Monday, April 4, 2011

Queen Margherita Pizza: Vera Pizza Napoletana

Tucked away in a funky two-storey renovated sewing factory in Leslieville, is Queen Margherita Pizza, one of Toronto's hip new contributions to the city's burgeoning pizza-scene, serving authentic Napoletana-style pizzas. Naples, of course, is the birthplace of pizza. When Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, a local pizzaiolo (pizza maker) created a version for her with the three colours of the Italian flag — green from basil leaves, white from mozzarella and red from tomatoes. And presto, the Margherita pizza was born.

My handsome and obliging young Pizzaiola from Salerno

Driven by a desire to make the best pizza in the city, owner John Chetti of Queen Margherita Pizza had a 6,000-pound Neapolitan wood-fired pizza oven, made of mortar and stone, imported from Naples and hauled into the restaurant by crane. Along with the oven came a team of handsome young Italian pizzaiolos, also from Naples — well Salerno actually, but close enough! Fueled with cured hardwood, Chetti's pizzas are baked in the wood burning oven for only 90 seconds but at an enormously high temperature of 840°F. 

The Diavola Pizza with tomato sauce, fior di latte, 
hot sopressata dry cured salami, black olives and hot peppers 

The pizzaiolos use powdery stone-ground Tipo 'OO' flour for the crust, and San Marzano tomatoes from Naples for the sauce, which is pureed with sea salt, basil and olive oil. And only the freshest local Mozzarella — Ontario 'virgin' cow’s milk mozzarella, so-called because it’s never stretched or pressed, which produces a creamy and chewy consistency.

Queen Margherita Pizza's bright second floor space 
with the pizza oven in the back

QMP is a bright funky space spread over two floors, with fabulous distressed concrete floors, white washed brick walls, high ceilings and wrap-around mullion-framed factory windows that overlook the streetcar yard across the street. The large pizza oven dominates the rear. The menus are conveniently posted on chalkboard-style murals that dot each column within the restaurant, and feature a prix-fixe menu that changes everyday. Everything comes in fresh daily. Anything that isn't used is picked up by Second Harvest. The set menu consists of three courses: a choice of 3 starters, choice of pizza and choice of 3 dolces — a $25 bargain in the evening, and a $20 deal for lunch. 

Queen Margherita Pizza's Chalkboard with Prix-Fixe specials

We started with two appetizers: Baby Arugula Salad tossed with crushed pecans and parmigiano cheese and finished with a balsamic glaze, and Ontario Bufala Ricotta topped with sundried cranberries, candied pecans and finished with a fragrant honey drizzle. The ricotta was smooth and delicate and nicely paired with the natural sweetness of the cranberries, honey and candied pecans. The Arugula Salad was light and peppery with a generous shaving of salty parmigiano offset beautifully by the sweet reduction of balsamic vinegar. 

Ontario Bufala Ricotta with dried cranberries, 
candied pecans, wild arugula and honey drizzle

Wild Arugula Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano, 
crushed pecans and balsamic glaze

With a choice of 12 pizzas to choose, from Margherita to Funghi and Quattro Formaggi, Queen Margherita's pizzas are all generous in size, about 12" round, and cut into quarters, making it easy to share if you have to. We ordered a Diavola Pizza, with tomato sauce, fior di latte, hot sopressata dry cured salami, black olives and hot peppers and a Rocco Pizza with a light brushing of tomato sauce, gorgonzola cheese, Italian sausage and grilled red onions. 

The Rocco Pizza with gorgonzola, Italian sausage and red onion

Not only do the pizzas look great, they taste amazing with a chewy crust that is remarkably yeasty, puffy and slightly blistered along the edge, and a floppy middle soaked through with sauce. For dessert, we ordered the Cherry Gelato, which was wonderfully creamy and delicious, but more like ice cream than it's Italian counterpart.

The homemade Cherry Gelato

Queen Margherita Pizza has a dedicated following, but thankfully they accept reservations. Great food, good value, a bustling lively atmosphere and an attentive and friendly staff, it's no wonder this culinary hot-spot has been packed each time we've gone. QMP definitely has the recipe for success, as well as for excellent pizza. They also do take-out. 

Queen Margherita Pizza
1402 Queen Street East