We went directly after work and as is to be expected there was a lineup. We ran across the street for a beer and by the time we were done we got the call and it was time to head over. Plan to be there a little early. No reservations and your almost guaranteed to wait during dinner service any night of the week. Don’t worry. It’s worth it.
Before anything I want to send out a big thank you to Chefs Jon Hamilton and Chris Getchell (@ChefJonHamilton, @Rinascita_Pizza) for being such amazing hosts. It was great to finally meet both of them in person. They started us off with the Salumi tasting. Rocco’s house made duck prosciutto was a highlight for me. The Blue Elizabeth, a strong but not overpowering blue cheese was great. The Gnocchi and Oxtail with rosemary and Grana Padano had all the flavour and punch of something you’d expect to be heavy but was actually incredibly light. The gnocchi were perfectly cooked and the oxtail melted in your mouth while the tomato sauce and Grana Padano provided a mix of sweet and salty. The Arancini with butternut squash, brown butter, sage and cauliflower might have been my favourite. Light and perfectly fried with a great sweet and savoury balance between the squash, butter and cauliflower puree. We split it between the table so we each only got one... I was bummed to say the least.
The best part about going to a place like Libretto with friends is getting to try a bit of everything. We got 5 pies between the 4 of us. The special of the day, which if I remember correctly, was a Marinara with buffalo ricotta. The Crimini Mushroom, buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola, rosemary, roasted garlic, pecorino and thyme. Their standard Margherita substituted with buffalo mozzarella. The Lamb Bacon pie and last but certainly not least was the Nduja Sausage with tomato, garlic, oregano, basil, mozzarella and stracciatella. The special, besides looking great on a plate was fantastic. I’m not usually one for Marinara pies but the addition of soft, sweet, light and creamy buffalo ricotta made it for me. The pie really showcased the wonderful, bright, naturally sweet Libretto sauce. The Crimini Mushroom pie had an earthy flavour but not overpoweringly so. The combination of herbs, the creamy buffalo mozzarella and the nutty pecorino made this a very rich, unique tasting pie and one I’ll certainly be having again (also, Carrie is a mushroom-aholic and almost died when she bit into this one). The Margherita, which I’ve had countless times was great. As I’ve said before the Margherita at any pizzeria is the best judge of their skill. Being left with only the most basic ingredients leaves nowhere to hide. The buffalo mozzarella substitution is a must in my books. It’s a little creamier and just melts a little different in the oven with an almost shimmering, golden creamy color to it. Thanks to Chefs Jon and Chris we were also able to try the Lamb Bacon pie. The pictures of which I had drooled over on Twitter for a week prior to our visit. Again, if I remember correctly (I had a few beers in me and was having way too good a time to even think about writing things down at this point) it was essentially a marinara with lamb bacon. The lamb bacon, which I had never had, was delicious. Very much similar to pork bacon but milder which made it a great pairing with the sweet, simple, San Marzano sauce. Finally, the Nduja sausage might have been my favourite of the night. Nduja is a soft, spreadable pork sausage made from shoulder, tripe, jowl, belly, spices and roasted red pepper. The sausage was so flavourful the pie felt like there was more going on than there actually was. Rich and complex - a must try.
I just wanted to take a second to discuss the dough at Libretto. There are dozens of reasons to love this place but the stand out reason for me is their dough. There is something magical about it. I’ve had pies from all over this city, around the country as well as some of New York’s best pizzerias but I’ve never tasted anything quite like Libretto. I honestly can’t even put my finger on what it is exactly. Owner Max Rimaldi told me they do a 3 day ferment with fresh yeast which would certainly account for the wonderfully developed flavour as well as the char which I will now dorkily go into detail about. The char you find on a Libretto pie is my favourite kind. Light browning with very small, tight, leopard spot charring. Again, it makes sense that they do a 3 day ferment as the char tells me that this is the case. When you begin the pizza making process, combining flour, water, salt and yeast two proteins (glutenin and gliaden) found in the flour combine to create gluten. The yeast will then begin excreting alcohol and carbon dioxide which will create little bubbles in the gluten as well as enhance the doughs flavour. You know when you look at a slice of pizza from the side and see the bubbles in the dough? Thats gluten. Or rather, the structure that gluten forms when inflated and set by the heat of the oven. As dough ferments the gluten develops and the hole structures inside the dough get larger. With a single day ferment the bubbles in the gluten structure are smaller and the dough a little denser. This denser crust forms a smoother more uniform surface which allows the heat to distribute more evenly and in turn brown more evenly. Left to ferment for three days the gluten structure inside will develop larger holes. As the pie inflates in the oven these larger gluten structures leave scattered areas of very thin dough on the end crust. In the heat of the oven these thinner, weaker points in the dough blister before some of the more firm areas giving you that beautiful leopard spot charring. In short, great char is an indicator of the doughs flavour and the care and thought that went into it’s creation.
Libretto is also really consistent which at a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria is incredibly difficult. It is actually what drew me to the art of pizza making originally. You can spend a lifetime making pizza and still be thrown to the ground on a daily basis. The guys behind the oven are constantly battling to get a pie that looks and tastes like the ones they made yesterday. Even after worrying about everything I spoke about above things like the humidity in the air can change how the dough handles and cooks in the oven. You need to be constantly monitoring the temperature in the oven. If you need more or less wood. Where the hot spots in the oven are. How the ovens hot spots change as the night goes on. Many who are used to chain pizza expect a consistent pie and think nothing of it but again, a consistent pie at an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria is an incredibly impressive feat and I’ve yet to be disappointed at Libretto.
I unabashedly love this place. Obviously. It’s a good thing this is a blog and I don’t need to worry about journalistic integrity. The food is done with love, it’s steeped in tradition, it gently pushes those traditional boundaries without straying and it’s done with an air of cool and without a hint of pretentiousness. If you haven’t been, go. Just go. Go right now. No, seriously, put your coat on. If you’re a friend or part of my family... you’ve likely already gone as I’ve verbally accosted you all into doing so. You don’t get every other pizzeria in a city like Toronto compared to you for no reason. Libretto is, and I’m saying it here for the first time officially... my favourite pizzeria... period.
They just opened their Danforth location! Expect another review soon!
Sorry about the pics. We brought the SLR this time but I got so caught up in how good a time I was having, paired with the realization that I’m not a photographer and know nothing about shooting in low light that I only got the shots above. I ended up just using my phone for most of it... as usual. I’ve got a class booked to learn some photography basics and we’ll get these photos looking more legit in the new year. But if there are any photographers out there reading this who want to come along with the Sauced crew next time we’d love to have you!