It's a summer day in New York City and we've got several hours before we need to return the rental car. Normal people might hit the beach or a remote park in search of a respite from the city's oppressive heat. Not my wife and I. It's off to Midwood, Brooklyn and one the borough's most popular and controversial pizzerias, DiFara Pizza. What was once a small, neighborhood pizza joint has in recent years been transformed into a foodie favorite with two-hour queues and $5.00 slices, much to the derision of locals who now find themselves fighting camera-wielding food bloggers for a taste.
So, it was with some surprise when we rolled up to DiFara's and saw no line at what would be the beginning of the dinner shift (6-9 p.m.). Had we found the sweet spot, a rare Saturday with no long wait? Unfortunately not.
"We'll [sic] closed Saturday for oven repair," the sign read. (One way to avoid making that mistake again? Follow DiFara Pizza on Twitter.)
Disappointed, but undeterred, my wife suggested we make our way down Coney Island Avenue to New York's oldest operating pizzeria, Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano. It turned out to be a great choice.
Founded in 1924 by Anthony "Totonno" Pero, Totonno's uses only the finest ingredients: "tomatoes imported from Italy, handmade mozzarella cheese, and dough which is made daily" on premises. In fact, when the dough runs out, the doors are shut for the day. Sidelined by a fire last year, Totonno's re-opened in May 2010 and I'm happy to report the quality of the product is unchanged (as evidenced by the long line on a Saturday evening, many in in the neighborhood to check out a Dead-related show at the ballpark).
One of the benefits of the wait at Totonno's is you get to watch the pizziolo in action and observe the process:
- The dough is stretched rather casually, but there is no show-offy tossing
- Fresh mozzarella goes on first and sauce is ladled on top
- A light sprinkling of Parmesan is added as a finish
Totonno's is bare bones. There is a large pie ($19.50) and a small one ($16.50), though the waitress told us only large was available that night. A small list of toppings is listed on the wall at $2.50 each but we opted for the plain pie. Coca-Cola is served in good, old-fashioned small bottles and there are ice-cold bottled beer (Bud and Brooklyn Lager), which really soothes legs tired from standing on the sidewalk.
Unlike some authentic Neapolitan pies, Totonno's crust is only slightly charred and has a great, smoky coal-oven flavor. With the addition of the Parmesan cheese that gets browned on the crust, it may have be the most perfect crust I've ever tasted. Because the cheese goes on first, the sauce doesn't soak through and weaken the crust, so these slices are made for picking up and eating with minimal effort or mess. The sauce, my wife noted, is the "perfect combination of sweet and tangy."
One element missing is a sprig of basil, but that can be forgiven, as Totonno's pizza did not disappoint on any level. It was well worth the drive and the wait for a pie that has come as close to perfection as I've ever experienced.
Welcome back, Totonno's!
— Brett Essler