Pizzeria Via Mercanti
Pizzeria Via Mercanti is the latest addition to Toronto's Neapolitan-style pizza scene, and in many ways holds its own with some of the other major players in this city like Pizza Libretto, Terroni and Queen Margherita Pizza. The menu is pared down compared to these other options and the decor a little less sophisticated, but the servers are friendly and the ingredients are fresh. Their fior di latte is from Woodbridge and the waitress tells my friend and I that other ingredients are sourced via neighbouring shops in Kensington Market.
They've also got a pair of seasoned pizza makers to ensure a fine product. Romolo Salvati and Massimo Di Lascio both left the Queen Margherita only two months ago to open up this new spot. And before that, they made pizzas in Italy. They opened up Via Mercanti in the recently shuttered Back Alley Woodfire BBQ and Grill, and put together a clean, basic and bright space. The space is what first really separates Via Mercanti from its pizzeria peers.
The other big name pizza shops in this town have carefully designed, rustic-chic interiors, which are more polished than a pizzeria needs to be. Oh, and don't forget that you're probably gong to be waiting a while for a table (ahem, Libretto). Via Mercanti's no frills vibe is a welcome alternative, if perhaps a little surprising given how competitive this segment of the local restaurant scene has become.
We begin with the appetizer Bocconcini Di Pizza ($1/each) — think bite-sized mini calzones — stuffed with ricotta, fior di latte and prosciutto. They're served with homemade spicy chili oil that's perfect for dipping. They arrive at our table, piping hot and stuffed with gooey cheese. We're a bit surprised at how filling they are so we refrain from devouring more than a couple despite how good they are. We need to save room for our mains.
I order the Margheritona pizza (pictured at top), topped with fior di latte, prosciutto crudo, basil and fresh parmesan ($13). It's simple, hot and has all the qualities of a good Neapolitan pizza, but I must say it's not the best I've had in this city. The crust is not quite as light and airy, and the sauce doesn't strike that same great balance between salty, sweet and acidic, but it's still really good. Also, the chef tells me they've ordered a new oven from Naples, the secret weapon of any Neopolitan pizzeria, which should arrive shortly and could be significantly better than their current, non-Italian wood-burning oven.
Though they serve a good pizza, Via Mercanti's pasta dishes should not be overlooked, each featuring fresh, housemade pasta with a few classic Italian pairings. The waitress assures us that in the couple weeks they've been open, no one's ever left so much as a stray noodle on their plate at the end of the meal. After trying my friend's Fagottino Di Parma ($15), I believe it. The rosebud-shaped noodles are cooked al dente and tossed in a parmesan cream sauce, wrapped with slices of prosciutto and garnished with parmesan shavings and fresh herbs. Simple but just right.
The elegant presentation of this dish is at odds with the unpretentious and even sterile décor of the restaurant. Perhaps they reserve their aesthetic flare for the food rather than the ambience, but they certainly won't hear any complaints on that front from our table.
And yes, we did order three dishes of essentially just prosciutto with cheese. And no, we did not regret it.