Buddha Pie, formerly Lou's Coffee bar, opened about a month ago on the southwest fringe of The Junction.
A brief once-over of the menu upon arrival made it clear Buddha Pie's tiny, take-out oriented premises is attempting something altogether different. Owners Cyndy and John kept the coffee component of Lou's, but decided to take on an auspicious challenge, to make Toronto's most authentic Italian margherita.
Judging by the rambunctious debate over this city's non-reputation for producing decent pizza, this is currently a contest with few serious contenders.
As a starting point, John sought advice from Cosimo Mammoliti of Terroni on what, exactly, the ideal margerita would be comprised of. The advice?
Don't cheap out by using Canadian mozzarella (they test-sampled different types of Mozzarella di Bufalo to customers and opted for the Italian import). Buy the best tomatoes available (the homemade tomato sauce is also the product of Italian tomatoes). Be picky when it comes to the basil (Buddha Pie get theirs from Boncheff Herbs).
After much fine-tuning, 6 types of pizza and 4 gourmet sandwiches that would comprise the menu were settled on. The spelt crust that I'd read about will be an option as of next week.
I formed an initial good impression of Buddha Pie before even setting a foot in the place.
Being a paranoid type after too many empty-bellied ATM traipses from cash-only eateries, I called ahead to check whether Buddha Pie accepted debit. "We take debit" the extremely cheerful male voice that answered informed me, "we take cash too, and..." here he paused, "if you bring a gun, it's free".
That exchange pretty much exemplifies the immediate familiarity that you're greeted with at Buddha Pie.
On the night we eat there, I arrive earlier than my companion and seat myself. The place is so small that even alone I occupy 50% of the table seating. Locals, all of whom seem to be on joking terms with the owners, drift in and catch up while their pizzas are being prepared.
I order a very good coffee (from the local roaster that supplies primo grocer Pusateri's) and talk to the owners while I wait. Once my friend arrives we debate over what to order and are very kindly treated to samples of the pepperoni to help us narrow down the decision.
We take John's advice and modify our pepperoni & cheese to a half Zen margherita, half pepperoni pizza ($12.99).
Being a more-is-more kind of person when it comes to pizza toppings, I'm not convinced that I'm going to be satisfied by a basic margherita but, as it's the most popular item on the menu, it wouldn't be fair to overlook it.
Once the pizza arrives my skepticism dissolves. It's as far removed from the doughy sauce tray that often passes for pizza as the scent of a Glade plug-in is from anything remotely resembling an outdoor breeze.
The base is so deliciously thin, crisp and light that it seems like it should barely support the topping. After initially trying the potently spicy pepperoni side, I bite into the margherita and immediately wish that I'd ordered two of them.
The tomato tastes so fresh and flavourful that I start to wonder if I've ever eaten one so tasty before. Likewise, the basil is sweet and pungent without being remotely acidic, and the mozzarella is creamy and pronounced.
The whole pizza is so light and delicious that I realize why everyone coming in is making a point of ordering one per person.
Because we've shared the pizza, there is room left to try the baked dessert slices that are brought in from a local bakery every day.
Apparently there is a daily choice of kind-of-healthy or indeed-less-healthy. On this particular day that means either a date slice or a white chocolate cranberry square generously drizzled with dark chocolate. Aesthetically, there is no competition - so I get the latter and we order more coffee.
The slice is pleasingly chocolate-laden and stodgy but is definitely too filling for a dessert so we pack it up for the journey home.
Buddha Pie has treated us well and we leave surprised and happy.
A lot of people may never visit Buddha Pie because of the location and the mostly take-out set-up but if all you are interested in is good pizza, no wine or atmosphere required, then it's worth a specific trip there.
Opening hours are 11 a.m-9 p.m Tuesday-Saturday. Sundays 3 p.m-8 p.m
All pizzas are between $12.99-$14.99
Photos by Anna Lisa Sang.