TERRONI (57 Adelaide East, at Toronto, 416-203-3093; other locations: 720 Queen West, at Claremont, 416-504-0320; 1 Balmoral, at Yonge, 416-925-4020) Complete meals for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of featured wine. Average main $16. Open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 11 pm, closed Sunday (Adelaide); daily 9 am to 11 pm (Queen); Monday to Wednesday 9 am to 10:30 pm, Thursday to Sunday 9 am to 10 pm (Balmoral). Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement (Adelaide); barrier-free (Queen, Balmoral). Rating: NNN
In a business that sees four out of five flop, Terroni must be doing something right.
Since it opened as a Continental sandwich shop on Queen West back in 92 (when that now-commercial strip seemed like the wild frontier), Terroni has grown exponentially to become Toronto’s favourite pizzeria. Why, with the launch of a Terroni outpost in West Hollywood, even Los Angeles, home to Wolfgang Puck’s designer pies, has fallen for the trendy trat’s rustic charm.
The local chain has just made its biggest move yet, closing its downtown operation on Victoria to take over the Courthouse around the corner on Adelaide East.
The new site is undoubtedly luxe. A series of rooms with vaulted ceilings that date back to the 50s (the 1850s, that is), it comes complete with a casual café up front and a larger dining atrium to the rear decked out with twin roaring fireplaces.
And this evening, since this is the festive season, every one of the 200-plus seats in the house is taken. Another 30 or so customers wait patiently at the door.
And what a noisy bunch they are once they get seated! Then again, they can’t help it.
With all the hard surfaces in this cavernous space, you need to shout just to be heard across the table. Compounding the cacophony, a CD DJ spins innocuous funk and boomer golden oldies – Steely Dan, anyone? – over the din.
But service is quick, and soon we’re dunking porous slices of cornmeal-dusted pane into evo and hellishly hot house-pickled peppers. The starter salads soon follow. Smokily grilled calamari ($11.95) rides a bed of standard mixed greens sided with a salsa of sorts made from dead-of-winter tomato.
A niçoise by another name, the Nizardi ($9.50) finds canned tuna and baby new potatoes combined with leafy arugula, red onion, black olives and green beans in a lovely white wine vinaigrette. The Giuggiolosa ($9.95) with Cambozola blue, grilled sweet red pepper and toasted pine-nuts in honey contains some of the least stinky cheese I’ve ever encountered. Some may think that a good thing.
Terroni’s handmade noodles are the real deal, made on the premises, not the outsourced Queen Pasta product that most try to pass off – the pappardelle alla Iosa ($15.95) with crumbled sausage, wild mushrooms and garden peas in garlicky evo a primo example.
Secondi also impress. Slow-roasted pork shoulder in pan gravy ($18.95) gets plated with roasted caramelized root veggies, while house-stuffed veal sausage ($15.95) comes partnered with grilled polenta and sautéed rapini. Only thinly sliced beef tenderloin fried in a balsamic reduction ($20.95) falters, its vinegar far too overpowering and side of bitter dandelion in desperate need of olive oil and lemon.
All very well, but what about the pizza? NOW has long championed Terroni’s thin-crusted pies, giving them our highest rating and naming them the winner several times in our annual Best Of and readers polls.
To see if they still hold up, I order two to go – the Santo Spirito ($13.95) with bocconcini, anchovies, cherry tomatoes and capers as well as the Polentona ($14.95) with mozzarella, fontina, prosciutto and pinenuts – so I can give them the once-over back at the Test Kitchen.
Previously described in these pages as “artfully decorated with minimal sauce and cheese,” the extremely thin crusts – a quarter-inch thick, tops – I now find look like their under-represented tomato sauce topping could have been applied by airbrush. The 12-inch pies also come randomly layered with an occasional slice of cheese, a few rashers of prosciutto so thinly sliced you can see through them and here or there a caper or smashed fillet of anchovy.
What’s even more shocking is what’s not there. Has the kitchen never heard of fresh basil? An entire Terroni pizza weighs virtually the same as a slice most anywhere else, so lightweight it could qualify as Lean Cuisine.
When it comes to art, Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe famously posited that less is more. The size of the pies at Terroni shows that less is also much more expensive.