Is this pizza worth the hype?

We play “Good or bull­shit?” with Toronto’s hottest pies

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By NATALIA MANZOCCO

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!

PIZZA FORNO

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

VIR­TU­OUS PIE

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

JESSY’S PIZZA

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.

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