Pizzeria a mano

The newest addition to Bishop's Landing is a worthy one.

The Bertossi Group (Bish, Il Mercato) opened Pizzeria a Mano in Bishop’s Landing four months ago, on the former site of gelato shop. The pizza place evokes memories of Italy---of noisy neighbourhood trattorias, filled with the intoxicating aromas of fresh herbs, baking dough and red wine.

Upon entering, a fabulous dessert case catches my eye, as in all the Bertossi outlets. A long marble countertop leads around to a bar area on the left. On the right, small wooden tables snuggle together on the terracotta tile floor.

Along with pizza, Mano has other Italian meals. Soups, salads, appetizers and baked pastas share the menu with the pizzas and my mouth waters as I read.

Affetati misti ($9) is an Italian sub sandwich: a bun with cold cuts, asiago cheese and a sweet mustard dressing. It is what it is, no hidden flavours, no subtext, just a decent cold-cut sandwich. I wonder if it’s supposed to be served warm, as it’s listed under “forno” (oven), but the bread is cold.

The panzanella ($7) is wonderful: a Tuscan bread salad composed of crunchy toasted bread cubes, ripe cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions. Tossed with red wine vinaigrette, this is rustic food at its best. Melanzane alla parmigiana ($9), eggplant breaded and baked under cheese and tomato sauce is splendid.

The classic pollo al mattone ($14) also delights. This spicy chicken dish involves splitting the chicken so that it lies flat, then baking it under a weight (traditionally, a brick). The spice comes from a sprinkling of hot red-pepper flakes and the result is moist, tender poultry that screams “picnic food."

Pizza is the main attraction, of course, and the restaurant is dominated on one side by a pizza counter and brick pizza oven. With the pedigree of the eatery, I have high expectations. The selection of pizza certainly represents a broad spectrum of ingredients and taste: Everything from the simple pizza margherita (cheese, sauce, basil) to havaiana (charred pineapple, ham) is offered. They’re all the same size---one feeds two, if you have a starter. It’s hard to settle, but we choose polpette ($13) and tartufata ($14). Polpette is meatballs, mozza, garlic oil and tomato sauce, while the tartufata is an earthy blend of wild mushrooms, truffle oil and roasted onions.

When they arrive, however, I am underwhelmed. Although the crust is good, thin and baked nicely, the toppings don’t match the mouth-watering descriptions on the menu. On the polpette, the spicy meatballs are indeed spicy, although scarce. There isn’t much flavour anywhere else, though---no garlic makes itself known and although I see a splash of red, I don’t taste anything resembling sauce.

Likewise, the tartufata suffers from lack of flavour. Perhaps if the roasted onions had been allowed to roast and caramelize, the dish might have better pleased the palate. Alas, these pale yellow slabs of onion are awfully close to raw and that’s pretty much all we can taste. An easier hand with the onions might allow the subtle truffle oil more room to shine as well.

Although disappointed with my pizza choices, I’ll try Pizzeria a Mano again, if only for the bread salad and chicken. Because the dough is lovely, I’ll also try more pizza---different ones next time. The service here is excellent, friendly and professional (a trademark of Bertossi eateries), the atmosphere fun and lively and they do take-out. Located in the posh Bishop’s Landing complex, there’s no doubt this trattoria will do just fine.

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