NYC: Pickles, Pizza and More

It’s been 27 years since leaving Long Island after high school graduation, and while I don’t miss the area, I do miss New York-style bagels and pizza.  So on my rare trips back to the Big Apple, it’s critical I consume some to tide me over until the next trip. Two years ago we decided to go to DUMBO to try Grimaldi’s. Fun place. I kept letting people cut in line for the bathroom so I could watch the action at the oven. The pie was good, but not as crisp as I wanted. (The post-pizza stop at Jacques Torres Chocolate turned out to be the highlight of that trip to Brooklyn. Lots of treats to try and fabulous drinking chocolate; on a subsequent trip, I drank almost all of my niece’s iced chocolate drink after finishing an entire hot one – along with a warm chocolate chip cookie!)

Anyway…a previous year we enjoyed a post-Chinese dinner slice at DeMarco’s, but after trekking there this trip, we met with disappointment that it had disappeared. That settled it. We’d have to return to Di Fara Pizza.

Last year, we planned lunch at the Red Hook ball fields, and since we were voyaging all the way to Brooklyn (it’s quite the distance from Flushing by train), we decided that a slice at Di Fara would be a great late breakfast treat. We timed our Avenue J arrival perfectly for 11:00 – right when we expected Di Fara to open. But after standing silly in front of the door, Domenico De Marco himself stepped out to apologize that he wasn’t opening until noon. We took our hunger pangs to Red Hook and enjoyed some good eats there.

Luckily, my brother brought us back there for some slices later that trip. Amazing. Which is why we had to return. De Marco is getting old, and with reports of a wrist injury slowing him down, I don’t know how many more chances there will be to meet the master – and to sample his masterpieces.

Yes, it can be chaotic. You have to get to the counter, catch his attention, place your order, and then make sure no one “steals” your order once it’s finally ready. But waiting at the counter is part of the fun, as there’s solidarity-building with others in the same situation. And you’ve got a front-row spot for watching De Marco at work: cutting open his specially sourced mozzarella, snipping the fresh basil, pouring that last bit of olive oil. He makes all the pies and handles all the cash transactions; his son is around but seems relegated to fetching the toppings (which, like the sausage, look and taste good). But it’s the simple cheese slice that really shines. Trust me. I’ve done the pizza pilgrimage to Di Fara a few times now, and will gladly go again when the next opportunity comes.

Later that day we were to meet my brother and his kids in Chinatown. But first there was a stop to visit The Pickle Guys to get a snack for later that night. The guys at The Pickle Guys are New Yorkers with New York attitude – proud of their product and lots of fun. But the barrels of laughs don’t detract from the barrels on the floor and the difficult purchasing decisions in store. Lots of pickles, from olives to mushrooms to giardiniera (which, yes, sounds like an STI). We bought cukes: a sour, 3/4 sour, 1/2 sour, horseradish, and a spicy one. (The 1/2 sour would be my favorite.) No sign, though, of Shmuel Fishelis, the Rabbinical supervisor. I assume he blessed our bounty before our arrival.

Chinatown meant another visit to Joe’s Shanghai, which I’ve discussed before with great delight. Walking back to the car, we happened upon a happening place called Rice to Riches, a Baskin Robbinsish place serving nothing but rice pudding  in a multitude of flavors. I loved the sign:

Pickles in hand, we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our U.S. Open tennis tickets, but not before stopping at the Flushing Mall for some mango shaved ice. Not bad, and refreshing after dinner on a warm day, but not as good as what we’ve eaten at Ice Monster in Taipei, which we’ll hit in a few months. And so concluded our final full day in New York City – though there’d be one last meal, providing a xiao long bao taste comparison, before we beat it out of town.