This time of year is generally when I start looking back and looking forward, making note of food fads that have come and gone and food trends bubbling under the surface. But things are different now.
If 2020 has been anything, it’s been disruptive. Disruptive to our day-to-day lives and everything from agriculture to politics. It’s also shaken up food trends more than could have been predicted.
Because of necessity, most Canadian restaurateurs and chefs have streamlined their operations, reducing the number of menu items and rethinking their approach for things that still taste good, but can also travel well. For many this meant a return to simplicity, forgetting about whatever that “it” ingredient might be ... and an explosion of pizza concepts.
Given its relatability – everyone likes pizza – and generally low cost to produce, it makes for an approachable option for people and a fair profit margin for restaurant operators when times are tough. Couple that with the fact that both New York-style and Detroit-style pies have been gaining popularity over the past couple of years, it’s easy to see why people would want to hop on that bandwagon.
While putting together this story over the past while, several new pizza offerings have popped up in Calgary, adding to the pile of existing options. Vancouver’s Pepino’s Spaghetti House and Down Low Chicken Shack just announced a hot chicken Detroit pizza collaboration and, in Toronto, Momofuku chef Eva Chin recently debuted a new, casual takeout menu for its typically upscale concept Kojin that includes a selection of pan pizzas.
It begs the question: is the demand for pizza really that high?
I suppose it’s also possible that the average person has, in fact, become pizza-crazed since March. I mean, what better way to find comfort during trying times than with something saucy, cheesy and salty?
Not new by any means, Calgary’s (arguably) king of the New York slice, Noble Pie, allegedly received hate mail early in the pandemic because of limited hours and the amount of pies available to order.
People can be vicious.
Edmonton’s High Dough opened in April as a takeout-and-delivery-only option inside the well-established restaurant Three Boars. With its popularity strong from the get-go, the Detroit pizza maker has garnered plenty of praise from food lovers and experts alike. Having only a taste of its Mort & Mindy (mortadella, tart pistachio pesto, arugula, balsamic glaze, grana padano), I can verify the proper deep-dish, rectangular shape and crispy edges typical of this kind of pie. Perhaps stick with a more traditional set of toppings though.
Not technically born of the pandemic, but Sepps Pizza has also become an acclaimed New York-style pizzeria in Edmonton, a go-to delivery dinner option and shows no signs of slowing down.
In a similar vein, Calgary’s Pizza Face has also flourished over the course of the past eight months. The popular not-quite-neapolitan, not-quite-New-York-style concept has developed a cult following among Calgarians.
Originally a weekly Sunday night pop-up that took place out of Von Der Fels, owner Tony Migliarese (formerly of Tavernetta) began operating out of the tiny eatery more frequently while restaurants were mandated to be closed for sit-down service. Once the wine bar finally reopened in the late summer, Mr. Migliarese migrated to a new home inside of Community Natural Foods, turning part of its former cafeteria into a pizza counter.
His signature pie, Mike’s Big Pickle, is an edible oddity that raises eyebrows and piques the interest of curious taste buds. The combination of garlicky white sauce with big pickle slices, mozzarella and a fresh dill weed might make this the most unique pizza offering in all of Calgary and, likely, the most polarizing.
Being an avid proclaimer that acidity makes virtually every dish better, I thoroughly appreciate the tangy pickles cutting through the richness of its fellow pie components.
The list truly goes on and on when it comes to new pizza options around Calgary. There’s Connie and John’s (Charcut, Charbar) offering both New York-style and Detroit-style pizza, Actually Pretty Good (in the original Our Daily Brett space, operated by the same owner) and the two-week-old Little Tavern Pizza Project by Keith Luce serving up Neapolitan pizzas and plenty of other Italian fare. As well, Craft Beer Market’s ghost kitchen service Pie Eyed Pizza opened concurrently in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa this past Tuesday.
A1 Bodega is another spot dipping its toe in the crowded pizza waters, launching a weekly pizza night on Mondays. A recent visit yielded mixed results and an extra crispy – dare I say blackened – pizza, so time will tell if it can keep up with the rest of the pack, all of which are dishing out pies five to seven days a week.
With how overpopulated the pizza corner of the Alberta food scene has become, consistency is going to be key if a newcomer wants to find success in what is now a very saturated market.
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