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Adventures in Home Pizza Making: Part III

It has certainly been a while since I wrote about my pizza experiments at home.  Last time we saw our superhero, I was still noodling with my dough recipes, and I was still unearthing some pretty significant take-aways in my quest to make a Neapolitan-style pizza at home without a fancy oven or special equipment.

While my dough continued to improve, the heat source was still a big question mark for me.  I was unsure that the grill was getting hot enough and was any better than making the pizza in my gas oven.  So I decided to give it a shot and see what happened.

Continue reading ‘Adventures in Home Pizza Making: Part III’

Adventures in Home Pizza Making: Part II

A few weeks ago, I kick-started the pizza-making craze here on blogging for burgers, documenting some of my early (relative) successes and (definite) failures.  An avid reader of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s food lab experiments on Serious Eats, I am consistently jealous of his cooking experiments.  I wanted to get in on the action.

So I did.

But here is what I think is the main difference.  Kenji is a legitimate food writer and recipe developer (and he’s definitely awesome at it).  I am just a dude with a camera, a kitchen, and an insatiable appetite for obsessive internet research.  In other words, I’m pretty much the same as you.  I’m not able to write off any of my food expenditures, so I’ve gotta make sure that I’m not wasting anything I buy.

In other words, I’m a cheap wannabe food writer.

With that said, let’s get back to the pizza!

Last time, I had a few major takeaways:

  • Make pizza on the peel, NOT on the counter
  • Place stone on indirect heat zone to get more heat around the sides of the pie
  • Use higher gluten flour, such as bread flour, and give the dough more time to ferment
  • Don’t use olive oil in the crust

With these lessons in mind, I adjusted my technique and headed back to the kitchen.

Continue reading ‘Adventures in Home Pizza Making: Part II’

Adventures in Home Pizza Making (Part I)

As my most devoted readers will remember, I recently made flatbread that wasn’t very pretty, but did taste pretty good.  For those of you who don’t remember or are just stumbling across the blog now, it looked a little something like this:

While this “pizza” was tasty, the cross-section left something to be desired.  It was dense and heavy, far from what one looks for in a pizza dough.

Phase II

Of course, once I got bitten by the pizza-making bug (again), it was pretty hard to go back.  I had a phase a few years ago that lasted for months, and I had been freshly re-infected.  I started to dig up my old recipes and techniques for dough making.  I pulled out my war-notes, which were tattered from wear and filled with endless scribbles.

Newly armed with old knowledge, burgergal and I made ramp pizza.

Continue reading ‘Adventures in Home Pizza Making (Part I)’

Stuff we’ve been eating.

Man, oh, man, what an eating journey I have been on over the last few weeks.  Due to some technical difficulties, I was unable to post pics of some home-cooked meals, so this post is going to be a gather-all of everything that has been going on in my culinary world over the last couple of weeks.

I will start from the most important two meals that I have had in the last couple of days: my two birthday dinners.  Yes, burgerboy is one year closer to being a burgerman, and the dreaded 3-0 awaits me in 364 days.  But until then, I am going to keep eating like I am a twenty-something stud with an iron stomach.

Continue reading ‘Stuff we’ve been eating.’

Beacon Restaurant Bar Happy Hour

Burgergal recently enlightened me to a happy hour special at the Beacon Restaurant and Bar.  For a mere $19.95, any time from noon to 9pm, you get two drinks (well, beer, or house wine) and a burger or pizza.

Of course we had to be there.  And my recent oral surgery (today, in fact) requires me to take a break from solid foods for a bit.  In fact, one of the two things that I could do to “really mess it up”: take a bite into a sandwich.  Now, before we get into a philosophical debate about whether a hamburger is a sandwich or not, safe to say that I will be heeding my periodontist’s advice.

All of that said, I needed one of my last meals to be a good one.  And I’ve gotta say, the burger at the Beacon did not disappoint.  I unfortunately did not take any pictures, since I was too ravenously devouring the burger, but there is a great set of pictures taken by our friends over at Midtown Lunch.

