The Reuben at Maker Pizza

Maker PizzaLocation: 59 Cameron Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.makerpizza.com/

A Reuben pizza is one of those things that’s simultaneously ridiculous and oddly compelling.  It probably shouldn’t work, and yet… as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to eat it.

Here’s how Maker’s menu describes it: “Montreal smoked meat, mustard béchamel, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, everything bagel crust.”

It sounds absurd (and amazing).  It looks absurd (and amazing).

Alas, it’s just absurd — it’s not particularly amazing.

Maker Pizza

I will say that the (non-absurd) pizza at Maker is some of the best in the city.  Even in this particular pie, that’s fairly apparent; the crust is outstanding.  It has an amazing flavour, a good amount of char, and an absolutely irresistible crispy/chewy/bready texture.  I was afraid that the everything bagel elements would overwhelm the crust, but they actually work quite well.

The crust also manages to not completely collapse under the deluge of meat, sauerkraut, cheese, and sauce, and it manages to do that without feeling overly substantial.  That’s no small feat; certainly, it’s a testament to how good the crust is here.

Maker Pizza

And while the Reuben elements are all tasty (the thinly-sliced smoked meat is a little bit tough, but the Reuben flavours are otherwise perfect: it’s meaty, cheesy, salty, sweet, and vinegary, with everything balanced really well), it never quite coheres as a pizza.

It just feels like too much stuff.  It needed more bread to balance out the voluminous ingredients, like… oh, I don’t know, a sandwich??  It probably would have worked better as a calzone, but then that wouldn’t have been nearly as Instagrammable, which I imagine is half of the point of this thing.

And that’s the problem — even though all of the elements are really good, it’s a food mashup that never should have been mashed up.  It’s a gimmick.  I would have rather eaten a Reuben sandwich or a regular pizza.  This takes two great things and makes both of them less great by combining them.

Decent Pizza at Scaddabush

ScaddabushLocation1900 The Queensway, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.scaddabush.com/

I’ve mentioned before that Scaddabush is a surprisingly good casual chain restaurant; well, I just tried the pizza, and yeah, I still like the place.

I got the Mario: “prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, baby arugula.”

It’s good — it’s not mind-blowing, but I certainly enjoyed eating it a heck of a lot more than the pizza at Pizzeria Libretto.

Scaddabush

The crust is basically Roman-style — thin and a little bit bready, with a satisfying amount of crispiness on its exterior.  It’s not bad at all.  And the toppings are solid.  The tomato sauce is slightly garlicky and not over-applied, and the salty prosciutto and peppery arugula work quite well together.

It’s nothing that anyone’s going to get too excited over — but like everything else at Scaddabush, it’s better than you’d think, given the quality of the competition.

Pizza Perfection at Descendant

Descendant Detroit Style PizzaLocation: 1168 Queen Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://descendantdsp.com/

Is the pizza at Descendant the best in the city?  I don’t know.  It’s not not the best pizza in the city.  It’s a contender, that’s for sure.

It’s so different from the Neopolitan-style pies that you’ll find throughout the GTA that it almost tastes like a completely separate dish.

Descendant serves Detroit-style pizza, which is cooked in a square pan and features a thick, substantial crust that’s delightfully crispy and greasy on the bottom.  It’s kinda like the pan pizza from Pizza Hut, but a million times better.

Descendant Detroit Style Pizza

This was my second time at Descendant; I liked it a lot on my first visit, but I liked it even better this time.  It’s just so satisfying.

The thing that’s so impressive about this place is that the pizza itself is so good that they could easily phone it in with the toppings and just offer the usual suspects.  But a lot of the flavours here are surprisingly bold and interesting, and it all works so well.

Descendant Detroit Style Pizza

Take, for example, the Electric Avenue: “jerk chicken, fresh pineapple, curried lime aioli, green onion, Mama Lil’s Peppers, Diablo’s Fuego hot sauce.”  It’s sweet and spicy, with flavours that are about as far from a traditional pizza as you can get.  But it’s so good.

