Napoletana Pizza at Queen Margherita

18 May

I’m not going to compare the newly opened Queen Margherita Pizza in Toronto’s Leslievile neighbourhood to Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington, just because they both happen to serve true Napoletana-style pizza from real wood-burning ovens. Nope, not gonna do it. I don’t want to subscribe to the whole east vs. west nonsense that’s been running rampant the last little while. I love Toronto; east, west and everywhere in between, and every new hot spot has its own merits and following.

That said, Neil and I were very excited to hear that Leslieville was getting its very own Napoletana pizza spot. When I heard it was above Red Rocket Coffee I couldn’t imagine what kind of space it would be, which is why I was so blown away walking through the door. It’s gorgeous. Cozy, lofty, perfectly designed to keep a bit of a raw feel (wood beams, exposed brick, concrete floor) while still feeling updated and, dare I say it, hip. I loved our cozy spot by the stunning loft-like, black windows complete with views of the TTC streetcar yard on Queen (how very Toronto).

The menu is simple. You order the $25 prix fixe that includes an antipasto, a pizza and a salad after your meal (something Neil’s Italian relatives would be proud of); or you can just get a pizza ($15 to $17 each). We both chose to do prix fixe. We found the wine to be a bit of a pathetic pour for the price, which was a bit annoying, I will admit.

The antipasti were pretty good, nothing to go crazy over, but again, I think fresh and simple is the point. I had the chickpea and roasted red pepper Caprese salad, which was really just a pile of well-seasoned chickpeas, a few slices of roasted red peppers on the side and a little pile of extremely thin-sliced roasted eggplant.

It was good, but not as inspired as Neil’s appetizer: a delicious combo of prosciutto with soft, sweet squash and shavings of Parmigiano cheese and a sprinkle of arugula. A really great taste combination (though there could have been a bit more squash).

Then came the pizza.

The doughy, chewy and extremely satisfying Napoletana pizza. Mine had pulled pieces of delicious porchetta, while Neil’s had hot Italian sausage and hot peppers. I thought both were tasty, though I found the sauce to be a bit dull. I guess you can’t win ‘em all where pizza is concerned. (as a side note, I think Lil’ Baci’s pizza, just down the street, has amazing sauce and so-so crust, whereas Neil is not a fan of their pizza in general). Crust is always a big debate with Neil and I; he likes it doughy and not too thin, and I like a good balance of thickness to doughy-ness. But we both seemed very satisfied with Queen Margherita’s crust, so much so that we finished both pizzas.

I almost forgot about our ‘salad-dessert’, which was a thinly sliced fennel and spinach salad with an orange segment. Also quite good but plain and simple, which is kind of what you want after eating an entire pizza!

We were feeling way too full to eat dessert, but the waitress must have guessed that Neil’s not that hard to convince and she talked him into trying the homemade tiramisu. So many places boast of having the best, homemade tiramisu, and we always want to believe them but usually end up disappointed. Queen Margherita’s followed suit. It was bland and boring and forced Neil to make the very bold statement “I’ll never order tiramisu in a restaurant again.” We’ll see about that.

All in all, it was a good experience. With a changing menu I’m intrigued to try different antipasti and pizzas, but next time I’d stick to one glass of house wine and skip dessert (as one probably should after consuming three courses including a whole pizza).

Our he-said-she-said quick guide to the Queen Margherita experience:

The atmosphere

She said: Perfection. Exactly the kind of space I want to hang out in, great ambiance, not too loud (like some places in the, ahem, west end), good mix of people, no pretention.

He said: Definitely funky and cool. I said to Jenny at one point that if I owned a loft, it would probably look a lot like this space.

The service

She said: Really good. Hostess who sat us was super sweet and accommodating, and the waitress was friendly and attentive.

He said: Yep. Nothing to add here… great service (which can be rare in Toronto.)

The portions

She said: Generous enough overall, but the antipasti could have used a bit more squash and peppers/eggplant and the pizzas could have had a bit more toppings throughout.

He said: Pizzas were more than large enough (I really shouldn’t have finished mine!). For the price, I thought the size of the apps and salads was sufficient.

The pizza

She said: Pretty good. The sauce was a bit boring but there was just the right amount of fior di latte cheese and the crust really was great. I thought the toppings were a bit scarce.

He said: Awesome. Better than Pizzeria Libretto? I’m not even going to go there, but I’m happy Toronto is finally getting some good pizza places. But it had everything a vera Napoletana pizza should: flavourful, pliable crust, great char, fresh ingredients in good proportions. The sauce could have used a touch more salt, but that’s about it.

The spicy olive oil (for dipping crust!)

She said: a great accompaniment to the pizza, though not as spicy as Seven Numbers’ amazing hot oil.

He said: Yeah, that.

The dessert:

She said: I’ll stick to the salad course as dessert next time.

He said: The waitress convinced me the tiramisu was great. It wasn’t. Most restaurant tiramisu in Toronto isn’t up to snuff. This was missing that great taste of booze and espresso that makes a good tiramisu. And the mascarpone tasted suspiciously of whipped cream.

The price:

She said: Fair, but the wine was not worth the money. The prix fixe option works well if you’re really hungry, but they should probably have individual prices for salads and appetizers as well. I enjoy the freedom of choice!

He said: $25 isn’t a bad price for an app, pizza and salad. But next time I’ll stick with just ordering the pizza on its own ($15 to $17 each) and get a glass of wine or a Peroni.

Will we go back?

She said: Absolutely!

He said: She said yes!!

**** UPDATE – Aug/2011 ****
Since this post gets so many views on a regular basis, I thought a little update would be in order since QM has become one of our favorite places to eat in the city. Neil and I crave it a little too often. This post was written when they first opened and since then they’ve obviously evolved. The prix fixe now comes with an antipasti, pizza and dessert and it’s a great value. You can also order any of their antipiasti on their own and you get a slightly larger portion than what comes with the prix fixe. Neil and I usually share an antipasti – I love all of their salads, but they have been getting adventurous lately (just tonight Neil ordered the Roman tripe and it was fantastic!) – and we usually get a pizza each and vow to save at least one piece to take home (we often fail). They make a mean Negroni so we sometimes indulge since it goes so well with the pizza. The pizza really is fantastic, everything about it. My fave is the classic Margherita or the spicy Diavola and Neil likes the Romolo and LOVES the porchetta, though we’ve been told that it won’t be making an appearance on the menu too often so if you see it, get it.

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