Inventive and Affordable: Gourmet BBQ Pizza Arrives in Toronto
Walking into Za Pizzeria, you may not guess that you’re about to taste some of the city’s best pizza. A simple but welcoming design featuring a long, glass-topped counter and bright red room accents (including unique ceramic tile integrated into the counter) greet guests upon entry. And while there is no pizza oven in sight, the familiar smell of burning wood assures customers that they’ve come to the right place.
Za brings a unique twist to a market saturated with everything from classic Neapolitan-style pizzas to greasy delivery. Head Chef Jason Costantini, who has previously worked under renowned chefs Susur Lee and Mark McEwan, wanted to introduce Torontonians to a new approach to making pizza—the Canadian way—BBQ. Forgoing the large and expensive pizza ovens boasted by some of the city’s top pizzerias, Jason has created an inventive and efficient way to cook his delicious pies.
At first glance it looks like a standard backyard grill. However, open the lid and it becomes clear that this is no regular barbecue. Jason has covered the bottom with a pizza stone, while on the top grill rests firebrick, ensuring pizzas are cooked from both beneath and above. Wood chips add a signature smoky aroma, an exact imitation of that found in a wood-burning pizza oven. Finally, the lid—which clam-shells down just like you’d expect a barbecue to—locks heat and smoke inside, resulting in crisp, flavourful pies in only 2-3 minutes.
Your favourite dishes, now on pizza
At Za, the cooking technique isn’t the only unique quirk. As Lisa, Jason’s wife and Za co-owner explains, the concept behind the different varieties offered is to recreate something familiar, but present it in pizza form: “Jason loves to take your standard dish—for example, a steak dinner—and deconstruct it into a pizza.”
Jason loves to take your standard dish—for example, a steak dinner—and deconstruct it into a pizza.
This vision is immediately apparent in Za’s two latest features: the Salmon Tartar and the Smoked Tomato & Arugula. One may wonder if a tartar, which is uncooked, obviously, can remain tartar atop a hot pizza. At Za, it seems it most certainly can. A warm crisp crust topped with generous dollops of grapefruit-infused salmon tartar is enough to bring pizza and seafood lovers to the same table. The freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice is a perfect acidic balance to the rich tartar. Complimented with capers, red peppers and a modest sprinkle of mozzarella, it’s clear the sophisticated flavour of the tartar is rightly the star of this pie.
The Smoked Tomato & Arugula pizza is a vegetarian take on the classic BLT. Jason, wanting to recreate the traditional sandwich while also hoping to appeal to a vegetarian customer base, came up with best-of-both-worlds “tomato bacon”. Sun-dried tomatoes are smoked until just crispy, adding not only a smoky bacon-like flavour, but also that all-important crunch. The pizza, topped with garlic butter, shredded mozzarella, crisp arugula, fresh diced tomatoes, and a smoked tomato aioli along with the signature tomato bacon makes for a delicious combination that would have even BLT traditionalists fooled.
Perhaps the most bizarre sounding item on the menu, Duck & Grapes, is a fresh take on a French classic. Succulent duck confit sits perched atop generous mounds of buffalo mozzarela and mascarpone, creating a rich, gooey base for this tender meat. The pie is then topped with roasted grapes and a balsamic vinegar reduction, the perfect compliment to the decadent ingredients beneath.
Canadian pizza, through and through
While these pies arguably resemble Roma-style pizza (as opposed to the more common Neapolitan-style), it’s clear that the menu at Za is truly Canadian-inspired.
Take, for example, the Oh Canada!, a delightful play on some of our favourite local indulgences: maple syrup, bacon and potato chips. Za’s crisp thin crust, created using Canadian flour (instead of the commonly used Caputo, milled in Italy), gives a fluffy, light interior and a crispy, slightly smoky exterior. Maple syrup is generously spread as the base sauce, then topped with mozzarella, crispy bacon and crushed, salty potato chips. The play on sweet and salty provides for a harmonious blend of flavours in each bite, as well as a satisfying crunch.
In typical Canadian style, Jason draws his inspiration from a multiplicity of cultural cuisines. The Za-vlaki is a great example of this, blending quality ingredients with a Greek twist. Za’s signature crust is coated in a thick spread of garlic butter, with tender roasted chicken, fresh Pico de Gallo, and tangy Tzatziki on top. While this pizza seems simpler than some of Za’s other offerings, it’s an outstanding pie reminiscent of the traditional souvlaki plate you’d find on the Danforth in Greektown.
Za’s true charm lies in it’s approach: turning out sophisticated gourmet creations that are affordable, encouraging widespread enjoyment of a global set of beloved dishes in pizza format.
Za offers three sizes: full, half, and even by the slice. “We’re gonna do slices, but we’re going to do it differently,” says Jason, adding that no pizza will ever sit longer than 30 minutes without being replaced with a fresh one. Lisa adds that the goal of Za is to be approachable and inviting to a variety of clientele, especially in an area full of everything from broke students to foodies and families. Full pizzas range from $9-18, with options like buffalo mozzarella available to those looking to upgrade.
We’re gonna do slices, but we’re going to do it differently.
The restaurant offers pick-up or eat-in, with no mention of delivery at this time. With just a few barstools available, pizzas from Za are best enjoyed at home, or as a covetable summertime picnic in the park.
I admit I was skeptical at first of what another pizzeria could offer Toronto, but Za Pizzeria has stepped into a new category: inventive yet affordable gourmet pies made in a humble and hospitable environment. Za is a must-try for Toronto pizza lovers looking to be pleasantly surprised.
Location: 402 Bloor St. West (at the corner of Bloor and Brunswick)
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11am-11pm
On this trip: Food and drink were supplied by Za Pizzeria.