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The great Mile End pizza battle: Dough!

Dough!

Tomato: A step in the right direction for Mtl 'za lovers
Photo: Joseph Yarmush

Don't get stumped when picking pizza in Mile End

Though pizza hails from Naples, the mighty pie would be nowhere if not for Asia and Latin America. To Europe, Asia introduced water buffalos, and their milk is still considered the best for mozzarella. Legend says that Italian sailors brought back tomato seeds from Peru. With these, the road was paved with what are now often considered the essential components for ‘za.

For centuries, pizza remained confined to the region of Campania. Then Neapolitan immigrants to New York City opened a pizzeria in 1905, and over the next few decades pizza’s popularity spread through the States and back to northern Europe. But it took until the ’70s and ’80s for pizzerias to take hold in northern Italy and Rome.

Arguably, Montreal still waits for a proper pizza culture. There are a few good spots, but Montrealers can’t count on a truly delicious slice.

But slowly, the town is trying. Two places have opened up in the past few months, within blocks of each other: F&F (Fresh and Fabulous) on Bernard, Tomato on St-Viateur. Time to compare.

First stop: Tomato.

I liked the communal marble tables topped with bowls of hot sauce and pots of flowers, and the tomato-red floor with the pale yellow walls. Piles of delivery boxes along the back hinted at pizza riches to come. Offerings of Japanese teas added a fusionist touch. They have a pasta and dessert on the menu too.

As we waited for our pies, celery and herbed kalamata olives were brought for us to munch on. Nice touch. I could imagine the nearby burghers of Ubisoft lunching here, maybe being inspired to create a hit video game involving dough tossers.

Our pizzas arrived quickly; the crust was dense, a bit sweet. The baseline tomato sauce had a savoury edge of oregano. My mate’s Parma ham and arugula toppings were a play on salt and pepper, the strips of cured pig and spicy fresh greens complementing one another. Caveat: The long ham slices are difficult to bite into if, ahem, one’s teeth don’t meet evenly in front.

My combo of black forest ham, mascarpone cheese and marinated mushrooms fell through the crust in the middle, weighed down some by so much soft cheese. Still very tasty, with meaty smokiness and cheesy sweetness.

Next stop: F&F.

Hipper and younger, with fresh-faced and friendly tattooed staff. Bright green and white accents, just a few chairs along the window, not so inviting to sit in as Tomato.

When the pizzas arrived, at a glance the crust seemed more artisanal, somehow. It was bubbled, airy, and a little charred in places. (Appropriate, as the word pizza may derive from the Latin picea, which referred to the blackened bits on a flatbread baked in a wood oven.) You could taste the flour, in a nice way. The sauce was tangy rather than assertive. My toppings of five kinds of mushrooms were a lovely symphony; the mozzarella cheese had absorbed some of that funky fungal earthy taste. My pieman’s carbonara had nice bite-size chunks of bacon, lightly cooked. But his crust nonetheless sogged and sagged under the toppings’ weight.

We debated the pies. F&F’s sauce was sweeter, the crust more savoury; Tomato had it the other way around. Both had appealing ingredients, with Tomato’s pizzas more minimalist and tidy; F&F’s toppings were laid on thicker and goopier, North American style. Both use multiple cheeses, and have exciting vegetarian options.

"Hm. I like them both. Do I have to like one better than the other?" my pie-eyed fellow asked, pained almost. No. There’s room for all tastes, and each place has its merits. Neither is fabulous nor particularly cheap, but both certainly hit the spot. Each place delivers, but hot on the premises is the best way to eat any pizza.

Tomato
15 St-Viateur W.; 514-678-4430
tomato@videotron.ca

F&F
163 Bernard W.; 514-279-8228
www.ffpizza.com

Price at both for a nine-inch pizza, not including tax or tip: $7-$11
Larger sizes available

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  13 comments

  • by Livleen Rehal - September 21, 2006, 12:49 pm

    these places take pizza up a notch for sure…but i am a purist when it comes to my pizza. just some crushed tomatoes on dough, basil and some fresh cheese. Pizzadelic makes a great Neopolitana… the consequences of overdoing pizzza with lots of cheeses and meats or veggies ends up exactly as the reviewer describes, the crust falling through and getting soggy cause i like to have the pizza taste like pizza through and through not soft someplace and crunchy someplace….. however i like the idea of Tomato’s crust being a little sweet….

