Restaurant Profile: Di Fara Pizza Tavern

When Gregory and Valerie Norton moved from New York to North Carolina to open an authentic Brooklyn-style pizza joint, the couple thought through every conceivable facet — even down to replicating water from the Big Apple to make the dough.

It’s this attention to detail that has made downtown Cary’s Di Fara Pizza Tavern such a popular new dining destination ever since it opened earlier this year. Never mind that the original Di Fara location in the Empire State, started by Gregory Norton’s uncle Dominic DeMarco in 1965, has been deemed among the best pizzerias in New York City by the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

Di Fara Pizza is available for takeout, but the owners encourage patrons to eat the pizza immediately, either on the patio, inside the restaurant, or in the parking lot outside.

As natives of Brooklyn, the Nortons desired a new way of life for themselves and their three young daughters, away from the hustle and bustle they experienced up north.

“We considered moving to South Carolina, Florida, Texas and even Arizona, but we ultimately settled on Cary and haven’t looked back since,” said Gregory Norton, a burly 6-foot-4-inch man who practically treats you like a family member as soon as you meet him.

About a dozen beers are on draft, including plenty of brews from North Carolina and New York. Cider, hard seltzer, wine and cocktails are also available.

As if opening a restaurant during a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, the couple overcame obstacles such as a potential location in Apex falling through, a leaky roof prior to the new landlord stepping up, and a life-threatening situation for Valerie during the delivery of the couple’s third child.

“The anxiety was there every day, and I almost gave up several times, but somehow we got through it,” said Gregory Norton.

Valerie Norton shared her perspective on the importance of persevering during adversity.

The four-cheese calzone is big enough to feed four to five hungry people, and goes great with a side of marinara sauce.

“There’s always a reason why it’s not the right time to open, and things are never perfect, but you have to move ahead and make things happen,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but we made needed changes along the way as they needed to happen.”

As fate would have it, the eatery debuted in February on National Pizza Day. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Di Fara is the real deal.

Need evidence?

Duplicating the formula for New York water is key to Di Fara’s pizza, the owners say.

Consider these facts: First-rate ingredients are imported from Italy; a skilled staff is in place; and a workhorse Woodstone Oven anchors the cozy kitchen.

“The oven stays between 750 and 800 degrees to get the char we need on the crust,” Gregory Norton explained. “We don’t cut any corners when it comes to ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, Grana Padano cheese and snips of fresh basil. We only use the best items we can find.”

In February, Gregory and Valerie Norton opened Di Fara Pizza Tavern, serving Brooklyn-style pies in downtown Cary.

And then there’s the high-tech water system. The restaurant’s New York Water-Maker machine somehow reproduces the taste and molecular structure of the H2O found in New York City.

“We tried making pizza using the local water here, but the difference is night and day,” Gregory Norton said.

With just pizza and calzone on the food menu, Di Fara wisely keeps the main thing the main thing. You’ll find about half a dozen varieties of pizza available by the slice, either in traditional style or squares, all day, every day.

“The calzone has low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, seasoned ricotta and hand-grated Grana Padano with fresh-cut basil and house made garlic oil sauce,” says owner Gregory Norton.

Among the standout pies include the house classic with sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms and the Chaos crowned with sausage, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, onions and fresh garlic.

For whole pies, consider springing for specialty toppings like soppressata (Italian dry salami), porcini mushrooms, baby eggplant, prosciutto, pancetta and sun-dried roasted peppers.

While pizza is available for takeout, the owners insist Di Fara’s pie is best when eaten hot out of the oven.

Adding to the restaurant’s appeal are an open dining room and plenty of televisions to watch the latest game.

“I compare it to ordering a ribeye at a restaurant, and when you eat it there, it’s fresh and delicious,” Valerie Norton said. “If you take it to go, you’re not going to get the same taste experience.”

The classic, gooey four-cheese calzone is big enough to feed four to five hungry people. Be sure to order a side of marinara sauce to go with it.

“The calzone has low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, seasoned ricotta and hand-grated Grana Padano with fresh-cut basil and house made garlic oil sauce,” said Gregory Norton.

Photos in the dining room pay homage to the original Di Fara location in New York, started by Gregory Norton’s uncle Dominic DeMarco in 1965.

When it comes to beverages, Di Fara rotates through about a dozen beers on draft, along with wine and signature cocktails like a strawberry basil martini, a Manhattan and an Aperol Spritz.

“I’m a Heineken guy, but the Brooklyn Lager is our most popular beer,” Gregory Norton said.

The pizzeria’s layout features an open kitchen at the front of the house and an airy dining room with four-top tables situated on a finely polished cement floor. The 15-seat bar gives guests a closeup view of their favorite sports on any of the 14 wall-mounted televisions.

Service is friendly, efficient and accommodating.

Di Fara is open daily for dine-in and takeout, and curbside ordering is available. Seating is first-come, first-served with no reservations accepted. Outdoor picnic tables on the patio fill up fast, so arrive early for an open spot.

A workhorse Woodstone Oven anchors the cozy kitchen, staffed by skilled pizza-makers.

111 East Chatham St., Cary
(919) 678-5300

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