongings.  Mikey tells me “It’s gonna be an hour”.  I look around, only see the 8 people, but don’t go all Curb Your Enthusiasm on him.  Mikey senses my skepticism, and then adds “more or less”.  I tell him I want a whole pie, and ever so slightly…Mikey curls his lip in a knowing smile. 

Time to wait.  I’m game..I brought my ipad with me, but there’s no place to sit.  I can also use a beer.  Looking around, folks are drinking, but I don’t see a wine list or beers in the fridge in the room.  I go back to Mikey.  Under my breath I ask, “So…is it, uh, bring your own beer?”  He looks at me…looks back and forth…and in an even more hushed tone states “You can bring a beer in, sure”.  I’m very confused if this is supposed to be a secret or not. 

I spot a bodega across the street, pop back out into the frigid night, and grab a Stella tall boy.  I come back in, and in the corner of the room, next to the plastic forks and knives, I see a bottle opener.   Our little secret.

I also see a seated spot open up next to a group, and I go for it.  It took a few minutes, but I got this place figured out.  Now, I just have to chill.  The time is so damn nigh.  I start to chat up the Brooklyn group next to me and they are oh so very Brooklyn Hipstery.  Scraggly beards, lots of scarfs, ethnically ambiguous, serious talks about My Bloody Valentine.  I tell them it’s my first time here, and they tell me that I’m fortunate.. that there is usually a line out the door.  

The cold!  That frigid cold worked in my favor.  What kind of an insane idiot goes out in the cold, 1 hour drive no less, to a known establishment with long wait lines?  One that is Crazy like a Fox.  A cold, hungry fox.

Finally, after only about 30 minutes (“More or less”, right Mikey? You crazy bastard!!) The pie arrives. The time is NOW.

Its beautiful…a full pie, not massive or overwhelming in scope.  The crust is a bit brown on the edges but not charred like Pepe’s in New Haven.  It has balance and character…something that looks like it took more than 30 methodical minutes to make. 

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The scent of garlic, cherry tomatoes and fresh hand drizzled olive oil run at you in waves.  But it’s the fresh basil that sings to your olfactory nerves.

I lay the pie down in front of the hipsters and they stare at me.  They all worked on their pie, together, for what appears to be a very long time.  I look at them and tell them, gently, that I’ve been preparing for this all day.  All of my life really.  I’m good.  Don’t worry about me.  I got this.

Well..the taste.  Simply put…it’s a transportation.  To Italy.  Back to the Earth where the purest forms of these flavors originated from.  Through the alchemy of Dom’s skill, preparation, attention and love..they all galvanize together perfectly.  The crust is firm but not overly crispy..the flavors are sweet and savory and luscious. 

In my postprandial stupor, I packed up the remaining 2 slices I could not will myself to finish.  Better to not force it.  Mikey packed them up, loaded them in a box and thanked me.  Told me “They’re pretty good at home too”, and I’m sure they are.  I thank Mikey in return…one of the purer expressions of gratitude I can recall offering.

The only singular thing missing from the experience was a bottle of Barolo, which I’ll bring next time.  As there will be a next time.  When I return with my Wife. 

This place is too special to experience alone. 

Fish Taco Wrap, Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale, Blackened Haddock Fritters over Sweet potato fries (@Thirsty Whale Tavern, Bar Harbor, ME)

Fish Taco Wrap, Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale, Blackened Haddock Fritters over Sweet potato fries (@Thirsty Whale Tavern, Bar Harbor, ME)

Popover and ice cream from Jordan House in #Acadia National Park

Popover and ice cream from Jordan House in #Acadia National Park

Blueberry pancakes @ 2 Cats, Bar Harbor.  Better than Clinton St, no 3 hr wait #breakfast (Taken with instagram)

Blueberry pancakes @ 2 Cats, Bar Harbor. Better than Clinton St, no 3 hr wait #breakfast (Taken with instagram)

Lobster heaven on the cheap at Three Sons in Portland, ME #summer #lobster #Maine  (Taken with instagram)

Lobster heaven on the cheap at Three Sons in Portland, ME #summer #lobster #Maine (Taken with instagram)

Hate to be nitpicky, but those should really be “two cans” (Taken with instagram)

Hate to be nitpicky, but those should really be “two cans” (Taken with instagram)

Lobster bacon roll @ The Fishermans Catch in Wells, ME (Taken with instagram)

Lobster bacon roll @ The Fishermans Catch in Wells, ME (Taken with instagram)

Welcome to Maine! (Taken with instagram)

Welcome to Maine! (Taken with instagram)

Final thoughts on Clarence Clemons…

Few other musicians have had their desired narrative so definitively expressed by an instrument as Bruce Springsteen.  Hendrix’s and Vaughn’s guitar, Dylan’s harmonica, Moon’s drums.  But this relationship was different…Springsteen needed Clemons’ saxophone.  He couldn’t do the job himself.  His expression required the deep and resonant notes, that Clemons, as perhaps the singular man on Earth, could deliver with such force, such power, and such desperate relevance.  Without Clemons, the potency of Springsteen’s characters hopes and failures could never be properly expressed.  The strains and the nearly out of body lengths that Springsteen went to deliver his gospel required a messenger of weight, passion, and seemingly unquenchable soul.  That man passed tonight, the screen door slamming for the final time.  I was blessed to have had those notes pass through me directly on a stormy night some 10 years ago.   Thanks for your spirit, and your life soundtrack Big Man.

The @ESPNFrontRow crew let me do my thing before epic Knicks game tonight