  • by Ronny Pangia - September 22, 2006, 9:06 am

    When it comes to pizza, Montreal had it wrong for many years. We are accustomed to a pizza where many toppings reigned supreme with the goal being to clog your arteries. Then came the horrendous 99-cent trend where pizza became the ultimate fast-food bitch succombing to the university crowd in dire need of fast grub at dirt-cheap prices. Pizza’s reputation has taken a beating in recent times here in the city so it is nice to see that the pizzerie such as Tomato and F & F are bringing back the art of pizza making.
    I grew to appreciate pizza and Italy and know that you need prime ingredients such as mozzarella di bufala is incomparable when it comes to taste. The secret though is in the sauce. The fresher the better so no canned compromises please!
    Personally, the closest thing to Italy was a pizza I has at Trattoria Piatto Pieno in Little Italy but it sounds like I’ll have to try new places soon enough.

  • by Mark St Pierre - September 24, 2006, 12:13 am

    Real high quality pizza is a rarity in Montreal. With the exception of a few pizza joints scattered hither and fro as well as some of the offerings at Pizzadelic, you’d be hard-pressed to avail yourself of anything other than the most generic and pedestrian of pizza pies. That is, until now. These two Mile End restos hopefully herald a resurgence in the attention to culinary detail and commitment to pizza in all it’s many guises and permutations!

  • by Rita Reale - September 24, 2006, 1:58 pm

    Who doesn’t love pizza. You can have with only cheese or with so many ingredients it’s mind boggling. But when it comes down to it, I have to say, give it to me all dressed or should I say a la Canadese. But it’s a long time I haven’t tasted a really good pizza. But, it’s true, fresh tomatoe sauce is the best and working the dough is another secret for good pizza. I think the last time I had a really good pizza was at least 10 years ago or more at Bologna. Stick with simplicity and you shouldn’t go wrong. And what with stuffed cheese in the crust…

  • by Pedro Eggers - September 24, 2006, 3:43 pm

    Ok, first things first…what the hell is with that picture accompanying the article? I get that we’re here to talk about great pizza places but should that mean that I should see a picture of at least one great steaming pizza with all the fixings? Instead I see some poor shlub who could or couldn’t be biting down into a slice, actually for all I know he could be having a cup of coffee, that how small the picture is! Best part of that scene? He’s in an empty restaurant. For all I know he’s the cleaning guy taking a break! At least that would explain the empty scene otherwise I have to conclude that this place really isn’t all that great if it pretty much has no clients. Sorry but it is the image the picture evokes.
    ~
    Now, you want to get the deep dish on great pizza places in Montreal? Good luck. Some people like a rich thick crust, others like it thin and crispy and yet others like it with gooey cheese injected into the rim. Some people like it baked and other lightly fried. Some people like traditional toppings and others go in for dried tomatoes and more exotic fixings. Some people stick to one kind of cheese whereas other like myself like to mix it up a little bit. Want it big? Want it small? I mean, really, you’ll never get full agreement of what the ideal pizza is or where you’ll find it. Is this a problem? Not really. From my perspective all that means is that I’ve got more restaurants to try out. Doesn’t get sweeter than that, does it?

  • by Martin Dansky - September 25, 2006, 1:16 am

    Never mind the amouint of toppings if its going to fall through the crust! Usually the thinner the crust the better the pizza, they say..you avoid sloppy add ons and concentrate on the way it was originally made to be thin and even slightly crunchy. Now there is everything but the kitchen sink in toppings which although creative is indecisive. Yep, miss the four cheese variety from the old country with the tasty gorgonzolla and the simple margherita which is too doughy on this side of the Atlantic. Even the Napolitano laced the anchovies was delectable. All these are tips for future pizza entrepreneurs!

