I’d been really looking forward to trying the square, thick-crusted ‘al taglio’ style creations at Joe Pizza so when they opened for a friends and family test service yesterday I skipped my usual Sunday brunch and dug as deep into the stuff as my belly would allow. The crust has a crisped, cornmeal-dusted edge but is otherwise dense on the tooth, a real meal. The tomato sauce is the same stuff you get at sister eatery Pizzeria Farina (which is to say bold and delicious), and the toppings vary broadly.
There were – if I’m not mistaken – ten types being cut yesterday, everything from Margherita and Funghi to Prosciutto and Mortadella. Prices were listed from $5 to $10 a square, so it might seem expensive to those who can’t help but look at it through the cheapened prism of the typical by-the-slice chain operation (where $3 gets you a Coke and a pepperoni-flavoured, oil-slicked cardboard triangle). The quality differential is clear: they use proper cheeses, choice meats and local vegetables, plus the flour is all local and organic with no commercial yeast. There’s also beer.
The space is very comfortable. There’s a great big communal table dominating the eating area, as well as a brace of cozy nooks in the window. I think Casey Burgess and Arnold Chan of Ply Architecture did an excellent job on the space by leaving a lot of it alone, and Glasfurd Walker nailed the simple branding, all the way down to the logo-emblazoned chili flake shakers, napkin dispensers, and staff T-shirts. The whole thing feels like it’s been in place for years, all light and airy like a warm retreat from the elements. It also smells just as good as you think it might.
I imagine the service will be largely the same today and throughout their test week of controlled, day-only practice services. If you want to try some for yourself, give it a shot from 11am to 4pm. Once they’ve got their ducks in a row (a couple of weeks) I’m told they’ll extend their hours through the evening to 9pm. As far as supply goes, they are looking at a capacity 300 pizzas (big rectangular jobs) a day, so I don’t see them be running out just yet.
Here’s some background on Joe Pizza from a story we published back in August:
The award-winning crew behind Kitchen Table Restaurants (Pizzeria Farina, Ask For Luigi, Pourhouse) have just secured Sean Heather’s old Rainier Provisions location on the southwest corner of Carrall and Cordova in Gastown. With it, they’re aiming to launch an unpretentious new counter service restaurant concept called Joe Pizza.
Co-owner/Chef J.C. Poirier walked me through the idea earlier this week, explaining how the 50 seater will be very different from, say, Main Street’s popular Pizzeria Farina. “We’ll be doing a Roman style of pizza called ‘al taglio’, which is very different from traditional Neapolitan.” It’s similar to Roman-style Pane Romano – the rectangular pret-a-manger stuff you can get locally at Sciué. The fast food is cut using scissors and sold by the slice or the entire rectangle (al taglio translating literally as “by the cut”) but the dough is different (local organic flour, no commercial yeast), the oven is different (a German monster with four decks and a ceramic interior – similar to those in the back of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, only much smaller), the thickness is different (about 3/4 inch), and the chew is different (almost crispy).
Poirier explored Rome to really put his finger on what he was looking for, singling out – to me at least – the al taglio at chef Gabriel Bonci’s famed Pizzarium, which Lucky Peach detailed in the video below…
Hungry yet? Yeah, me too. That dough looks so good!
Poirier also tuned to the highly regarded baking frequencies of Marc Vetri in Philadelphia and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, gathering every bit of intel and inspiration he could. And to see the vision through to fruition he’s tapped Tartine alumni Annabelle Choi, who is currently baking her way through a pop-up residency at The Pie Shoppe in Chinatown. She will be Joe Pizza’s Chef de Cuisine. I’ve yet to talk to her about the new restaurant, but I’m pretty familiar with her baking. She’s awesome.
Poirier tells me that they’re looking at doing six different pizzas and a few salads. They’re also playing with an optional gluten-free dough. The goal is to keep everything simple: “The menu will be very focused, very minimal.” In addition to pizza, they’ll be making their own soft serve ice cream (including a vegan option), pouring three beers and two wines on tap (possibly old school pitchers), and developing a signature juice with the guys at The Juice Truck.
Casey Burgess and Arnold Chan of Ply Architecture are on board to do the interior design (they just finished the build at Juke Fried Chicken), which Poirier says will be very different from the current aesthetic. It’s a beautiful old building with great bones, and I’m excited to see this corner of it getting a refresh. To get an idea of what they’ll be working with, the gallery below shows what it has looked like since February 2013 as Rainier Provisions.
Back in the present, Joe Pizza will stay softly opened for controlled services (eg. friends and family) for a few days and then prep for their grand opening, which is expected to be in the first week of February. Here are some photos from the dry-run yesterday: