By Paula Roy –
Conduct an informal poll of your friends or neighbours and you’ll likely find very few among them who don’t love pizza. With over two dozen pizza places in Kitchissippi, summer just seems like the perfect time to investigate our enduring fondness for this culinary staple.
My own love affair with pizza dates back – like most people’s – to my childhood. But ours was not a home where takeout food was consumed; almost everything we ate was made in-house from scratch and pizza was not going to be an exception. My mother’s eventual concession when it came to pizza was to buy boxes of Chef Boyardee mix, which contained just-add-water dough, a tin of sauce and a packet of grated Parmesan. It seemed quite exotic at the time to be crafting dough and shaping it on our newly-purchased pizza pans and we progressed rapidly from “just cheese” to a more exciting array of toppings. To this day, the Chef Boyardee pizza sauce lingers in my mind as an all-time favourite. I can’t begin to estimate how many hundreds of boxes of these pizza mixes our family of eight went through over the years, but it was a long time before I ever tasted the takeout variety and even when I did, I remember thinking that it didn’t vastly surpass our homemade version. You can still find these kits today – now made by Kraft. I may have to try one soon, just for old times’ sake.
I became a real pizza aficionado after a trip to Italy several decades ago, a portion of which was spent at a Tuscan culinary school. That’s where I learned a few secrets to making really good dough, including adding a generous amount of olive oil to the mixture and letting it rise at least 90 minutes, but better yet, a couple of hours. Subsequent to that trip, I invested in pizza stones and that was a game-changer as the consistent heat of the stone makes for a faster, more even bake and crispier crust.
Recently, we took our at-home pizza game to lofty new heights with the acquisition of an outdoor, wood-fired pizza oven. The ooni (formerly called uuni) oven is compact and portable; in less than 15 minutes (20 in the dead of winter) heats up to a blistering 800F, cooking a thin crust pizza to perfection in less than 60 seconds. This oven – available right here in Kitchissippi at MEC – has turned our traditional Friday night pizza parties into the ultimate interactive experience, where all guests get involved not only in assembling the pizzas, but also taking a turn at the oven to cook up a pie. It’s so fun, fast and flavourful that we find ourselves eating a lot more pizza these days!
We’re not the only ones, it seems. According to a 2018 study, pizza is a $3.89 billion a year industry in Canada, with 75% of Canadians reporting that they eat it at least once per month. Here’s some interesting math: given that the population of Kitchissippi was 44,594 at the end of 2018, if 75% of us ate pizza once per month that equates to at least 401,346 pizzas consumed annually by those living in our area alone. Factor in all the hungry pizza-lovers who come to Kitchissippi’s twenty-seven pizza places from elsewhere in Ottawa and beyond likely puts the number of pizzas prepared and consumed in our ‘hood at well over half a million annually. That’s a lot of dough (pun intended).
So why does Kitchissippi – and much of the rest of the world – love pizza so much? Maybe it’s because it covers all the food groups. Plus, it’s easily customizable to accommodate picky eaters or dietary restrictions. Best of all, it’s enjoyable any time of the day or night, is perfectly packable for lunchboxes and can be eaten at any temperature. Leftover cold pizza for breakfast is fantastic, but what about topping it with a sizzling fried egg for a special morning treat? Pizza’s versatility extends to the many different ways it can be made – humble or fancy, thick crust or thin, vegetarian or meaty – the possibilities are endless.
It’s safe to say there is also a pizza for everyone right here in Kitchissippi. Not only is there an impressive number of pizzerias here; there is also a tremendous diversity to the style of pizza available in our ‘hood, as our pizza map demonstrates. Sure, we’ve got the tried-and-true chains like Pizza Pizza, Domino’s, and the founded-in-Ottawa Gabriel Pizza, but many other pizza purveyors are offering up unique slices and whole pies. From thin to thick crusts to signature sauces to creative toppings and even vegan and gluten-free options, it’s safe to say there’s a pizza for every preference in Kitchissippi, and some for every price point as well. A slice – or even a whole pie – can be had for a few bucks when the craving hits. On the flip side, gourmet pizzas with premium toppings at finer dining establishments will be attractive to local foodies. For example, Tennessy Willem’s personal-sized duck confit pizza with caramelized onions, white truffle oil and Riopelle cheese, for $22.00, is a perennial best-seller. Meanwhile, at Pizza Pizza, you can pick up a medium, single-topping pizza for as little as $6.99.
On the off chance you can’t find what you need in Kitchissippi to satisfy your own unique pizza cravings, check out my pizza dough recipe. I’ve also put together some tips, tricks and tools for making great pizza at home, and a guide to local shops offering primo ingredients.
To say pizza enjoys enduring popularity is a bit of an understatement as it’s been around for millennia! Pizza’s origins trace back to ancient times when topped flatbreads were consumed by many different cultures. The first documented use of the word pizza was in 997 CE and the precursor to the modern pizza first appeared in the 1700s in Naples, Italy, when starving peasants topped their focaccia with fresh tomatoes. Italian immigrants began making and serving pizza in New York City at the turn of the last century. Non-Italians took note that pizza had similarities to a pie – it was round, had a crust and was sliced into triangles – so they called it tomato pie, which quickly morphed into pizza pie. Today, a staggering five billion pizzas are consumed worldwide each year.
The aforementioned pizza study noted that quality of dough is apparently the most important factor when choosing a provider, followed by quality of toppings then quality of sauce. While pizza preference is certainly subjective, it’s interesting to note that a Reddit thread on best pizza in Ottawa reveals multiple shout-outs for Carlos, Napoli’s, Anthony’s, Tennessy Willem’s and Georgie’s, with many weighing in from outside Kitchissippi. Our pizzas are getting noticed by experts too. The Food Network Canada rated Anthony’s number one on its 12 great pizza places in Canada worth travelling for, noting that, “If you’re in the country’s capital, you won’t find a better wood-fired pizza than at Anthony’s. Traditionally prepared, Neapolitan-style crust topped with Italian ingredients we all know and love, including fior de latte and basil, spicy salami and more.” Big 7 Travel’s recently published article entitled ‘21 Pizzas in Canada you have to eat in Canada before you die’ lists Fiazza Fresh Fired as number 5, one of only two from Ottawa to make the grade. Their recommendation: “choose from either your own creation or their signature pies, with healthy gourmet ingredients such as truffle oil, Fior di Latte or roasted garlic.”
While I certainly can’t find fault in either of those recommendations, I have a few of my own favourites to share. On the rare occasions that we are not making pizza at home, Carlo’s has been my family’s go-to for at least 25 years. I love that I can order half vegetarian, half Carlo’s Special, to satisfy everyone. I also have to give a shout out to Farm Boy for being the first to bring bespoke pizza to the neighbourhood. I love watching the dough being prepped, selecting my own unique combination of toppings and then having it cooked in their blazing hot oven in mere moments. If only they would sell their magical pizza sauce so us home cooks could use it! Last but not least, a summertime staple for me involves savouring one of Moe Atallah’s famous pizzas at the Westboro Beach Cafe, preferably at sunset, when there’s live music happening.
Where’s your favourite place to get pizza? Let us know in the comments below or send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This feature is brought to you in part by Produce Depot.