Review:You Gotta Eat Here:Barrie:Pie Wood Fired Pizza

John Catucci left a bad taste in my mouth after my visit to Dr. Laffa. So I must admit a was a bit reluctant to place a take out order at Pie Wood Fired Pizza during a recent trip to Barrie. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I picked up the phone and ordered three pies for the trip home. This isn’t an easy task, however, since there are around 20 choices ranging from classic pies, crazy pies and hold the tomato pies.  There is even a $100 fois gras and black truffle pizza.

Pie Wood Fired Pizza is located in one of the many large malls that hug the 400.  Easy to see from the highway, it’s slightly harder to find.  Based on the menu (and the name of the restaurant), pizza is the mainstay and it supported by some pastas, sandwiches and appetizers from calamari to salty balls. Upon arrival, I noticed that the front was plastered with You Gotta Eat Here propaganda.   For example, there was a rather large poster with a proclamation from John Catucci himself….”I love the taste of pie…it’s delicious”.

SIgn Outside Pie Wood Fired Pizza
SIgn Outside Pie Wood Fired Pizza

The interior is a cross between an Italian bistro and a sports bar.  Its quite open with nicely spaced tables and a large bar along the back.  The walls are lined with posters and paraphernalia  with plenty of pie, pizza and beer references.  A blackboard explains the daily drink specials (long island ice tea, ceasars etc for $6).  I paid for the pies and went on my way.

Pizza one was the Pepperoni pie…the easy solution for any child under the age of 10. There was no shortage of any of the promised toppings and passed the kid test quite easily.  It had that crust pliability that provides great entertainment value as well as taste for the young ones. Not bad for $12 either.

Pizza two was the St. Lucia pie…a Hawaiian type topped with tomato, pineapple, house smoked bacon, mozzarella and shredded coconut.  Other than the coconut, I have yet to understand the correlation between the name and the toppings.  That aside, it was a delicious pizza.  The bacon was sliced thin and  full of flavour.  Chunks of fresh pineapple and the subtle use of coconut add a delicious sweetness.  The toppings were abundant but didn’t compromise the integrity of the delicate thin crust.

pie st lucia

The third pie was the tomatoless cow pie, named for the use of braised beef shank as the main protein.  It reminded me of a steakhouse dinner on a crust as it came complete with roasted potato, spinach, mushrooms, onion, cheese Sauce and parmesan. Once again, despite the cornucopia of toppings, the crust was not compromised at all.  The pototoes were tender and the ingredients were presented in a good proportion.

Cow Pie $14.50
Cow Pie $14.50

My Take

Traditionally, really good thin crust pizzas are reserved for  enotecas  such as Queen Margarita or Terroni located along the trendy streets of urban centres.  One wouldn’t suspect some of the best pizza going lives in a commercial area in Barrie, Ontario. The concept is brilliant; make pizza the mainstay of a sports/casual  bar theme.  Instead of serving a default, thick-crusted, warmed up pizza in order to add diversity to a burger and fry centric menu, Pie makes pizza the star. Sure, some of the crazy pies may appear a bit gimmicky (eg. captain pie liner, hedge hog, green egg and ham etc.) but I don’t doubt each is made with the same attention to detail as the ones I ordered to make a stellar product.Although I can’t comment on the service in the restaurant, it will be a place I will at least think about when driving to and from Northern Ontario instead of hitting the En Route or one of the many crowded chains along Bayfield street.

In the end, I fully agree with John Catucci…

“I love the taste of pie.”

Hmmm…now how would I add one of those winky faces?

Pie on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:You Gotta Eat Here:Dr. Laffa

The recent surge in food with a middle eastern flare is evident. Shawarma stands and restaurants have popped up all over Ontario.  I don’t doubt that at some point a Shawma Wars show will appear on  CMT beside the battles between burgers, pizza and tacos. Until then. the battle for the best shawrma has to be left to the likes of  numerous Toronto blogs and celebrities like John Catucci.

So, when I was peckish for a pita, Dr. Laffa seemed a logical choice.  Although located in an industrial area around Dufferin and Lawrence (actually there is a second location on Bathurst located across from Harold the Jewelry Buyer of commercial fame), it is a bustling joint even on a Sunday. Dr. Laffa has been featured on You Gotta Eat Here and has been crowned with the title of Toronto’s best shawrma by BlogTo a few years back.

