Going Deep

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my love of Italian food. The combination of meat, cheese and sauce that is typical in Italian cooking  is all I need for a great meal. So it goes without saying that I have a particular weakness for that staple of Italian cuisine: pizza. That penchant for  Italian flatbread turned into a full-on addiction with my trip to Chicago in September 2011.

My four-day stay in America’s Second City was to focus around three key Chicago attractions: the Cubs, the Art Institute of Chicago, and deep dish pizza. The experience at Wrigley Field was exactly as it was billed – an endearing record of baseball (and America’s) long and fascinating history. The Art Institute of Chicago allowed me to see first-hand Seurat’s breathtaking La Grande Jatte, one of the most important pieces bridging the gap between the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist schools of painting.

What has stuck with me most, however, was the deep dish pizza. Call me shallow. Call me a glutton. I don’t care. Yes, this is the confession of an unrepentent deep dish pizza junky. You won’t understand my love affair with Chicago-style deep dish pizza until you’ve ventured a taste yourself. And should you find yourself in the enviable position to sample this mid-Western delicacy, I hope you deal with the withdrawal better than I, cause I’ve been searching for a comparable pie, slice, anything, ever since.

Which brings me to Trevor Kitchen & Bar in the Saint Lawrence Market area of Toronto. Trevor Bar is the only establishment in Toronto offering true Chicago-style deep dish pizza. The rapidly growing slice-chain Pizziaolo has offered a so-called “deep dish” slice called the “Godfather” for some time, but I’m sorry to break it to you Pizzaiolo, a thick crust does not equal Chicago-style deep dish pizza no matter what label you throw on it. So, given the dearth of options around and my year-and-a-half itch for real deep dish, I ventured to Trevor Bar on Friday night.

The first thing to note, Trevor Bar is exactly what its name says: a bar (and a high-end one at that). There is a restaurant portion attached to the main bar, however, if you want deep dish, you need to eat at the counter. The pizza itself is offered by a side project called Parlour, started by the bar’s owner and executive chef Trevor Wilkinson. Parlour offered their deep dish pizzas, by delivery only, for a period in 2011 as a means of testing the grounds for a full restaurant.

Like Parlour, Trevor Kitchen & Bar only offers three varieties of pizza: the Classic (sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella), Chicken (smoked chicken and goat cheese), and the Vegetarian (eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, and cheddar). Each goes for $25 which is a tad pricey for a pie that will feed two at best. Wanting a level playing field with my Chicago experience I insisted on a sausage-infused pie for my pizza-tasting partner (a deep dish virgin) and I, though the thought of piles of goat cheese did cause me to pause.

The pizza came hot from the oven about 20-25 minutes after placing our order. On first look I was quite impressed. The crust had  the true depth one would expect from a deep dish pizza. The pizza itself was a little asymmetrical as a result of being removed from the pan and served to us on a plate – an understandable decision given that we were being served on an expensive looking bar counter-top, though uncommon given my experiences as Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East, and Giordano’s in Chicago. Part of me was disappointed to not have seen the pan it was cooked in, a minor quibble no doubt, but one that was there nonetheless.

The Crust

As for taste, the first thing I noticed was the crust. A deep dish pizza requires a crust that is relatively thin, yet can handle the weight of all the toppings piled on top of its frame. Trevor Bar’s contribution had a very solid, flaky crust that did a good job keeping the slice intact. The crust was crisp, though I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it pejoratively as hard. Like many fine deep dish pizza purveyor’s, Trevor Bar’s crust served its utilitarian purpose of holding the slice together without being a detriment to the rich taste of the toppings. Should Trevor Bar seek to go beyond the utilitarian and develop a crust that truly compliments the remaining components of a great deep dish slice, they should look to Lou Malnati’s butter crust, a flavorful, though heart-attack inducing, addition that could only help.

The Meat

Besting the sausage offered by a city that built its reputation on the basis of its role of butcher to America is by no means an easy task, though if any city in Canada is up to it, Hogtown should be the place. And, surprisingly, Trevor Bar’s deep dish concoction fairs very well in this area. The chunks of sausage are massive, perhaps the biggest I’ve seen on any deep dish offering, and offer a flavor that doesn’t attempt to overpower the sauce and cheese elements of this holy triumvirate. I was quite impressed!

The Sauce

While a good pizza will have a solid balance in the volume of meat, sauce, and cheese on a pizza, I tend to feel that too much sauce is always better than too little, and Trevor Bar falls well into the former category than the latter, which is definitely not a knock. What Trevor Bar’s sauce lacks is zest. I found the sauce to be fairly bland, adding little to the experience. Trevor Bar needs to take a cue from Gino’s East and add a bit more garlic and seasoning (some balance of black pepper, basil, and sugar) to bring their sauce up to snuff. The sauce they offer isn’t necessarily bad – it doesn’t hurt the pizza. But it doesn’t help it either.

The Cheese

Anyone who’s had real Chicago deep dish pizza knows that you almost need an electric carving knife to cut through the cheese. Typically a thick layer of cheese is placed over the pizza’s crust, with an additional layer of cheese placed on top to help hold all the toppings together. Why Trevor bar decided to forgo that initial layer beats me, though it may have something to do with the inferior cheese they seem to be peddling. Mozzarella is a very neutral cheese that should have a slightly milky taste. Mozzarella is meant to add texture to food, not overpower the other flavors it’s paired with. Unfortunately, in Trevor Bar’s deep dish the mozzarella has the aftertaste of a Burgundian cheese which is detrimental to the entire pie, almost unforgivably so.

Overall, with a change in the type and quantity of mozzarella used, Trevor Kitchen & Bar would have a fine deep dish pizza – a methadone that might keep the affects of my unrelenting deep dish pizza cravings at bay for at least a while longer. Until then, and until Trevor Wilkinson or some other entrepreneur decides to step up with a restaurant devoted to offering Chicago-style deep dish pizza full-time there will be a dearth of deep dish purveyors in the GTA. And this is a true missed opportunity. The expansion of gourmet Neapolitan pizza establishments such as Pizzeria Libretto and Famoso show that there’s a market for high-end options along with the traditional chains and local mom & pop take-outs. For the sake of my taste buds and those of all Torontonians, this needs to happen.*

* please note: if anyone, after reading this post, is involved with the establishment of a restaurant serving deep dish pizza in the GTA,  I will sue you for a million fucking dollars.

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