  • by Tom Gabriel - September 25, 2006, 3:03 pm

    I’m so-so glad someone finally noticed that funky new joint on Bernard called F&F.
    When they first opened they made me and my friends rediscover the love of eating
    a real nice pizza made from fresh ingredients. It’s always fun to hang out there.
    It’s just a shame that the people who copied them got some credit too.

  • by Basil James - September 25, 2006, 9:56 pm

    Pizza is certainly one of my personal meal favorites. I agree with Maeve that the best time to eat pizza is hot and fresh in the restaurant where its flavours and aroma are at their peak. Yeah, there are a lot of places that serve up pizza (remember McDonald’s and their failed attempt at becoming a pizza hot spot?) but like everything else it’s a matter of taste. What is one person’s favorite pizza place is not necessarily another person’s ideal spot for the pie. However, according to some of those who have already commented, Pizzadelic seems to be popular choice. I’ll have to check it out one day. As for the two restos featured in this week’s article it’s a toss-up for me as well. I prefer pizza that has a moderately thick crust, lots of tangy and sweet tomato sauce, a generous and even sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, and a descent amount of toppings…anyone know a place that serves pizza like that?

    • by pizza taster - February 24, 2012, 2:21 pm

      I found something along the lines of your description – a moderately thick crust, good sauce/mozza/veggies ratio from Pizza du Parc. The gentleman running the place seemed like a good man, too. I’d hate to see the standard local places go under (or their prices skyrocket) because of corporations taking over the pizza-joint market.

  • by Sam Heath - September 26, 2006, 9:26 am

    I think that in North America there is somtimes to much emphasis on the cheese and toppings, with the crust taking a back seat. If you start with a good dough recipe and keep the pizza simple, a maximum of three toppings you can’t go wrong. However I think that probably the most important ingredient to a good pizza is a traditional wood oven for that good smokey flavour.
    I look forward to trying out these two pizza joints and I hope that they are using wood ovens.

  • by Josh Piche - September 27, 2006, 9:46 pm

    Just like the old saying goes… Pizza is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.
    I personally think, what is missing in this town, as goes for so many towns, is not so much the lack of “good” pizza places, as opposed to the lack of a variety of pizza places.
    Like sex, pizza, like all cuisine, is effected as much by its place and time, as it is by the coupling of two partners (in this case, a person and their, ironically, slice of pie).
    We should, ideally, approach food and sex the same way.
    Sometimes a thick crust, slobberingly wet piece of pie pays the bills, given the circumstances, as much as a delicate and tenderly prepared “traditional” slice of thin crust.
    Variety is the spice of life people. Don’t be so shallow and welcoming to tradition.
    We’ve ALL been guilty of a greasy piece of a 99 cent on a side street somewhere before going home to sleep, and we didn’t feel a damn bit of shame about it in the morning. We’ve also had some good old fashioned sit-down “proper”.
    Let’s not debate on which is better.
    Let’s just keep experimenting with new recipes and new places to try them.
    Let’s eat!

  • by Reuven De Souza - January 8, 2007, 12:16 pm

    I am very glad that someone finally mentioned, rather than secretively passed on the information amongst friend in a closly guarded network, a good new pizza place in town. While Prato, Coronet and Elios are my pick hits I can happily add F&F to my network of pizza joints. A much better addiction than crack!

  • by Genia Chepurniy - January 30, 2007, 2:55 pm

    it would be so hard for me to decide, they both sound delicious… i’ve tried the pizza at f&f and like it, but also found that the toppings tended to be on the heavy side…tomatoe sounds like they have it just right – not skipmy, but just right… the best pizza i have ever had was by far in napoli at a local restaurant… they only served two kinds of toppings – classic tomatoe sauce and cheese and the other with meat… for 5$ you can get an entire pizza to yourself, and trust me, you wanted an entire one to yourself, they were that good… there were line ups to get in and the staff there reminded me of the ‘soup nazi’ from seinfeld for some reason… if they didn’t like you (especially if you were a tourist), then they’d ignore you and move on to other folks… no messing around there..

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