Saying Goodbye To Di Fara’s Dom DeMarco, A Pizza Legend
Anyone who knows me or has read this blog over the past 14 years is likely aware of the fact that Di Fara is my favorite pizza place in the world. In fact, a visit there in the early 2000s was one of the inspirations that led me to start IDreamOfPizza. So I was deeply saddened to hear the news that Dom DeMarco — the shop’s founder and pizza maker for the past 50+ years — passed away this week at the age of 85. It’s been heartwarming to see so many tributes and stories about the impact that Dom’s pies and presence had on so many people, myself included. So I thought I’d dedicate this post to looking back on some of my own memories of Dom, many of which I’ve never shared before.
Back in 2008, when I launched IDreamOfPizza, I wrote a long form post about my love of pizza. Here is what I had to say about Di Fara at the time:
As my love for pizza deepened, I began to do more research online about where I could find the city’s best pie. All sources pointed to the same place – Di Fara – a modest shop in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn that has been serving its heavenly pizza for more than 40 years. It’s owned and run by Dom DeMarco. He makes every single pie himself, working 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. Apparently he takes 3 ½ days off a year. If he’s sick, the shop is closed. It shut its door for a few weeks in 1988 when De Marco went to Italy and another time in 2006 when he had foot surgery. The lines have been known to stretch for hours as he gives every single pie his undivided attention. He likes to know who every pizza is for before serving it to them. Watching him make a pie is like watching an artist paint a painting – in slow motion. He uses a hand grater for the cheese and meticulously smears the tomato sauce on the dough.
I made my first trip out there in the fall of 2006 and taking my first bite of pizza at Di Fara changed my life forever. Not only was it the best slice of pizza I’d ever eaten (and still remains so), but I honestly can say it was the best food I’d ever consumed. There is no description that could do each bite justice. Only a few steps away from the Flatbush Avenue stop on the Q train, it’s about 45 minutes from Midtown Manhattan. It’s a place that every New Yorker should go. I can only hope that De Marco continues to churn out his mouth watering pies for years to come. For weeks after my visit I had dreams about the pizza on a nightly basis and only wish I could return there more often that I currently do.
Following this experience, I began taking regular trips out to Di Fara with friends and family to share my love of Dom’s pies with them. Literally, anytime someone was visiting from out of town, I made sure that Di Fara was a stop on our itinerary. In 2009, a graduate student at New School reached out to me. She loved pizza and was looking to make a short film on the subject. But she couldn’t quite pinpoint the right topic or angle. “Let me tell you about this pizza legend…” I told her.
The film she ended up directing — a heartwarming 17 minute story about Dom and his family titled The Best Thing I Ever Done — is well worth your time.
Around this time, I also properly reviewed Di Fara on IDreamOfPizza. Here is an excerpt from the review, titled: Di Fara – Simply The Best Thing There Is To Eat In NYC:
Although words can’t do the experience justice, here are a couple that come to mind when I think about the pizza I’ve eaten there: epic, magical, legendary, orgasmic, life-changing. It’s that great. Dom DeMarco’s pies are the best thing I’ve ever eaten. And the food is only the beginning. Watching him make pie after pie is like watching an artist create his masterpiece. Every piece of dough is a blank canvas. What happens next is heavenly. The sauce. The cheeses. The oil. The basil. The toppings.
To this day, it’s the only pizzeria I’ve ever awarded a perfect score of “10.”
Below are some photos from when I reviewed Di Fara, most of which I’ve never shared publicly before.
Flash forward a few years late to 2013, when a show on The Cooking Channel reached out to me and wanted to film a segment at my favorite pizzeria. There was no doubt where I wanted to go. I connected the producers with Dom’s daughter. And a few weeks later, I found myself staring in a reality television show at Di Fara (the show, which was called Log On & Eat with Eden Grinshpan only lasted one season — but the memories of that day will last a lifetime!). You can view the full six minute segment here.
Below are a couple of behind the scenes photos from the shoot that day:
Around 2013, Di Fara also started renting out its space for private parties. I loved booking the space which made it easier to bring large groups of friends to experience Dom’s pies without dealing with long wait times. You could bring your own drinks and enjoy Di Fara’s pies in a more relaxed setting. I think it was also less stressful for Dom and his children — patrons weren’t constantly bombarding them asking how much longer until their pies were ready.
Another fun fact — although Di Fara doesn’t officially have a restroom open to the public, there is a restroom in the back of the shop for employees to use. During private events, when the shop is closed to the general public, guests are allowed to use it. At the end of a private dinner in 2013, I was wandering back to use the bathroom, when I saw Dom, sitting there alone, enjoying a glass of wine after a long day hovered over the oven. He looked so content, nobody there to bother him — a routine that I can only imagine was replicated thousands of times over the years. I snapped three quick photos and continued on. There have been many photos posted online recently of Dom making pies. But I prefer to remember him like this: enjoying a drink after a day of work, just like many of us do.
In 2015, I proposed to my girlfriend, Michelle. And given how many special moments the two of us had shared at Di Fara over the course of our relationship, I couldn’t think of a better place to take some of our engagement photos (you can see many of the photos here: This Is What Happens When You Take Your Engagement Photos At Di Fara). We arrived at the shop before opening on a Sunday morning in September. There was a line outside and Dom was already starting to make pies. Although most of the shots our photographer captured were of me and Michelle, towards the end of the shoot, we slid behind the counter and asked Dom if he would be in a photo with us. He looked up at our photographer, smiled, and then immediately returned to work, clipping leaves of basil over a fresh pie. This was a really special moment — one I’ll never forget.
In 2015, I was also honored to be invited to a small gathering at Di Fara to celebrate the shop’s 50th birthday. Like every other night, Dom was behind the counter making pies for friends and family. If there were a Cal Ripken of pizza-making, it would be Dom. Day after day, for decades and decades he showed up to work and focused on his craft. This is the last time I can recall seeing Dom behind the counter, although it’s possible he was there on a subsequent visit or two.
As Dom was seen at the shop less and less frequently in recent years, family members and employees took over the day to day operations and pizza making, including his son, Dom Jr. But even when I didn’t see Dom behind the counter, I still felt his presense everywhere… literally. Some years ago, my sister made a painting of Dom, which hangs in my apartment hallway. And an autograph photograph of Dom — also a gift from my sister — hangs in my kitchen, just a few feet from where I stretch dough and top pies with too much basil and olive oil on homemade pizza nights.
There will never be another Dom. The dedication to his craft. Over a million pizzas made. The quality. The uniqueness of every pie. A trip to taste one of Dom’s pies was an irreplicable experience. He’ll be missed dearly. By neighborhood locals. By pizza fanatics. By foodies. By tourists from around the globe. By anyone who was fortunate enough to have one of his pies during the 50+ years he manned the oven at 1424 Avenue J in Midwood, Brooklyn
Rest in peace, Dom. We all miss you and are grateful for the joy and deliciousness you brought to so many of us, for so many years.