I remember that Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is set in Brooklyn during one of the infamous power outages that plagued the city during the 1970s, centres around a neighbourhood and its pizza joint, and features violent racial tensions as its core conflict. That’s a pretty shoddy movie synopsis, I know, but it was what came to mind when I visited Bigabaldi’s Pizza on a recent hot July evening when their air conditioner had failed.
It’s not just that the heat had us talking about opening a fire hydrant for some spontaneous fun but also that owner Rob Prete has taken care to reproduce a New York atmosphere in his restaurant. In fact he calls the decor “a cross between Welcome Back, Kotter and Bensonhurst” and says that his motivation was to create a nostalgic environment for the twenty-five to thirty-five year-olds who are now starting families.
The pizza is just as heavily influenced by New York City. We tried the Bigga ($14.50 for a medium) whose pepperoni, bacon, mortadella, and sausage make it a sort of amped-up meat lovers’. My favourite, though, was the Baldi’s ($13.50 for a medium) which combines roasted garlic, rapini, sausage, and goat cheese on the usual tomato sauce and mozzarella base (a combination I plan to replicate at home, $4). The crust in both cases is evenly dark and crisp on the bottom and moderately thick without being doughy.
On the advice of the New Jersey pizza veteran they flew in to help develop their dough recipe they use only all-purpose flour. As far as Rob knows their 24-inch round party pizza is the biggest in Toronto. Many other ingredients including the bread for the sandwiches and the tomato sauce–made with Italian San Marzano tomatoes, Rob proudly notes–are made in house.
To augment the pizza, the selection we were generously offered for sampling also included the hero sangwich ($7.50) that features the trifecta of Italian cold cuts (soppressata, prosciutto, and mortadella) as well as ham, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers. Even better was the veal version ($5.95) that puts local, naturally-raised veal to good use. The bomba (a pork and beef meatball with a fried, dough crust) and the arancini (deep-fried ball of risotto that uses Persian saffron) were also both quite good.
For dessert we tried the nutella and banana panzerotto with cinnamon sugar ($4). This combination of flavours, the crispy crust, and gooey inside were remarkably delicious.
Marlee Avenue, north of Eglinton is an area of the city that I don’t often get to but this location is remarkably accessible by TTC, especially for those who live near the University-Spadina line. Bigabaldi’s also delivers.
By design this is not a restaurant that will give Libretto much competition for the hearts of the pizza napoletano crowd. Instead it’s intended to be a neighbourhood joint that serves the classics, made with care and from top-notch ingredients, in a comfortable atmosphere, especially now that the air conditioning is working again.