Toronto definitely offers an impressive amount of pizza joints across the city. From Pizzeria Libretto to Queen Margherita to Piola, the options are endless. But competitors across the city have reason to fear Pizzeria Defina — Roncesvalles’ award-winning pizzeria.
Before even mentioning how delicious the food is at this quaint Roncesvalles space, the atmosphere and décor themselves are worth pointing out. With dark wood flooring, exposed brick, and dim lighting, the restaurant's current elegance makes it seem impossible that this space was once home to dingy take-out pizza parlour, Cosa. Open since August 2011, the new restaurant’s woodworked tables and iron bar stools are enough to draw you in — on top of the wafting scents from the wood-burning oven.
During the weekend, you’ll be hard-pressed to get a seat as soon as you walk in because this little place fills quickly. But the wait is never too long, and whenever the bar seats are free, you’re more than welcome to wait there.
Be warned, though — once you’ve tasted the pizza here, you'll never complain about the wait again, nor will you want pizza from anywhere else.
Owner Roksolana Curkowskyj explains that the creative approach to pizza is what really drives the restaurant. She explains,
"The ideas are endless. You can do so much with pizza — each pie can be different. Seasonal ingredients really allow for that creativity too."
Curkowskyj has ideas for harvest flavours, as well spring and summer tastes, and she always enjoys making something different and exciting. But she also adds that it’s important to her to maintain “respect for the tradition” of pizza making.
She has drawn inspiration from different cuisines and incorporated them into the menu with the help of her pizzaioli. The Roncy ($16), for example, has Polish roots, with pancetta and Yukon gold potatoes true to Roncesvalles' local heritage.
"My children always loved pizza. Pizza for us was a big thing. Even growing up, when I was a child, pizza was always something to look forward to,"
says Curkowskyj happily. For her, that was a deciding factor in opening a pizzeria that welcomed neighbourhood families — among many other guests.
Sitting at the back of the restaurant, you can watch as the pizzaiolo spins his pies. The back tables are filled with young families and trendy adults who smile as the pizzas fly into the air. Defina has also installed a projector on the back wall and screens movies and shows daily against the white brick. There's artwork on display throughout the restaurant, often showcasing local artists.
Before filling up on pizza, it's worth trying one of the small plates found on Defina’s menu. The wild boar meatballs ($10) are a favourite for most regulars at Defina, smothered in great sauce and perfectly seasoned. The mixed greens ($11) include pear, stilton, and roasted pecans with vegetable chips and are reasonably priced given their ingredients.
Most important, of course, are the pizzas. Of the vegetarian options, my favourite for the moment is the bufala ($16) — warm thin-crust pizza in your choice of Napoletana- or Roma-style dough with San Marzano tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, olives, oregano, and basil. Sometimes simple is best, and this pizza was proof.
For meat lovers, the Pumba ($16) is a local favourite, topped with wild boar meatballs, San Marzano tomato sauce, fior di latte, mushrooms, grana pandano, and caramelized shallots.
If you’re craving pizza and you'd like a casual atmosphere where you can still feel like you’re out for a nice dinner, this restaurant won't disappoint. The idea of Pizzeria Defina is to "really create a fulfilling dining experience," says Curkowskyj. She adds,
"I want people to expect a good-quality pizza, but it’s not just that. It’s the whole experience — watching the pizzas being made and enjoying the whole atmosphere."