While major developments are helping to put an end to the reputation that Montreal has a notoriously terrible pizza scene, we’re still a far cry from being a respectable pizza town.
I believe that all pizza, good or bad, has a place and every pizza scene requires a spectrum of quality in order to be fully developed. However, in Montreal, bad pizza is an unfortunate standard and only a handful of places, most of which have opened within the last five years, are making anything worthy of respect.
Ordering a pizza from Domino’s or Pizza Pizza should be a semi-shameful delight. It’s a masochistic pleasure similar to shoving a handful of gummy worms in your mouth –– you know it’s bad and yet damn if it isn’t good. I have no problem with this tier of pizza culture because it doesn’t pretend to be different than what it is.
My problem is that, in Montreal, if you’re looking for something other than artisanal Neapolitan pizza, or the indigestible, puffy-crusted, simulation pizza served at Pizza du Parc (and the many others like it), Domino’s is amongst the best pizza you can get. In a city heralded for its appreciation of good food, Domino’s simply shouldn’t cut it.
Bad pizza is not a uniquely Canadian thing, let’s be clear — it is a Montreal thing. (Having not eaten much pizza in this province outside of Montreal, I won’t drag all of Quebec into this, although I have my suspicions.) Toronto and even Ottawa have a deeply developed local pizza scene, one that includes slice culture, which saw its heyday in Montreal during the ’90s and early ’00s when Montreal’s pizza scene was flooded with mediocre 99-cent slices. Currently, the slice scene in Montreal, a fundamental aspect of pizza culture, is mostly disappointing.
There is hope, however. Over the past few years, Montreal has entered into a new era of pizza culture –– a pizzesance, if you will? The scene is rapidly changing and so, too, is pizza itself. Thanks to pizza places like Elena, Pizzeria Gema, Magpie and Bottega, a scene is starting to take shape.
However, to me, there’s too much homogeneity within the category of good pizza –– it’s all wood-oven Neapolitan. I want to see more improvement in the status quo of pizza. I want to see the humble everyday pizzeria making a better pie and I want to see the red-sauce, Italian diaspora version of pizza get its due.
Fortunately, I may very well get my wish thanks in part to the undisputed champ of the slice scene in Montreal, Adamo. Tony Campanelli’s homage to the New York slice-joint consistently ranks amongst the best pizza in the city, including topping the Best Pizza list in this year’s Best of MTL. However, as someone who lives in the Plateau, Adamo is a bit too far away to be a real viable option. Luckily, just a bit further north, we have my favourite pizza place in the city: Pizza Bouquet, which started out as a late-night slice place secretly tucked away in a dark corner of NDQ. The slice operation has turned into a full-fledged pizzeria and quite honestly is making the absolute best thin-crust New York style pies in the city. For those who live in or are willing to venture a bit further north to Villeray, there’s Vesta, which combines the personal-pie format of Neapolitan pizza with the technique and overall taste of a New York pie.
In the next few weeks, we can expect the opening of Pizza Toni, a new venture from Yoni Amir, the Yoni behind Falafel Yoni. Taking the fast-casual approach he used for the falafel place, Pizza Toni is meant to be Mile End’s slice shop. Falafel Yoni was a response to a lack of Israeli style falafel in Montreal –– Pizza Toni is a response to, well, everything I’ve talked about so far.
It’s a massive step in the right direction, proof that creating a truly developed pizza scene takes people who appreciate and elevate each type of pizza. We’ve done the work to offer great wood-fired pies and it looks like the New York slice is on its way up. San Gennaro is offering an excellent Al Taglio (Roman-style) pizza and, although I’ve not tasted it, Brigade Pizza (from Sherbrooke, QC) is even doing their homage to the controversial Detroit style pizza, a thick, rectangular pan-pizza, not so different from Chicago deep-dish pizza.
Montreal deserves good pizza. It sometimes feels like we’re living the food equivalent of when someone asks you what your favourite Quentin Tarantino movie is –– nobody ever says Pulp Fiction. Pizza is Montreal’s Pulp Fiction — everybody likes it, it’s probably secretly most people’s favourite and yet we’re either too damn “sophisticated” or “cleverly ironic” to give it the credit and respect it deserves. There’s nothing wrong with loving the hits and there’s nothing wrong with a pie-eyed vision of a better pizza scene. ■
For more on food and drink in Montreal, please visit the Food & Drink section.