Fame has come late for Domenico DeMarco, who for 40 years has operated Di
Fara Pizza on Avenue J in Midwood, Brooklyn. Since 1999, the year that a favorable review in a city guidebook put his pies
on the map, Mr. DeMarco has graced the cover of The Village Voice (the ''Best Italian Restaurants'' issue in June), and his
restaurant has topped the Zagat list of the city's best pizzerias in 2004 and countless other guides to slice-related nirvana.
Through it all, Mr. DeMarco has changed very little. With his hair slicked
back and flour on his shoes, he has continued to make each pizza personally as three of his seven children labor in the back.
He maintains beds of basil and rosemary on the windowsill, and imports nearly every ingredient from such faraway lands as
Israel and the Netherlands. The man insists on no less than three different cheeses on each pizza, and chowhounds line up,
sometimes for more than an hour to buy a regular slice for $2.50 or the Sicilian for $2.75. The city's reigning pizza deity
is pleased by this sort of success, but he is hardly surprised.
I'M 67 years old. I've been in Brooklyn since 1959. I'm from Provincia di
Caserta in Italy, near Napoli. When I got here, I spent three months in Long Island, in Huntington, working on a farm.
I stayed three months in Long Island, then I came back to Brooklyn and my
brother and I opened a pizzeria at Fourth Avenue and 59th Street in Sunset Park. The name was Little Venice, Piccola Venezia.
We stayed there five years.
The neighborhood, it was mostly Irish. I wasn't happy over there. The people
were cheap. If you raised it a nickel, they made a big deal out of that. There were a lot of break-ins, a lot of broken windows.
I got a gun pointed at me one time.
So I sold, and I opened over here in 1964. I was supposed to open a pizzeria
at 77th Street and 18th Avenue. But then somebody put a bug in my head and said there's a good spot on Avenue J. I didn't
even know Avenue J existed. So I come over here with my accountant on a Saturday night, and this corner was for rent. It was
so crowded, the street. So I take the phone number, I call the landlord, and he says to come see me Sunday, make sure you
bring a deposit.
When I opened the store, my partner's name was Farina. My name is DeMarco.
So when the lawyer made the paper, he put the two names together. Di Fara. Di for me, and Fara for him. I bought my partner
out in 1978, I think. I kept the same name; I didn't bother changing it.
It was all Jewish then, but they weren't that religious. Then, little by little,
it became very Orthodox. People, they got scared, and they all sold out their restaurants. I was left alone. And it was the
best thing that could have happened.
Nobody taught me to make the pizza. You gotta pick it up for yourself. All
of these 40 years, I keep experimenting. My pizza is good, because I use fresh tomatoes. They come from Italy, from Salerno.
Then I started to get mozzarella from Italy, from my hometown in the province of Caserta. It's $8 a pound, and this parmesan,
it's $12. It comes twice a week. This might have been made two days ago, or three days ago.
I do this as an art. I don't look to make big money. If somebody comes over
here and offers me a price for the store, there's no price. There's no money in the world they could pay me for it. I'm very
proud of what I do. I don't have any employees; I use my kids.
You want to know something? A lot of people, they pay more for a slice than
they have to. That guy David Blaine, the guy who does the magic tricks? He was over here the other day. His bill was $75,
but he gave me $100. He comes here all the time.
I come over here at 8 o'clock in the morning, sometimes 7, because I use fresh
dough. I come from Italy, and I go back there every once in a while to see how they do it over there. They don't throw it
in the icebox. It's not supposed to be cold dough. The fresh dough bubbles when you put it in the oven, and the bubbles get
a little burnt. 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.
We make the dough three or four times a day, because I believe in fresh dough.
Besides, when you use fresh dough, the pizza comes out thin, not thick.
We start to close at 10 o'clock, but I never count the hours, because I'm
a farmer. We go into the farm early in the morning, and we go home when the moon arrives. No problem.
I eat once a day, after I close. With wine. But I have one piece of pizza
every day, to see if it comes out all right. Then, after I close, I sit down with my bottle of wine and I eat. When I eat,
I like to sit down. There's no way I can sit down once I open the door in the morning.
I don't intend to retire. But I want my kids to take over the place. They've
got to follow me. They've got to follow my idea. Like I said, I don't take the shortcuts.
Pizza has become considered a fast food. This one is slow food. Anything you
do, when you do it too fast, it's no good. The way I make a pizza takes a lot of work. And I don't mind work.