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Bigabaldi’s co-owners chef Alejandro Bustamante (left) and Robbie Prete show off the big pie. Photo by David Laurence
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Nick J. Rossi (left) and Colin Deweerd tuck into a Bigabaldi’s sandwich. Photo by David Laurence
BIGABALDI'S (1 Romar, at Marlee, 416-256-6222, bigabaldis.com) Complete dinners for $20 (lunches $10), including, tax, tip and a Brio. Average main $9. Open Sunday and Monday 11 am to 10 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 11 am to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am to midnight. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: three steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
There's no better recommendation for a pizza joint than a dump truck parked out front.
That's what we find when we pull into the parking lot at Bigabaldi's, north Toronto's premier pie emporium. Inside, the retro room looks like something straight out of Happy Days. Floors are black-and-white linoleum, walls hung with vintage Coca-Cola signs are as turquoise as a 57 T-Bird, and cartoon portraits of Bigabaldi - a large chap with a shaven head, it would appear - smile from every pizza box.
At the takeout counter, the Mack jockey is asked by a short fellow in a hairnet if he'd like his pepperoni slice ($3) cut in half.
"Nah, I'll fold it in half," he barks before doing just that and stomping back to his idling truck. Hardcore!
We, being genteel types, eat our 12-inch Bigga Pizza - house San Marzano tomato sauce, sausage, bacon and mortadella under lotsa local mozzarell' ($14.50) - with plastic knives and forks so the steaming 'za won't burn our mouths.
The house's take on a simple Margherita ($9.50) may be closer in execution to Massimo than Libretto, but it comes with snips of fresh basil, and its thin New York-style crust arrives properly blistered, cracker-crisp and droop-free.
For those who like their crusts thicker, there's Chicago deep-dish pizza customizable with non-chain toppings like soppressata, prosciutto, roasted garlic and grilled hot banana peppers ($16). Who is this Bigabaldi?
Seems Mr. B is the brainchild of Alejandro Bustamante, Robert Prete and Bradley Davidson, the first two the executive chef and owner of the popular Coquine bistro at Yonge and Eglinton.
"We do big," says the follically challenged Bustamante. "Our sizes are one bigger than everyone else, the ingredients are higher-quality, but the prices are low."
Four bucks for the Bomba is a steal for a hand-formed baseball-size roughly ground beef and pork meatball that's wrapped in flaky baked pizza dough and sauced with more of that fab family-recipe ragu. Biga's balls become textbook spaghetti when mixed with al dente pasta, recently grated parmigiano and a generous splash of garlic oil.
Bustamante roasts oregano-dusted half chickens ($10) to juicy perfection before siding them with a choice of either rosemary potatoes, carrots or sautéed rapini in olive oil (all $3 à la carte). They also come with a green salad or a remarkably creamy stracciatella chicken soup intensified with pan drippings ($4.50). Sop it all up with complimentary slices of old-school Italian bread made with pizza dough and baked on the premises ($3 loaf).
With a menu this extensive, there are bound to be a few duds. Bruschetta ($4) amounts to little more than a kaiser dressed with chopped tomato, while the too thinly sliced and breaded baby beef in the veal sandwich ($6) reminds us of deep-fried Hush Puppies (not the fritters). Gummy arancini rice balls ($3) aren't worth the bother, especially if you've tried Black Skirt's stellar version.
But don't miss Bigabaldi's Dough Knots ($1 each) - a spin on doughnuts made from strips of deep-fried pizza dough tied in a bow and dunked into both Nutella and caramel sauce. Best eat them in situ straight from the oven, as they'll probably be a soggy mess after a 30-minute trip in a cardboard box.
Have they ever considered pushing the boundaries of their delivery zone (Caledonia to Mount Pleasant, Lawrence to St. Clair)? There's a huge market downtown for delivered pizza this good.
"We did get a request to deliver out to the Danforth for an extra fee, but we had to say no," says Bustamante. "The pizza just wouldn't be the same."