I went with a friend this weekend to check out the sandwiches at 1012 Kitchen — an offshoot of the fabled DiFara Pizza — to find a slender menu with only nine heroes of a purely classic sort, deploying meatballs, chicken cutlets, eggplant, and pork sausages, bargain priced at $8 to $11. There were a couple of surprises, including a potato and egg hero rarely seen these days. According to Margie Mieles-DeMarco, late-founder Dom DeMarco’s daughter and operator of the shop, the recipes are her father’s, originally used in the pizza parlor in the early days.
As Eater reported earlier this month, Di Fara Pizza recently added 1012 Kitchen to its mini-empire, a hero shop just around the corner from its original 1965 pizzeria, steps from Avenue J at 1012 East 15th Street. It stands next to another storefront with a black awning that reads Di Fara Dolce Fatts, a pastry shop that opened in 2015, also intended as a waiting area for the pizzeria. It closed the next year and is now being used as a staging area for the very small sub shop.
Customers order at a walk-up window and sit at a couple of wrought-iron tables out front. We ordered three heroes and were quoted a 45-minute wait, even though there were only a few customers milling around. If you have patience, this is not a bad thing, since the sandwiches are constructed with extreme care. As I looked inside, the crew was clearly exercising the attention to detail Dom was famous for.
We used the time wisely by going around the corner to the pizzeria. I hadn’t been since the death of its founder in March 2022 but wasn’t particularly surprised to find there was now no line out front. Inside, there were empty tables available, as three employees moved behind the counter assembling and baking pies.
When I visited in the ’90s, DeMarco was always working by himself in a kind of one-person performance piece. He would yank a pie out of the oven to sprinkle on extra cheese or add a couple of basil leaves torn from a potted plant growing in the window as if perfecting a piece of artwork. Now, that piece of theater was gone, but had the founder’s physical presence been the key to the pizzeria’s success?
As I had done in the ensuing decades to avoid the line, we strode directly to the register and ordered one slice each of the pies cooling on the counter, rather than a whole pie — a plain cheese slice and a Sicilian square ($5 and $6, respectively). Both were good, but the Neapolitan slice was more crisp than I remembered, less cheesy, with slightly chunkier tomato sauce. The Sicilian was similar to my memory of it, a bready battleship of a slice that sufficed as a meal in itself, with a bottom crust supremely crisp and a lush quantity of crushed tomatoes.
We returned to the sandwich shop and waited. The meatball Parm was the best of the three — meatball Parm, eggplant Parm, and potato and egg — with a zingy tomato sauce that rode atop the flavor profile, rich crumbly meatballs, and as much mozzarella as was needed and no more. The eggplant Parm was nearly as good, slices of the purple vegetable individually fried in a small fryer. The cheese melted into the slices. The potato and egg hero was a bit plain, but filling; it could have used some salt and a dribble of oil. We’d tried to order what might have been the most interesting of the heroes, made with broccoli rabe and sausages, but there was no broccoli rabe that day.
Had the wait been worth it, and does Di Fara Pizza still merit travel from other boroughs, now that DeMarco is gone? A pilgrimage to the pizzeria is to visit an important monument in the city’s pizza history. The frayed interior is just the same as always, with pizza boxes stacked on every side, random pieces of art and advertising, with Dom’s oil pitcher, basket of basil leaves, and tub of grated cheese still in the same place on the counter as always as a sort of still-life memorial.
The food court branch of Di Fara in Williamsburg recently closed for a second time, and in my experience, it had turned out a cheese slice nearly equal to that of the master (though the one at the preceding North 3rd Street Market had been awful). I decided to pay a visit the next day to the only other extant branch of Di Fara Pizza in NYC at 108 South Street, near Peck Slip, in the South Street Seaport (there is also one in Las Vegas).
Occupying some solid real estate facing the seaport, the place is lined with photos of DeMarco. Many types of pizza by the slice were displayed, including a ziti slice that seemed a little off-brand. The plain slice had a crust with just the right thickness and snap, but was too cheesy, and the same might be said of the Sicilian square, which was too blobby with cheese. My surprise favorite slice was one I’d seen a guy eating an entire square pie of the day before in Midwood — the chaos slice ($7) featuring meatballs, garlic, Italian sausage, cherry tomatoes, and onions. Not a classic Di Fara slice by any means, but as far as the future of the pizzeria mini-chain goes, it’s a brave new world.