Is this pizza worth the hype?
We play “Good or bullshit?” with Toronto’s hottest pies
Good Or Bullshit is a recurring feature in which we test restaurant items to see if they live up to the hype. This week: Pizza!
Free lesson from your friendly neighbourhood Italophone: Pizza Forno just means “pizza oven.” And that’s all it is: an oven, hooked up to a screen, set into a quiet stretch of Adelaide. Pizza Forno offers “artisan pizza made from fresh ingredients, any time, any day,” courtesy of a vending machine that fires up a pie in three minutes flat.
Those pizzas, by the way, are premade and frozen. Sadly, there is no crane-machine claw or Alexander McQueen robot arm scattering artichoke hearts atop your pie to order. In addition to pepperoni and cheese, there’s chicken pie with bacon and crème fraîche, plus a goat cheese with oregano and honey. Pies run $12 to $15 for “cold” versions, in case you want a frozen pie that’s neither delivery nor Delissio; add $1 to heat your pizza.
Ordering is simple: Punch in your pizza, pay with a tap and wait for three minutes as the screen shows a montage of hands pummelling dough and sprinkling cheese (which struck me as a tad disingenuous).
I picked the goat cheese and honey, since it seemed like the kind of delicate thing that would put this place through its paces. The machine can’t handle concurrent orders, so the guy behind me in line and I were forced to make small talk about this wacky machine. “This is on everybody’s Insta feed!” a woman walking by yelled at us. If you thought ordering from Pizza
Forno would be a great way to get out of talking to people, think again.
Eventually, the machine spat out my little white box, and I pulled up a park bench. The pie was piping hot, with nice browning on the crust and cheese. It also came unsliced. What is this, Terroni? (Hold for applause.)
The powdery crust was thin, but still pretty chewy and puffy; the cheese appropriately stringy, the flavours all present — not bad for frozen. But the texture was a bit compromised: The goat cheese had a foamy consistency, the honey drizzle reduced to a uniform sugariness.
Though I wouldn’t kick this pizza out of bed, I’m still not fully sure who this product was meant for. True, there are plenty of offices and condos in the vicinity — but those folks can also go to the No Frills on Princess and save $10 with a Dr. Oetker’s, B.A. Johnstonstyle, or they can drop an extra $7 on one of the best pizzas in town at Mangia & Bevi. They could even walk up to Blaze Pizza in Dundas Square and get a three-minute pie — made to order by an actual living human — for the same price.
But none of those places are open 24/7 — and at 4 am after $70 of vodka sodas, this stuff would probably be nothing short of ambrosia. Maybe I should have done this drunk. Good or bullshit: Good (but not, like, great or anything) 535 Adelaide East, at Berkeley, thepizzaforno.com
At first, I admit, the name of this Vancouver vegan pizza chain gave me
pause. We have some feelings around these here parts about vegan restaurants branding their products as a morally superior choice. But at least they elected to open a reasonable one restaurant per block, am I right?
The first-ever Toronto location of Virtuous Pie (there’s also one in Portland, Oregon, because of course there is) is a stylish, soothing joint with an open kitchen, branded merch and a freezer stocked with pints of vegan ice cream. The staff offered to let me try whatever flavours I wanted, and were generally helpful and attentive, which was a nice change, after having to order from a literal robot.
The VP menu is made up of starters and small plates, plus a selection of 10-inch pies. My pick, the chorizo and artichoke ($14), was outstanding, featuring surprisingly rich soy-rizo on a bed of San Marzano sauce and a crisp crust. Cheese is normally where vegan junk food stumbles, but the cashew mozz added the requisite melty texture, while the lemon “ricotta” was a suitably creamy, zesty stand-in for the real thing.
Less of a winner: The mac and cheese with bacon bits ($11), served in a mini cast-iron skillet. In my experience, most vegan cheese sauces tend to be more like “spicy creamy garlic sauces”; that essential stringy-forked gooeyness is inevitably absent, as it was here. (The one exception is the ridiculous queso dip at Planta, which I will happily order and devour and pay $14 for any day of the week, even though actual dairy-based nacho cheese can be obtained for, like, $4.)
What wasn’t lacking was the ice cream; I eventually brought a pint of gingerbread (a ridiculously piquant seasonal flavour — picture being kicked in the grill by a gingerbread man) but not after sampling a whack of flavours. Research is research. Good or bullshit: Good! 611 College, at Clinton, 647-729-9943, virtuouspie.com
In the summer of 2008, fresh out of journalism school, I took a summer reporting gig in Saint John, N.B. Walking home one night, I stopped into the neighbourhood pizza joint and was faced with thick, beefy slices, each lidded — regardless of toppings — with a thick blanket of cheese.
“You guys put the pepperoni under the cheese here?” I asked the woman at the counter.
“Duh,” she said. “Otherwise the pepperoni gets all crispy and burny.” “Exactly,” I replied. We stayed like that for a few moments, staring stonily into one another’s faces, an immovable object colliding with an unstoppable force. Then I ordered the garlic fingers.
This, along with the entire existence of donair sauce, has made me a tad mistrustful of East Coast junk food — but when Halifax spot Jessy’s Pizza landed on Dundas West last month, I felt we were due for a rematch.
Having never visited Jessy’s previously, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the Toronto outpost — but at two weeks old, it already feels like the kind of grody, ageless hole-in-the-wall where your gramps would hit on girls after the pub. And I don’t mean that in the “we bought this roller-rink snack bar sign at The Art Of Demolition” kind of way; I mean the only discernible “ambience” is a string of LED lights crudely Scotch-taped to the window, and every stool at the communal hightop table wobbles like a bronco trying to eject you from its saddle. I mean all of this mostly as a compliment.
They were out of slices when I visited, but it didn’t matter, because the woman at the cash called me “hon” twice in the span of a two-minute transaction — the exact same way every single cab dispatcher in Saint John would ask me “Where ya goin’, dear?” (Bless the East Coast.)
Jessy’s is known just as much for their donairs as their pizza, so I decided to split the difference with a small Jessy’s Donair Pizza (every single pizza at Jessy’s has “Jessy’s” in the name, in case you forgot where you were).
Ten minutes of wobblin’ and one “Here you are, doll!” later, I had a fourslice pie with thin slices of donair meat, a dense, elastic coating of mozz, and a heavy sprinkling of gently singed red onion and tomato. The meat was back under the cheese, but it was already caramelized beautifully on the rotisserie, and the side of not-too-sweet donair sauce was there for a restrained dunk instead of being slathered all over the pizza: Halifax’s two iconic drunk foods together, holding one another in perfect cosmic balance. Good or bullshit: Good (just try not to sit on anything) 2200 Dundas West, at Roncesvalles, 416-530-0999, facebook.com/ jessyspizzatoronto[email protected] | @nataliamanzocco
We put new arrivals Pizza Forno (clockwise from left), Virtuous Pie and Jessy’s Pizza to the test.