Morris East has been getting a lot of attention since it opened in August, all of it good. We're a town of pizza lovers and have plenty of great take-out joints, but not too many offering what you might class as "gourmet" pizza. Morris East's claim to pizza fame is its wood-fired oven (imported from Italy) and I'm looking forward to tasting the offerings I've heard so much about.
The first night we're there, it's crazy busy. There are people waiting on the sidewalk to get in and we use our time to peer through the glass windows and watch other people eat, in hopes of making them chew faster—and to check out the decor. Morris East is small, narrow and has a very urban lofty feel. There is exposed brickwork and ductwork, high ceilings and a long bar, behind which hangs a blackboard menu.
We don't have a long wait before we're inside. I hear a server explaining to another guest they've been extremely busy since getting press attention.
I can't say things go especially well on that first night. The server forgets to tell us whole wheat and gluten-free crusts are an option. After we've placed our order, we hear these choices given to another table and it really disappoints my dinner companion, a devotee of whole wheat. Our pizzas are not completely cooked and are completely, forgettably bland. There are long waits between appetizers and mains (not a problem, if the pizzas had been cooked) and while we couldn't get a drink refill, we were asked by at least four staff members how our meals were.
We do manage to get the undercooked pizzas boxed to take home and when I finish cooking them the next day, I'm surprised at how good they are. The doughy heaviness is gone, replaced by a light, crispy thin crust. I think it's possible Morris East is a victim of its own rapid success and I decide to go back for a more accurate picture. In fact, I make two trips back, one for take-out and one on a slower evening.
Over the course of three visits, I explore much of the small menu (about a half-dozen starters, fewer than 10 types of pizza, and house-made desserts). A salad ($7) of greens, pancetta, croutons and roast garlic vinaigrette is deceptively simple and impeccably fresh.
Stuffed portobello mushrooms ($8) with goat cheese and tomato are meaty enough for even a hard-core carnivore. The dips ($8) are the only disappointment—an artichoke dip is lacking in flavour, and a garlic/red pepper puree tastes of neither.
The pizzas ($12 each) are indeed exceptional. Toppings are creative and of high quality—local, organic and fresh, for most of them.
We try the simple tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, the Pork Shop hot Italian sausage with caramelized onion and red pepper, the oven-roasted vegetable with goat cheese and the duck confit with hoisin sauce (by far, my favourite, for its originality).
Morris East has a small but nice selection of wines by the glass, a real treat in a pizza house. There are also a few microbrew offerings and the ubiquitous Keith's available.
I'm glad I made the return visits, or I might have missed the pizza goodness that has everyone abuzz. The service is warm and competent and I'm sure that as things settle down, nights like my first at Morris East will be few and far between.
Morris East5212 Morris Street444-7663 Tues-Sat: 11:30am-2:30pm Wed-Thurs: 5pm-9pmFri and Sat: 5pm-10pmSun: 5pm-9pm
Liz Feltham keeps you comin’ back for more. Online, that is. Check foodcritic.ca.