Originally published in my first book (in 1998)
Review is below, after some brief remarks.
First, discovery credit to uberhound Barry Strugatz.
Note that their pizza in recent years was way more ambitious than back then, when it was just a (really really good) neighborhood place.
Barry and I have both heard from hundreds of people who claim to have been intimate regulars long before the place was ever written about. But in 1998, one could spend hours there without seeing another soul. Mr. DeMarco (Barry and I are the only two NYC food lovers not on a first-name basis) told me at the time that he wanted to sell the place. I'm awfully glad he didn't.
Here's a secret. Every day after closing, Mr. DeMarco would sit by himself and down a $100 bottle of amarone. When I last asked him about it, he told me it was Campo del Titari Brunelli.
Ok, here you go:
1424 Avenue J (near East 15th Street), Brooklyn
Atmosphere/Setting: This early 1960's style Brooklyn neighborhood pizza parlor has seen better days. The beige wall paneling is beginning to curl, flourescent fixtures throb overhead, and the linoleum floor tiles have grown crooked. You eat at long industrial junior-high-art-project type tables--beneath faded poster photos showing Italy as it looked two generations ago--while scratchy Italian opera blasts from the kitchen. Sit here a few minutes, and you'll be drawn back in time...and begin to notice that everywhere you look there are crates of impressively ripe tomatoes...the place is practically bursting with them.
House Specialties: Pizzas, both round and Sicilian, are sacred artifacts from the days when slices had personality, made from real sauce, cheese, and crust. Pastas--spaghetti marinara's a great choice--are served in oversized bowls, properly al dente with incredible garlic-studded sauce made from all those fresh tomatoes. Heroes (the usual: sausage and peppers, meatball parmigiana, etc.) are nothing short of ideal, served on crusty ultrafresh Italian bread with good cheese and that amazing sauce, and by the time you get to the entrees (veal or chicken scallopini, shrimp marinara, scungili, lasagna or manicotti) you'll be raising your eyebrow and wondering whether you've just found the restaurant of your dreams.
Other Recommendations: Look for specials, like slices of fresh artichoke pizza; (the artichoke leaves have been carefully sauteed with garlic to the precisely right point; it is to your standard "veggie" artichoke pizza what a Chopin nocturne is to an advertising jingle). While six bucks may seem a bit high for salad here (Owner Domenico De Marco apologizes to customers for the price), it's a lavish affair, brimming with chunks of fresh mozzarella, various lettuces, hothouse tomato, and a nice balsamic vinegar dressing.
Summary & Comments: Those tomato crates piled up in the narrow passageway back to the kitchen (and under the counter...and over by the window) are from The Orchard, a mega-premium produce store at 1367 Coney Island Avenue. They're transformed into one of New York's great tomato sauces; a restrained, low profile masterpiece of optimal acidity and spicing (bolstered by a goodly shake of black pepper). Like everything here, it's delicious in a magically old-fashioned way. Mr. De Marco doesn't like modern shortcuts; "To me," he says, "a drink in a plastic cup doesn't taste as good as one in glass." Since 1963, this humble artisan has quietly practiced his craft (his son now handles kitchen orders). Mr. De Marco is a hold-out, Brooklyn's last proud neighborhood pizza baker, and each bite is a small historical event.