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Legendary Di Fara Pizza owner Domenico 'Dom' Demarco dies at age 85

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Dom DeMarco, founder of the beloved Brooklyn pizzeria Di Fara, has died at the age of 85. Emily Lang of member station WNYC talked to local pizza-makers about his legacy.

EMILY LANG, BYLINE: Dom DeMarco immigrated from Caserta, a small province in Italy known for its lush palace gardens. In Brooklyn, DeMarco created his own royal garden of basil in the windowsill of the pizza shop he opened in 1965. He snipped sprigs of basil on top of almost every pizza with a swig of fragrant olive oil from a can that looked like something you would water flowers with.

MARK IACONO: The way the sun would come through the window and it was just him back there - and, you know, whether it was, like, a basil plant in his window or a pepper plant.

LANG: That's Mark Iacono, a pizzaiolo and founder of Lucali, an acclaimed pizza joint in Carroll Gardens. Iacono represents the feelings of a lot of pizza aficionados. Robert Sietsema is a senior food critic at Eater New York. He says DeMarco changed the landscape for an industry of mainly immigrant-run neighborhood slice joints.

ROBERT SIETSEMA: That sort of pizza parlor arose in the 1950s, often started by people that were either refugees from the Second World War or who had been servicemen. All over Brooklyn in particular, pizzerias were established on pretty much every block, and nobody even paid attention to them.

LANG: Sietsema says up until a few years ago, DeMarco made every pie, taking each one out at least three times to turn them and gradually top them with buffalo mozzarella.

SIETSEMA: He began to popularize it, and pretty soon, people from all over the city were coming to taste his pizzas.

LANG: Nick Baglivo is the manager of L'Industrie Pizzeria in Williamsburg. He says he had a near-religious experience at Di Fara when he was a teenager.

NICK BAGLIVO: I remember as a kid, you know, my cousin took me there when I was, like 12, 13 years old. We waited in a line. I got to see him, and I got to eat his pizza, his sauce, fresh basil, olive oil and, like, parmesan on the pizza.

LANG: But DeMarco's contribution goes far beyond that crispy bite of charred, thin crust, even for pizza-makers who've never tasted it themselves. Nicole Russell runs Last Dragon Pizza.

NICOLE RUSSELL: Give that man his flowers - like a bouquet of basil, like a bouquet of flowers.

LANG: And don't forget the fragrant olive oil. For NPR, I'm Emily Lang in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Lang