Doughboys make peace with pie at La Vieille Cheminée
Gandhi walked to the end of India in the name of peace. I was willing to go to the end of Saint-Léonard, Montreal’s semi-suburban Italian neighbourhood, in the search for pizza.
I was seeking that elusive thin-yet-firm crust that marks a true slice. Sure, the thick slabs loaded with toppings are satisfying in a doughy way. But I know better.
Secret sources hinted that La Vieille Cheminée gives good za, but if you live in the heart of the urbs, you’d best have a car to get out there.
We set out on the pilgrimage with our trusty, rusty heap and ended up circling the supposed area of the perfect pie, getting hopelessly lost in a maze of off-ramps and strip malls. At one point we saw it! Like a beacon. Next to Hawgs (of the 24-hour-breakfast fame) and near the shiny Saputo factory. It still took 10 more minutes to find the entrance. Fortunately, the dears honoured our reservation.
La Vielle Cheminée manages to make a large room feel cozy, with clever dividing and warm brown tones that evoke cappuccino and amaretto. Seasonal harvest gnomes were placed here and there. The music was as cheesy as the pizza was to be. "I feel like Andrea Bocelli just walked in, in a velour suit. But I’m digging it," one companion said. She’d just confessed a fondness for Lionel Richie.
The slices of focaccia they put before us to quell the hunger demons were terrific. Thin, crisp, salty and a bit too oily. Boded well for the pizza. So did my view of the pizza chef tossing soft wheels of dough in the air, just like they do in the movies.
Our Roman horde of a table ordered a wide range of apps and mains from the comprehensive menu, which were hit and miss. The Caesar salad was frankly lacklustre. "Needs more of everything," one sampler said. The snails arrabbiata were nice, in a spicy tomato sauce, and the eggplant parmigiana was hearty. My shrimp al limone were large, cooked right, and in a nicely lemony sauce. A rice croquette was super crisp on the outside, but lacked a bit of coveted cheesy gooeyness inside.
"The mark of an Italian restaurant is the spaghetti Bolognese," the lounge-lover piped up. Her fiancé simultaneously said the same of fettuccini Alfredo. They’d plunged for the enormous pasta mains: The Bolognese was flavourful and copious, but the fettuccini – yikes. The cream sauce was floury and bland. The side of pasta that had come with the hardcore carnivore’s giant veal chop fared better, dressed with oil and shallots.
The pizzas, however, were definitely good. The experience of eating a thin-crust pizza and not having the toppings slide off was a treat. The crust was firm, and tasted like it just came out of a brick oven, which it did. My "pizza gastronome" came with Black Forest ham, mushrooms, marinated red peppers and a bit too much cheese. (And I guess I’d hoped too much for my black olives to not be from a tin… ) Another’s seafood pizza was rife with scallops and shrimp.
Already full, we tipped the scales with their standard desserts. The post-pig-out verdict? If I lived nearby, or if they delivered, I’d opt for their pizza over many others in town. But I doubt I’ll be back to those burbs soon, unless someone has a super-hot tip.
La Vieille Cheminée
6715 Metropolitan Boulevard East, 328-7136
Dinner for two, no tip, no wine, no tax: $30-$60