Walking into Fugazzi is like walking into Eric Foreman’s basement if the Ninja Turtles lived there and the whole place was designed by Thrasher magazine circa 1992. I know, that’s a lot of specific references but let me give some context: they’ve got floor-to-ceiling wooden beams, a fake garage door above the bar, a brick wall, black and white pre-distressed tiling, a mural of a tattooed Mona Lisa, leopard spotted beams and half-walls and, mysteriously, a banquette off to the back that is set up to look like a 1950’s Brooklyn red-sauce joint. The decor of Fugazzi is just so in-your-face that it demands you analyze it, and when you do you’re forced to ask yourself, “What am I looking at?” The whole vibe is like a pair of pre-ripped jeans: anything but authentic and lacking much of the style and elegance I’ve come to expect from the Gauley Brothers.
Glancing at the menu, some truly delicious-sounding items stand out, and after seeing good-looking plates moving through the room by the capable service staff, I am genuinely excited to eat. In keeping with the Italian-American-ish motif, we order garlic bread, mozzarella sticks and a caesar salad made from roasted cabbage to begin.
As for drink, there are a few wines available by the glass, but the choice is uninspiring, so stick to the cocktails. I order a Bicicletta, a classic Italian cocktail that is a simple riff on the Campari spritz. Fugazzi’s version featuring Cynar and prosecco is delightfully bitter and aromatic, and frankly an improvement on the classic. But if all else fails, order a beer — who doesn’t like pizza and beer?
I have to give these guys some credit for putting mozza-sticks on a menu. They could have chosen to get fancy with them, in the way of a suppli (elongated arancini stuffed with mozzarella), but they went trash-classic and the result is great. I especially like the cocktail sauce generously laden with freshly grated horseradish that cuts right through the grease and adds a brightness to the dish that sets these mozza-sticks apart from the generic stuff.
Next, we receive a double-drop of the house garlic bread and pointed cabbage caesar. These are both knockout dishes. The bread — two sky-high parker house rolls, brushed with garlic oil and garnished with an abundant canopy of freshly grated parm — is fluffy, garlicky and delicious. The diners around us audibly lament not ordering it themselves. The cabbage in the form of a pointed wedge is hard-seared then roasted, covered with bread crumbs, Caesar dressing and a sprinkle of chives. I’m very into it, and I’m especially a fan of the dressing as the presence of anchovy really comes across, adding a welcome vibrancy to the deep flavour of roasted cabbage. It’s a very clever riff on the classic Caesar salad.
Unfortunately, this is where the praise for the food ends. Fugazzi is billed as a pizza place and touts an in-house “pasta lab,” which is an ambiguous title if there ever was one. We ordered both pizza and pasta, and as the hallmarks of the business, they should be the highlights, and neither were particularly good.
Cabbage caesar salad
We ordered the Donnie Brasco pizza, which comes topped with thin slices of mortadella, a tuft of arugula and a base layer of creamy burrata. Burrata is delicious, we can all agree, and I have had it served on pizza successfully, but the challenge with burrata is that it wants to be the star of the dish. But burrata’s flavour is delicate and the cheese is liquid in the centre so it demands a crisp dough strong enough to stand up to the moisture. Unfortunately, at Fugazzi, the crust is far too puffy and soft so it acts as a sponge for the moisture from the burrata, allowing it to seep into the dough and through to the crust, leaving the centre of pizza so wet that the first slice we pull is limp and dripping.
The final course, a tagliatelle bolognese. It’s hard to go wrong with a classic, and at Fugazzi they even go as far as to claim that their bolognese is so good you’ll think it was cooked by an Italian grandmother. Unfortunately for the team at Fugazzi, I have eaten this dish in the city of Bologna cooked by an actual Italian grandmother, and this one ain’t that. Traditionally the ragu of ground pork, beef, and veal is a simple sauce that comes together with a classic mirepoix, olive oil, red wine, and tomato. One secret for a great sauce, however, is the use of dairy like butter and cream near the very end of the cooking to emulsify and enrich the sauce.
They seem to have gotten the dairy tip at Fugazzi, only their sauce is so packed with butter and cream that the acidity from the tomato and red wine is completely lost. For some reason, the pasta is served with an extra quenelle of herbed crème fraîche on top that increases the richness even further — it’s just overkill. Furthermore, the tagliatelle was cut far too wide. It might be nitpicking, but at nearly an inch thick, that’s called pappardelle. That said, the noodles were cooked perfectly and held on to the ragu, it’s just that with the cloying richness and lack of diversity in flavour, the whole dish was just unnecessarily weighty.
Donnie Brasco pizza
Fugazzi is a big question mark for me in the end. With Elena doing the same format but better in just about every sense, and Adamo doing a great by-the-slice nearby, why bother opening another pizza place? With all the money and effort that went into it, why not open an entirely original concept? There’s better pizza and better pasta out there, and lots of it reasonably close by. My advice? Fugetaboutit. ■