I have been going to Terroni, 720 Queen Street West, for the past two years and have enjoyed every single meal I have had there. It has been a Toronto institution since 1992 and if you haven’t been then you are seriously missing out. Having been to Italy, I will announce that this is the real deal.
Terroni has been both praised and criticized. I guess this is what happens when you have struck gold and all your friends become jealous. They do not take reservations, changes or substitutions to their menu; they don’t even cut the pizza. Big deal. Are we that impatient that we can’t wait 15 minutes for dinner? So egotistical that we challenge chefs on how a dish should be made? And so lazy that we can’t cut our own food?
A so called Terroni vs. Libretto war has emerged since the latter’s opening last year. Some are divided but Terroni’s pizza is by far superior. The only thing Libretto has going for it is its’ wood burning stove from Naples and the diner’s option of having spelt crust.
I recall my first two visits to Terroni:
The line up was fifteen people deep but no one seemed to care. The place was alive with hustle and bustle, conversation and laughter. The smell of tomato sauce was intoxicating and we were salivating. This is no joke.
Terroni is known for their thinner than thin crust pizza but we were all craving pasta. Clearly, we had a dilemma. The solution? Pizza as an appetizer – I have continued this practice at each return. The Capriciosa pizza in all its’ salami glory really got our stomachs going. Fresh spaghetti tossed in aglio e olio with lemon zest, spinach and capers made my mouth sing. This is exactly the kind of pasta would enjoy in Italy (minus the $1200 plane ticket). Fresh not dried and paired with simple but bright ingredients. Even the wine brought me back to the boot. Served in ceramic jugs and drank out of glass cups. Brava!
That is when my addiction started and I returned a few weeks later. This time the Natalina pizza started things off. Calabrese salami, roasted red peppers and wrinkly black olives makes me think of my father. He immigrated to Toronto from Calabria in 1957. Growing up, he would always end dinner with those salty black olives. I hated them then but have come to love them now.
Moving on with the spaghetti alla Norma, I am content – again. Sautéed eggplant and fresh ricotta dance around the pasta in an authentic tomato sauce. I smothered it Grana Padano because apparently one cheese was just not enough. My date had the linguine al frutti di mare. Its’ aromas were reminiscent of standing by the shore in Bari where you can smell the sea salt in the air so much that you think if you stick out your tongue you could taste it.
Other dishes that get honourable mention are the pappardelle all iosa. Homemade spicy sausage, peas and button mushrooms come together in another nonna style dish. A rich and tender lamb ragu smothers orrechiette and perfectly sticks in the crevices. One time, there was a special of gnocchi tossed with Italian greens that tasted like spring.
This is one kitchen that knows how to appeal to your senses. Your eyes feast on colours and your nose fills with scents. Your tongue, well that’s the best part, it’s so pleased it doesn’t know what to do but to keep eating.