Daily Slice: Pizzeria Magpie, Montreal
Daily Slice gives a quick snapshot each weekday of a different slice or pie that the folks at the Serious Eats empire have enjoyed lately.
Montreal doesn't have many restaurants that offer Neapolitan-style pizza, so when the brothers Boris and Pete Popovic opened Magpie Pizza in the Mile End in 2010 (Pete co-owns the popular anglophile pub Sparrow just around the corner), proclaiming authentic Neapolitan pies, the neighborhood was justifiably excited. Their wood-fired oven, shipped from the now-defunct restaurant Tutto Bene, came from just up the street.
On a recent trip, I had high hopes for the day's special, a brussels sprout and pancetta pie ($18 for a pie, which comes in one size, about 12" across), one of my all-time favorite marriage of toppings. The sprouts, which had been dismantled into both individual leaves and cross-section chunks, were strewn across the pie like dried rose petals. There's a time and a place for raw brussels sprouts—they have to be fresh, in season, and, ideally, local—but this wasn't it. Rather than deepening into a blackened, nutty char, the leaves emerged from the oven limp and with wan brown speckles. Think broiled romaine lettuce.
A vivid slick of tomato sauce upset the pie's pH balance, competing with, rather than complementing, the sprouts' more subtle richness. (In this scenario, I vastly prefer a white pie, a la Motorino's). The pie's relative lack of melted mozzarella and shaved Pecorino didn't help, either. A generous scattering of pinkish cubes of pancetta, while satisfyingly chewy and salty, gave a heft to each bite.
The dough, which is a little thicker and heartier than Neapolitan pies, was good. Like the pie's overabundance of toppings, the crust's appealing chubbiness and faint sweetness reminded me of comforting Montreal old-school pies. Though tasty, the pie lacked the minimalist elegance characteristic of the Naples genre.
About the Author: Natasha Pickowicz is a San Diego-born food writer and baker currently based in Montreal. She contributes to the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Mirror, Kinfolk Magazine, and Acquired Taste Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @natashapickowiz.