Bella Dona: probably your best option
Amid the vacant storefronts and faltering businesses on the Main are beacons of consistency, if not hope. They are the $0.99 cent pizza places, and with Euro-Deli and its passable slices out of the game, they’re among the few alcohol-soaking vehicles open after 3 a.m. While they may not be as popular as they once were, and while they may be $0.99 cents in outside signage only, it is still important to be able to distinguish the merely mediocre from the inedible. If you’re truly trashed, then just head to the closest — you’ll be fine. But if your taste buds aren’t entirely obliterated by booze, we tried all the slice joints on the Main from Prince Arthur to Mont-Royal so that you wouldn’t have to.
First, a word on our methods: Two of the included establishments are actually on Prince Arthur, but we consider them honorary Main pizzerias anyway. We omitted Pizza Pizza because we assume you know what chain pizza tastes like, and though two pairs of establishments on the list share the same names, their slices and ambience are different, so we included them separately. Also, we forewent total consistency in favour of ordering whatever variety looked best at each establishment. Sorry, it was for our own self-preservation. (That axiom is incorrect — there is such a thing as bad pizza.)
Pizza Exquise (152 Prince Arthur E.)
In winter, this seems miles away from the Main, but it’s worth the trek — kind of. Pizza Exquise has tasty toppings, especially the feta-and-spinach and mushroom-and chicken combinations, and a decently browned bottom, which is, inexplicably, a rarity here. With sesame seeds and a sickly sweet tomato sauce, it ain’t traditional Italian or Italian-American, but you could say it’s traditional Montreal. Also, it has chili oil, a rare gourmet touch in the land of the 99-centers.
Final word: Good toppings make it not instantly regrettable.
Pizza et BBQ Lemire Expresse (23 Prince Arthur W.)
This is a dreary little place that serves equally dreary slices. Its plain pointe wasn’t the worst of the ones we’ve tried, and the bottom was even nicely crisped. The sauce tasted strongly of oregano, which, depending on how much you like that herb, can be a good or bad thing. The cheese won zero points for gooeyness, and the entire thing was pronounced “cardboard-y.”
Final word: A mediocre experience best forgotten.
Pizza Madona (3605 St-Laurent)
We were waylaid by a former colleague outside this establishment, and he insisted that the Hawaiian pizza was the way to go. We already had bad memories of Madona and a general wariness of Hawaiian pizza, but we set aside our prejudices and ordered it. The doughy, barely cooked slice was heavily laden with gnarly processed meat, a mound of rubbery cheese and every known carcinogen. Oh, the sacrifices we make in the name of #journalism.
Final word: The worst.
Pizza Bella Dona (3679 St-Laurent)
After despair, redemption. The plain slice here was lighter and thinner than the others, with a better sauce-to-cheese ratio, cheese that was actually stringy and a nice browned crust. The colour was deceptive, though, as the bottom could have been crisper. Compared to the travesty that is Madona, this slice could almost be considered good. Also, the very nice owner gave us a $0.25 discount.
Final word: Almost good!
Pizza Giovan (3936 St-Laurent)
A Cult MTL editor claims to enjoy the pizza here, and, if she weren’t our boss, we’d tell her she’s wrong. The all-dressed had that distinctive green-pepper-and-shitty-pepperoni Montreal taste, though we admit that we got what looked like the worst slice in the pie. As we contemplated whether the cheese had a more plasticky or waxen consistency, a fellow taster backed away from it, saying, “I don’t want to taste that. It looks awful.” The undercooked dough couldn’t handle its toppings and hung limply, the culinary equivalent of a certain other kind of unsatisfactory experience.
Final word: Ugh.
Pizza et BBQ Lemire Expresse (4083 St-Laurent)
At this Lemire, things were looking up! Though we couldn’t ignore the odd patches of cheese covering the pepperoni pie, the plain was nice-looking and had a well-cooked crispy crust. It was all going well until we noticed one grave omission: sauce. The tomato-to-cheese ratio worked itself out toward the top, but it was too late. Unassuming eaters shouldn’t have to earn access to what is their God-given right.
Final word: This is fine, if what you’re looking for is cheesy bread and not pizza.
Restaurant Bella Dona (4451 St-Laurent)
We had a pepperoni slice here once that used the good kind of pepperoni (small, round, dark red) you seem able to find in every city but Montreal. They didn’t have any more pepperoni during Cult MTL’s early-evening visit, but it still earned our respect for having the nicest digs of the slice joints on the Main and for pies nicely dotted with air bubbles. Our Italian sausage slice was salty and satisfying.
Final word: If you must eat pizza on St-Laurent, you may as well get it here. ■