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.
15 St-Viateur W.; 514-678-4430
163 Bernard W.; 514-279-8228
Price at both for a nine-inch pizza, not including tax or tip: $7-$11
Larger sizes available