Avoid the lineups by arriving early at Rocco Agostino (left) and Max Rimaldi’s Pizzeria Libretto.
PIZZERIA LIBRETTO (221 Ossington, at Dundas, 416-532-8000) Complete dinners for $45 per person, including all taxes, tip and a tumbler of vino. Average main $13. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 pm to midnight. Closed Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
Don't feel sorry for Rocco Agostino.
The owner and chef of long-running Roncesvalles supper club Silver Spoon and partner Max Rimaldi have just launched a pizza joint on ultra-hip Ossington, and le tout Toronto is beating down their door.
"I didn't think we'd be swamped so quickly," laughs Agostino.
With little prior publicity other than a Dish here in early August, the street buzz about Pizzeria Libretto is so strong, the phone's been ringing off the hook for reservations (no, they don't accept them) since the place opened quietly three weeks ago. Good luck getting a table without a 45-minute wait.
People stand in line patiently for good reason: Libretto's Neapolitan-style pizza is easily the best in town. But we show up at 6-ish on a recent rainy Tuesday and, finding a half-empty house, manage to avoid the long communal table that runs down the rear of the resto and score a four-top in full view of the open kitchen and its hardwood-burning pizza oven.
As Duffy does Dusty on the CD player, we dig into a selection of aps. Free tap water arrives frosted in a large glass milk bottle, while rounds of Riviera baguette ordinaire dunked in a puddle of extra virgin olive oil splashed with chilies, pepper and balsamic literally have us licking the plate.
Purple heirloom tomato sided with a wedge of Ingersoll burrata ($7) goes down as creamy as a cloud. Lightly battered in buttermilk breading, deep-fried calamari ($9) clocks in perfectly timed - i.e. not rubberized - and sided with a terrifically nutty Romesco sauce kicked unexpectedly with chipotle.
"It's as good as any I've had in Barcelona," announces the Literary Device with a lisp.
But she's positively floored by Agostino's grilled peach salad ($8), an astounding mix of sweetly charred fruit and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano over a flurry of unorthodox greens, including - deep breath - red amaranth, burgundy radish and Bull's Blood beet sprouts, purple cabbage cress, popcorn seedlings, gold and crimson chard and marigolds. In champagne vinaigrette yet.
Libretto claims it's "the only real Neapolitan pizza in Toronto, using the guidelines set out by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association," going so far as listing the Margherita ($12) and Marina ($9) pies as "DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta)." Certified they're not. (See sidebar, this page.) "Inspired by" might be a more accurate description. But who's nitpicking when the results are this spectacular?
The simple Margherita - sauce, cheese, fresh basil - is the benchmark of any pizzeria, and Libretto sets the bar high. Built on a pliable paper-thin organic stone-ground crust with a wide blistered lip, Libretto's comes brushed with San Marzano tomato sauce, lightly layered Fiore di Latte mozzarella and tossed with a few oven-crisped leaves of basil. The Marinara's even more basic - sauce, oregano, garlic.
Of the non-DOP pizzas, the duck confit with tomato sauce and pesto ($14) doesn't really work - duck, Gruyère and sour cherries, no problem - and the house-cured sardines with sauce and unpitted black olives ($13) seem too salty, good for a slice but not a whole pie.
Back on track, the Pingue prosciutto with arugula, heirloom tomato and mozzarella ($16) will appease those who think pizza should only come loaded with cheese. Better still, the crumbled fennel-flecked house-made sausage ($13), dressed with more mozzarella as well as chili oil and caramelized onion, becomes even sweeter after a final drizzle of honey.
And unlike Terroni, Libretto not only cuts its pies, but also allows substitutions.
"If it's something we've got, what's the difference?" reasons Agostino.
We end with an ethereal panna cotta al limone ($7) finished with a swirl of Ontario blueberry coulis and a ricotta-stuffed cannoli ($3) that could really use more limone. By now, even the communal tables are full and the space noisier. Still, we're able to make out the following convo as we leave.
"So, how did you hear about us?" asks a server of his newly seated charges. "Chowhound?"
"No," comes the reply. "Somebody Facebooked me."