I was taken out for a meal in Paris. It was far from my usual haunts, a long Metro ride from anywhere. It was already not a good week in Paris. My favourite city was letting me down, and my favourite Parisian pastime was letting me down even more. It rained pretty much every day, and I am sorry (indeed, désolée) to confess that I no longer adore French food. Especially at the price they charge for it. $200 barely buys a three-course dinner for two in a less-than-extraordinary restaurant, and it seems to be all butter and uncreatively constructed meat.
So I went willingly to the little street stand in an Arab quarter of Paris, where a very nice man grilled a huge piece of thin dough on a hemispheric griddle. He topped it with ground meat, scatterings of very fresh coriander, chives and small-cut tomato. He may have squirted some fresh lime on it. I don’t know, because at first bite, a delightful delirium set it. It was a Parisian gastronomic epiphany – great food, cheap, exotic. The crust was crisp and charred, the topping full of exciting flavours. We ate it at a tiny table on the sidewalk.
Not exactly a Michelin three-star.
And nor is Pizza Pide, the Toronto equivalent of my new favourite place to eat in Paris. Pizza Pide, also a purveyor of Turkish pizza, is on Gerrard just east of Pape. The best to be said about its ambience is that you can park on the street. There are five small Formica tables but most people get takeout. The good thing about takeout is that your dining room is likely nicer than theirs. The good thing about eating it there is that the pizza crust is at its absolute best fresh out of the small gas-fired pizza oven.
But you will be glad to know that with experimentation I have discovered that if you put Turkish pizza in a very hot (450F) oven for 20 minutes, directly on the oven rack (not on a cookie sheet or pan of any kind!) it will crisp right back up to almost its original crunchy splendour. Even the next day, after a night getting soggy in the fridge!
In my experience, the pizza pide that gets the soggiest is also the best one. The #16 is assorted vegetables and feta cheese. Even if you take it out, don’t worry about the soggy part because it recovers just fine in a hot oven. The vegetables are green pepper, almost-raw onion, raw tomato, green and black olives and parsley. All of which melds like magic with the sharpness of the feta. It’s a partially folded pizza, with the ends folded rather like a turnover and the middle open so you can peer in at the veg.
I am infatuated with Pizza Pide’s thin, crisp crust, so fragile it cracks on the tongue. That same crust does an equally great job of singing backup to the round pizzas, the most lovely being #1. (They like you to order by number.) The #1, lahmacun, is very finely ground beef mixed with small fragments of sweet/hot red peppers, parsley, garlic and onion. It, like all the other pizzas, is served on a long plastic tray with big fat slices of raw onion, tomato quarters, parsley sprigs, small vinegar-pickled hot peppers and a few lemon wedges. There are also two squeeze bottles. They look like ketchup and mustard, but no. They’re hot sauce and garlic sauce. The hot sauce is searing and the garlic sauce is like ranch plus garlic. I like it. Your job is to pick up a piece of pizza, decorate it with the garnishes, maybe some sauce, roll, eat and wipe your chin. This ends up tasting almost as good as the Turkish pizza I had in Paris, although coriander is more exciting than parsley as a garnish.
After #1 and #16, I am also in love with #11. This is the turnover-style pizza with Turkish sausage and melted mozzarella. I don’t know why, but what at first glance could be plain ol’ pepperoni on cheese turns out to be so much lighter and better than regular pizza. Turkish sausage is slightly more delicate than pepperoni, and the effect of melting a thin layer of mozzarella on the Turkish dough, which is so much thinner than its Italian cousin, is delightful. Not heavy.
That the plates are paper and there’s no cutlery doesn’t seem important. That the baklava does not really taste very buttery also doesn’t seem important, because after all that fabulous thin, crisp Turkish pizza dough, one does not really need more dough for dessert.
Having a leftover lahmacun in the fridge is a little bit like having lots of money in the bank: It may not buy happiness, but it sure as hell will cheer you up for a day or two.