The burger comes out pre-cut, immediately revealing how cooked it is.  Ours were a perfect medium, with a rosy color all the way through and a nice char on the outside.  When I first saw the inside of the patty, however, I thought that it looked a little pre-salted, like Kenji on Serious Eats had warned not to do.  It didn’t look like it would be as crumbly as a JG special, or even a Shake Shack smashed burger.  This gave me my doubts, but at the price, who was I to complain?

But then I took my first bite.  The meat was well seasoned, and it was juicy as could be.  The flavor was great, enhanced by the onion bun, which absorbed all of the umami-rich fat that was dripping from the patty.  The burger had a smokiness to it that was earthy, reminiscent of the black label (although much less aged tasting), which was further enhanced by the smoky ketchup that was served with it.  With a slice of American cheese (as Laurent Tourondel says, “for a cheeseburger, the only cheese you can use”), it was great.  Even now, the memory of the burger is with me, as I am relegated to Jell-O pudding and yogurt, and even that hurts to eat 🙁

The fries were ok, but nothing to write home about.  They were a little inconsistent, with some being a little soggy.

But I still devoured all of them.

And that was that.  And today I went to aperiTIVO with uberchef for a my true last solid/tomato-based/spicy/hot meal for a week or so.  And it was great.

I went so fara for a pie at di fara

Di Fara on a lazy afternoon

Di Fara on a lazy afternoon

BG and I are out in Los Hamptones for the long weekend, so today we decided to treat ourselves to a long overdue return visit to Di Fara pizza out in Midwood, Brooklyn.  To take you back to our first jaunt out to the faraway land of minivans and Orthodox Jews…

It was December 2008, and BG and I were returning from a weekend out in the Hamptons.  We had never been to Di Fara, but both of us had heard extensive things about it and figured it would be a good time to try.  After a less than convenient detour from the parkway, we made it happen.

Or so we thought.

We walked in to a crowded and hot pizza place. Nothing there was really striking in any way.  I saw Dom DeMarco making the pies, which was kinda cool, but it wasn’t helping cut through the masses of people in the tiny cramped space.  We waited in line for a bit, and when we finally got to the front, it seemed like the worst was over.  We placed our order- one regular pie.  That was pretty easy.

Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.  It was painful watching Dom make the pies, spread the sauce, spread the cheese, pour the oil, put a little more sauce on a spot he missed, re-shape the dough a little bit, add a little bit more cheese, check another pie in the oven, turn a different pie around, check that first pie again, take out a square pie, put it back into the oven, talk to his daughter, go back to the pie he was forming, check the pies in the oven again, burn one and throw it away, go back to forming the pie, and so forth.  You get the idea.

At this point, it had probably been about 10 minutes (I’m pretty impatient).  In my mind, that was 10 minutes too long.  We asked a girl who was sitting alone how long she had been waiting.

“I’ve been here since about 5.45.”

It was 8.15pm.  At that moment, I knew that I had two choices: risk waiting for 2 hours, or get the hell out of dodge and score myself some pizza elsewhere.  My hunger, which was an 8.73 out of 10, told me to do the latter.  In a flurry of expletives, I stormed out onto the street and into my powder blue rental Chevy Aveo.  I laid some tracks out in front of Di Fara, just for good measure, vowing never to return.

Ok, the Aveo didn’t really lay any tracks, but it was powder blue and I did vow to never return.

“Screw that place, NO pizza can be worth waiting 2 hours for,” is what I had to say about that.  I thought about getting a kosher slice at Pizza Time, which is right down the block, but that wasn’t doing it for me either.

Having pizza on the brain, we headed out to Staten Island to get some pizza at Denino’s, which actually holds a special place in my heart because my grandparents used to take me there.  They also happen to have phenomenal thin crust pizza and great fried calamari.  My mom doesn’t like it for some reason, but she’s the only unhappy customer I’ve ever heard of.

Satiated after my sausage pie at Denino’s, I repeated my vow to never return to Di Fara.  I had some choice words for that place.  I was still fuming a bit, and I told BG I was done with it.  You hear me?  Done.

Well, done until yesterday.

