Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: North of Brooklyn, Toronto

A recent trip to Niagara Falls and nearby Oakville, Ontario provided a chance to explore the pizza offerings in Toronto. A quick Google search turned up some well-written lists of the top pies in Toronto.  
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The list at TasteToronto was particularly helpful, especially when viewed on a phone, because it featured a good image of all ten featured pies. Based on visuals (and the fact that I wanted something other than yet another Neapolitan), we chose North of Brooklyn.

Coming from the Distillery District, we drove down Queen Street, which has a feel somewhere between Brooklyn's Park Slope (home to Roberta's), Philly's Fishtown (Pizza Brain), and Portland's Hawthorne Boulevard (Apizza Scholls). In other words, knee-deep in bearded hipsters on bicycles who appreciate good pizza. The curious address - 605.5 Queen Street - means the actual entry door is around the corner on Palmerston Avenue. 
View of the counter and kitchen

We arrived shortly after its noon opening. Three young men were staffing the place, but the operation was in disarray. Having just processed a large catering order, they had no pies available for slices. We were advised that it would take 15-20 minutes to get some pie.
Just a few tables inside this former ice cream parlor

Agreeable to the wait, we had interest in the Kale & Bacon pie, the regular Margherita, and a pepperoni slice.  However, they were out of pepperoni and the Kale & Bacon was going to extend the wait time. However, the helpful counter man offered to make one half plain and half nduja (spreadable Italian pork sausage from Calabria) so that we could try different slices.
A slice with nduja sausage

While we waited, we asked for beer (none was in the cooler with the soft drinks). Yes, they had beer, but it was warm in a case in the basement. Can we get ice with that? "Uh, we are out of ice, but we can ask our neighbors." Bottom line - these gents were not well prepared, but they were friendly, accommodating, and adept at finding customer-friendly workarounds. We sipped Budweiser over ice while waiting for our slices, which arrived in less than the 15 minutes we expected. 
Margherita slice

North of Brooklyn makes huge 18" pies, and then cuts them into six gigantic slices. At $3.10 - $3.40 (U.S.) per slice, they are a nice value. Each slice had tremendous eye appeal that extended beyond its size.

A thin crust, pliant but sturdy (suitable for folding, for those who engage in that bad habit) was the platform for a strikingly bright red sauce dotted with creamy white cheese. I saw the pizzaiolo apply the cheese in cubes, so I think it was fresh mozzarella.

Terrific crumb and hole structure

The crust was pale, but with a good golden browning at the cornicione and some nice subtle char underneath. It was crisp on the exterior and perfectly al dente chewy inside. It had its own delicious flavor. 
Underside of the crust

The sauce was as simple and uncomplicated as any I've had outside Trenton's DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, and that is a good thing. Vibrant and tangy tomato flavors, not overcooked or overseasoned. The cheese was applied in perfect proportion. The Margherita slice was an essentially perfect rendition of a classic thin-crust New York slice; adding nduja to that gave an extra element of spice and flavor.

I can often find some flaw in even the best pizzas. For example, the sauce and toppings can overwhelm the superb crust at Sally's Apizza in New Haven; the brilliant DiFara slices in Brooklyn can be drowning in oil or a sauce overload. Here, however, the pizza was flawless. Top-rank ingredients and perfect execution.

I loved this pizza and I regret that I didn't eat more of it. Along with Picco in Boston, one of the very few pies that has no room for improvement. The crust gets a 10, the cheese gets an 8, the sauce gets a 10. Brilliant, uncomplicated stuff. And it comes from a conventional gas deck oven. Every Toronto hipster or square should get there soon and often.

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