Upon entry, I was surrounded by smiling waitstaff and seated in the back corner.  I got there just prior to the lunch rush and narrowly avoided the arrival of a large birthday party which filled half of the seats in the modestly sized interior. The menu gives a loose description of the restaurant’s concept which essentially equates laffa bread with manna from heaven itself.  Baked fresh to order, It’s sort of a cross between pita and naan bread.  It is available with hummus orders as well as an option for any of the sandwiches.

Laffa Bread
Laffa Bread

We were immediately treated with a spread of condiments which included pickles, cabbage, corn salad and carrots.  My favourite was the cabbage although they were all pretty tasty.

Dr. Laffa "Starters"
Dr. Laffa “Starters”

Ordering turned out to be quite the ordeal.  The word “shawarma” on a menu can imply a number of different things.  Both myself and my daughter are fans but we both have an aversion for lamb.  I inquired into the content of the shawarma and after great deliberation by numerous members of the waitstaff, I was told it contained both lamb and chicken and it appeared there was no way to change this fact.  Both of us called an audible and ordered the falafel and chicken shish kabob sandwiches respectively.  I decided to break the bank and go for the laffa whereas my daughter played it safe with the pita.

I started with the hummus masabaha (chickpeas and tahini).  It was a rather large portion served with one piece of laffa.  Creamier than most, it had a mild, pleasant flavour.  If you like an earthy, garlicky dip you may be a bit disappointed.   Be prepared to be left with a whole lot of hummus as well since the amount of bread is not nearly enough.

Hummus Masabaha $7.99

I decided to take a stroll to the counter to check out the open kitchen.  It was at this point I realized that a chicken shawarma was possible (I had initially assumed that the lamb and chicken was stacked on the same stick).  I explained to the guy that we were told otherwise and asked if we can  switch.  He looked at me rather perplexed but reluctantly agreed….or so I thought.  Back at the table, I updated the waitress.  Sure enough, out come the kabab laffa with the explanation “well, it wasn’t in the computer and he didn’t know which one to switch”.  There was no offer to remedy.  Furthermore, she didn’t order the laffa to begin with! She was stuck with a laffa instead of a pita (for an extra $3 a pop for chicken laffa I’ll add). I would have almost forgiven the whole ordeal if the sandwich would have been mind blowing. The plaque on the wall boasting Dr. Laffa’s commitment to the importance of pickled turnips, hummus and hot sauce as a key component of a shawarma was  misleading because what was sitting in front of us was a sloppy mess of hummus-laden lettuce and huge chunks of onion overpowering the chicken and falafel.  Although the chicken wasn’t dry and the falafel was moist and nicely seasoned, the sourness of the pickle and heat of the sauce were near absent.

Falafel on Laffa $5.99
Falafel on Laffa $5.99

My son ordered fries for $4.99. They were fresh cut and ample ketchup was available so he was happy.

Fries $4.99
Fries $4.99

At this point the birthday party had pretty much arrived and we were left stranded for a while.  Eventually, we were asked if we wanted to take the sandwiches home and the waitress carefully wrapped them table side which was a nice touch. After another lengthy wait we were given the bill and navigated our way out.

My Take

Despite the dismal dining conditions that exist in London Ontario, there are many great middle eastern choices. I can grab a decent shawarma on almost every corner. If Dr. Laffa is the best shawarma in Toronto, then London wins hands down.   I don’t expect Michelin star service in places like this but I get rather annoyed when simple things go wrong.  The ability to provide a simple chicken shawarma on a pita to a 13 year old does not seem like an impossible feat but proved to be so on this day.  It lacked the fundamental elements of a good sandwich that I though would be automatic in a place raved about on You Gotta Eat Here and Blogto.  My falafel was decent but not heads and tails above others I have had. Some patrons have commented that the laffa should not be a dollar and a half  to three dollars more than the pita but I suspect it is bigger  in general given the amount of filling necessary to stuff the plate-sized bread (this is a theory  I never got to test out since I never got a pita to compare it to). Otherwise, the hummus was good and the starting “treats” were a nice touch.    Despite everything, the place was packed, so there appears to be no shortage of fans.   In the end, I went to the doctor but I didn’t leave laffing.

Dr. Laffa Restaurant on Urbanspoon