You see, when I say I’m “done with a place,” that is really my code for, “I’m really angry that I didn’t get to try that place but I will return on my own terms and when I damn well feel like it.”  That time happened to be yesterday.  I knew that if we got there as they open for lunch, we were assured to get a pie within 20 minutes.  20 minutes for me was tolerable.

So, we packed up the car for the weekend and headed out to Midwood.  The feelings of anger started to bubble within me along with flashbacks of that ill-fated December night as I pulled a louie on Avenue J.  “If I have to wait more than 20 minutes, I am outta there.”  And my hunger was an 8.74 out of 10.  That’s right, I was HUNGRIER than the first time.

Avenue J was bumpin.  This made me even more frustrated.  I was going to have to circle to find a parking spot for this place?  We pulled up to the corner and I dropped off BG in front.  Her mission was simple: one regular pie and one special pie.  My mission was more complex: find a parking space within a reasonable distance.

Parking the car actually ended up being pretty easy.  Apologies for any false sense of drama there.  I didn’t mean to edit the blog like this is an episode of Whale Wars or something.

As I was walking to the place, I get a message on my blackberry: “They’re doing a shoot in here for something.

What did that mean?  Could we not get pizza?  Should I start the car?  Has Dom DeMarco outwitted me again?  He’s an old man and I’m a cunning young advertising executive with charm and style to spare, there was no way this was happening again.

I arrived to find that the “shoot” consisted of a dude with a camera with a fancy remote light flashbox.  The “something” ended up being a “project for myself,” which I think is a fancy term for “being unemployed and bored.”

The order was in, now it was just a waiting game.  The place is a lot nicer during the day, actually.  Dom’s daughter was very friendly, and even Dom himself was cracking a few smiles and laughing a bit.  A young father with his two daughters was videotaping them eat slices of pizza, probably ruining the whole experience for them (“Take a bite.  No, not too big, just a little bite, look at the camera.”  Also, just a side note—do people still call it “videotaping?”  No one really has videotapes anymore.  I originally wrote “filming them eat slices of pizza,” but that has a dirty old man connotation to it that I don’t feel right about in the context of two little girls.)   I imagined them on some sort of father-daughter trip across the US, eating at all of the famous pizza places.  Sounds like a fun trip.  But they were probably just from West Orange, New Jersey.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was our turn.  Our regular pie came out first.  It was pretty beautiful.  I mean, it looked like this:

Di Fara Regular Pie

Di Fara Regular Pie

The carefully crafted crust and hand-shorn basil and liberally-applied olive oil looks a lot better when it’s applied to your pie.  Of course MY pie should be perfect, it’s just all of THEIR pies that should be done quickly.  I let the pie rest for a few minutes before diving in, because I knew that this time would be key to its optimal consumption point, much like letting a steak rest after it’s been cooked.

In the meantime, our special pie came.  It, too, demonstrated great artistry.  Although it was a bit greasy, it was still pretty to look at.  Since we got them to go, Dom gave us a few extra basil leaves on the side, just for good measure.  Maybe the old man isn’t such a bad guy, after all.  He’s just an artisan who happens to make a product a lot of people like.  I just wish he could make it a bit faster.

Di Fara Special Pie

Di Fara Special Pie

I then took the first bite of the regular pie.  What hit me first was the olive oil.  It hit me on the chin, actually.  This pie has a lot of oil going on.  The crust was perfect—firm yet with slight doughiness on the top, and all coated in oil.  If you don’t like olive oil, don’t get this pie.  It was Alan Richman’s main complaint about it, and I can understand it, actually.  After the crust and oil, there is a delicate tomato sauce, which tastes as simple as roasted tomatoes with maybe a hint of sugar.  The mozzarella was unremarkable, but clearly fresh, and that was about it.  What hit me most was the pecorino romano—the pungent saltiness coated my mouth and gave the pie an earthy nutty quality that I found to be the most satisfying.  I finished off a slice in about three bites, but that pecorino kept calling back to me.  Even now I can still taste it.

I would write about the special pie but I’m tired.  It was good.  Next time, two regular pies.  And yes, there will be a next time.  20 minutes, you got that, Dom?

6.5 out of 7 cows.

Di Fara
1624 Avenue J, Midwood, Brooklyn