After popping up at Wallflower over the summer, Saints has now taken over the space completely
Here’s something you’ll only find in Toronto: Detroit-style pizza with Filipino toppings.
Saints Island Pies (1665 Dundas West, saintsislandpies.com) started as a summer pop-up called Pabalos at Dundas West bar Wallflower. At the time, they were selling pizzas on Sundays and Mondays only. But as their three-month term progressed, they noticed they were selling out of pizza earlier and earlier.
“We realized, okay, this is a thing,” says co-owner Chuck Ortiz.
So, with the owners of Wallflower deciding to shift focus to their other bar, Three Speed, the restaurant officially took over the space and rechristened it Saints Island Pies.
Saints owners Chuck Ortiz (left) and Sean Santos.
The name Saints is a play on co-owner/chef Sean Santos’s name. “It ain’t pizza, it’s an island pie,” reads the door.
They’re all plays on classic pizza types, but with a twist from the two childhood Crescent Town friends’ shared Filipino heritage.
A sausage pizza becomes Bespren Longanizza, focused around longanisa, a classic Filipino breakfast sausage. The Plantation Pie is a play on the Hawaiian pizza, inspired by Filipino plantation workers in Hawaii. Grandma pizza, a staple slice in Long Island, becomes the Lola Pie, named after a Filipina grandmother. You get the idea.
There are a number of reasons they went for a Detroit-style pie. For starters, the small kitchen doesn’t allow for a pizza oven. Instead, they’re using a convection oven. They’re pan pizzas, and you’ll get rectangle slices rather than triangles.
Santos says he was inspired by trips to Detroit and Windsor to see his cousins, but also Pizza Hut buffets and his memories of McDonald’s pizza. It’s also inspired by Descendant, the Leslieville shop that started Toronto’s Detroit-style pizza trend. It’s a thicker crust, crispy around the edges.
The chewier texture and baking style lets Saints be “heavier handed” with the toppings. It lets them get crafty and experimental with how they translate classic Italian-American pizzas to their own tradition, something that no one else is doing.
“Pizza is our vessel, and we can do creative things with it,” says Santos. “There’s a familiarity, but when you eat it it’s a whole other experience.”
Inside at Saints Island Pies.
Filipino cooking is a balance of different strong flavour profiles: sweet, salty and sour. You’ll find lots of vinegar flavours, along with citrus and garlic.
“The flavours are aggressive, but they’re harmonious,” Santos explains.
So the longanisa pizza takes the centrepiece sausage’s sweetness and balances it with a kewpie mayo concoction with unabashedly MSG-heavy Maggi seasoning, which he describes as “like soy sauce on crack.” The whole pizza is a play on a silog, a staple Filipino breakfast, also including fried onions and crispy garlic (reminiscent of garlic rice) with a fried egg on top.
Tinapa Papa subs the lightly brined and smoked fish tinapa for the traditional anchovy and surrounds it with roasted onions, cotija cheese and a Caesar-ish roasted garlic and citrus dressing.
The Lola Pie takes the herbs and sauce of a grandma slice but subs coconut cream for ricotta. And the Plantation Pie uses smoky achuete pork shoulder instead of bacon or ham with its pineapple. The Maanghang Puti is a spicy white pie with shishito peppers, coconut milk and pickled chillies, among other things.
You can get whole large or small pies or four different slices in one box.
Clockwise from top left: adobo wings, Lola Pie, Badong’s Spaghetti, roasted Brussels.
Everything on the menu has a playful little story or joke behind it (like “Bespren” is actually just a pun on “best friend.”) There’s a roasted Brussel sprout dish that incorporates tomatoes and salty duck egg (another common Filipino combo), while the adobo wings carry the heavy vinegary flavour of chicken adobo. Filipino spaghetti is often a sweet take on the pasta dish, but Santos’s is inspired by his father’s own idiosyncratic take, which uses relish (his version is a homemade tomato and pickle creation).
For now, since their patio closed with the recent lockdown, they’re open for takeout Thursday to Sunday and delivery on all the major food apps. Eventually, they hope to do their own delivery, old-school pizza joint style. But right now it’s a two-person operation.
There are some wines and local craft beers for sale (from Eastbound, Godspeed and Blood Brothers) along with some Filipino pantry items.
They’re open for collabs and are inviting other chefs to “come paint on our canvas.” There’s a current pie from their friend Julian Ochengco and there are upcoming one-offs from friends from BB’s Diner, Kusina and Bawang, plus non-Filipino spots like Dailo and Caribbean pop-up Yawd.
“We want this to be a real hub for the Filipino community,” Ortiz says.