Descendant Detroit Style Pizza

We also tried the special, which on this visit was the Mexican: “chorizo, pickled peppers, lime-pickled red onion, sour cream, tomato sauce, fresh cilantro.”  This was probably my favourite pizza of the day — but they were all delicious.  The flavours were so well balanced, with the brightness of the pickles balancing out the rich sausage and cheese.

Descendant Detroit Style Pizza

The last pizza was the pepperoni, which was more traditional, but no less delicious.

One of the great things about this style of pizza is that you get such a great contrast between the crispy exterior and the soft interior of the crust.  Plus, there’s a ring of cheese on the edges of the pizza that’s dark and crispy and amazing, and it’s just the best.

Tasty Pies at General Assembly Pizza

General Assembly PizzaLocation: 331 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.gapizza.com/

After my horrifying Pizzeria Libretto experience, I wondered: am I being too picky?  Was Libretto actually not that bad?  Are my expectations just way too high?

Thank you, General Assembly Pizza, for letting me know that I’m not crazy.  Pizzeria Libretto was indeed terrible.  I am still capable of enjoying pizza.

General Assembly Pizza

They’re certainly not the best I’ve ever had, but the pizzas they’re serving here are all-around solid.

The first thing you notice is the even char on the crust; clearly, the temperature/time in the oven is just right.  Remember the disturbing photo of the colourless bottom of the slice from my Libretto post?  Here’s what the bottom of a slice of pizza should look like:

General Assembly Pizza

That’s not to say that the crust here was perfect.  I liked the subtle crispiness on its exterior, but it didn’t quite have the chewiness that you’re looking for, and it was a bit bland.  It wasn’t quite at the Wonder Bread level of Libretto’s crust, but it was definitely lacking.

The toppings do a pretty great job of hiding the crust’s shortcomings, however.  I tried three pizzas: Sweet Heat (tomato, mozzarella, hot salami, chili, honey, basil), Falco Sausage (tomato, parmesan, sausage, red onion, bread crumb, garlic, black pepper, chili flake, basil), and Garden Smash (tomato, squash eggplant mash, red onion, spring onion, garlic, sesame, basil).

General Assembly Pizza

All three were quite tasty, with a great sweet/salty contrast on the Sweet Heat, and a nice savoury punch on the Falco Sausage.  Even the Garden Smash — a cheeseless pizza, which I was deeply skeptical about — was fairly satisfying (though I still missed the cheese).

You can also kick things up with a nicely potent chili oil they have on the side.  I strongly recommend that you do this; it’s great.

Mediocre Pizza at Papa John’s

Papa John'sLocation: 1706 Dundas Street East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.papajohns.ca/

Papa John’s seems to be slowly but surely expanding around Toronto; I guess they must be doing okay, because they opened their first location a few years ago, and they’re still opening new ones.

I have fond memories of eating Papa John’s during my childhood trips to Florida, so I guess there’s always going to be a nostalgia-fueled spot in my heart for the place.  Because the pizza from Papa John’s was pretty bad, but I still kind of enjoyed it.

Papa John's

The crust is tasteless and vaguely gummy, the cheese is rubbery, and the toppings are mostly what you’d expect (except for the sausage — I can’t even sugar-coat that one, the sausage is flat-out gross).  But there’s still something inexplicably appealing about it.  It’s junk, and yet you find yourself compelled to take another slice.

There’s that old saying about how even when pizza is bad, it’s still pretty good.  That’s Papa John’s in a nutshell: it’s bad, but… it’s also kinda good?

Papa John's

This definitely also applies to the dipping sauce, which is basically just a tiny tub of garlic-powder-flavoured grease.  I enjoyed it in the same way that I enjoyed the pizza: with a furrowed brow and a not-insubstantial hit to my self-respect.