Romolo Salvati and Massimo Di Lascio, two chefs whose flour-dusted fingers lovingly sculpted some of Toronto's favourite pizza at Queen Margherita Pizza, have brought a little bit of Naples to Kensington Market with Pizzeria Via Mercanti, which has taken over the space formerly occupied by the Back Alley Woodfire BBQ and Grill.
Salvati and Di Lascio are old friends who share a Neapolitan provenance and a passion for some of the most essential Italian delights: pizza, fresh pasta and espresso. Via Mercanti, their first venture as chef-owners since emigrating from Italy, pays tribute to their original pizzeria nestled on Via dei Mercanti — the merchant's way — in coastal Salerno.
It's no fluke, then, that the new pizzeria ended up in Toronto's historic marketplace.
“I love the market,” says Salvati. “In Naples, all the best pizzerias are in the markets.”
Via Mercanti currently houses two wood-burning ovens — which Salvati hopes to replace with ovens from Naples in the near future — as well as a rotisserie (destined to yield golden, slow-cooked porchetta) and a glistening hulk of a pasta machine which, during our visit, had just churned out three tubs of fresh gigli noodles. A legendary Faema E61 espresso machine looks right at home atop the restaurant's concrete bar.
Evidence of characteristic Italian perfectionism isn't limited to the duo’s preference for top-notch machinery. Fundamental ingredients like flour and canned D.O.P. pomodoro San Marzano — yes, tomatoes that boast a terroir and the only fruit deemed suitable for real Neopolitan pizza sauce — are imported from Italy. In fitting with traditional Neapolitan rubric, pizzas are flash-baked for 60-90 seconds at around 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
The menu is succinct and traditional. Pizza selection includes a classic Margherita ($10), the scarpariello ($14) topped with garlic, chilies, parmesan and black pepper, and the sauceless broccoli e salsiccia ($15), scattered with sautéed rapini, sausage and fior di latte.
Fresh pasta and bread are prepared daily, and a modest wine selection focuses on bold southern Italian reds with some Portuguese and Spanish bottles thrown in for good measure.
Via Mercanti's airy, wood-heavy interior is the ideal space in which to enjoy the rustic, gracefully executed fare.
“It's simple, like the old days, and with the best ingredients,” says Salvati. “It's the real stuff, nothing fancy.”
Via Mercanti is currently open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday and plans to open seven days a week in the coming months.
Pizzeria Via Mercanti, 188 Augusta Ave., 647-343-6647