A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
I’ve been known to have some strong opinions. Or rather, a very strong way of expressing said opinions. So it may, at times, seems as though I only think in absolutes. But I, too, am capable of inconsistencies and hypocrisy, and I feel obligated to come clean both to myself and my readers when one surfaces. Here goes.
I sometimes eat at restaurants with a B health code grade. Or even worse (at least occasionally, as I’ve discovered), a Grade Pending.
Listen, it isn’t easy! And the most recent times it’s happened, it’s been a total accident. Once, it was at a pretty well-known and fancy pants place in the East 90s, a neighborhood standby for fancy pants old people. My dining companion deliberately hid the truth from me until we’d completed our meal, and it wasn’t until we were out on the sidewalk that he revealed that the restaurant at which we dined—as well as all the others on the block—had a B. I spent the rest of the evening coughing up imaginary mouse hairs.
I never said I was sane.
But I will make the rare exception to my usual fastidious attitude. And Di Fara Pizza in Midwood is one such case.
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I know. I know! Far worse than a B, they had to be temporarily shut down. Mouse evidence and flies and dirty garments and blahblahblah! All of these things would normally send me running for the hills, where I would seal myself inside my hill-based clean room and survive only on food that had been blasted with a power-washer and zapped free of all amoeba and assorted bacteria.
But it’s Di Fara’s. For as strongly as I feel about restaurant gross-outs, I feel even more strongly about my love for pizza. All pizza, really. But I truly treasure an exceptional pie, and my loyalty actually surmounts my desire to take a purifying flame to my tongue when I hear the phrase “health code violation.” And to those who don’t know, let me tell you: that is one exceptional pie.
The first time I went, I made the mistake of arriving ravenous, having starved myself in anticipation of a Major Pizza Pigout. It took about 45 minutes to get our pie, and when our names were called we rushed to the counter. Mr. DeMarco, Sr. was on the other side, as he always is. We went to grab our bounty, but he held up his index finger for us to wait. Then he shuffled over to the window, grabbed a slip of a basil plant and a pair of scissors, shuffled back to our pie and sprinkled the fresh herb on top. Again, we tried to make a grab, and were again greeted with the index finger. Stomachs growling louder than the nearby train overhead, we watched as he then shuffled back to the window, replaced the basil plant and picked up a block of fresh cheese. When he’d come back to our pie and grated the cheese on it, we were sure it was time for us to eat.
Okay! We exclaimed, drooling and rubbing our bellies and clapping our palms together in anxious anticipation, like some hungry giant in a Disney cartoon.
No. Once more, DeMarco responded with a finger in the air. Once more, we watched him shuffle back to the window, and once more, we watched him shuffle back to us, this time holding a copper kettle from which he poured some sort of magic olive oil all over our pie. At this point, all of my rules had gone out the window long ago. Once a pizza blotter (I know, I ought to be ashamed), I was now ready to plant my face into a pie that had just been drenched in extra oil. And it was worth it. So, so worth it. That man is not just a pizza chef. He is an artist. And that pizza is one helluva delicious, greasy, cheesy canvas.
That day, I was blinded to my surroundings by hunger and excitement and, later, painful fullness. In my most recent subsequent visit, I was slightly more aware. And I will admit that I saw the green B in the window as I entered. I noticed that the room was not necessarily the cleanest I’d ever seen, and I acknowledge that I chose to hold it rather than venture into their bathroom. But I just don’t care. Great pizza is clearly not necessarily the product of a sterile environment. Thank goodness I’m just enough of a fatty to respect the proper priorities here.
That being said, I think I’ll make it my business to plan another trip out ASAP, now that they’re all nice and spiffed up and health board-approved. You know, just to get them while they’re fresh. It’ll taste that much better if I don’t have little critters scurrying around in the recesses of my brain while I chow down.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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