Conor Joerin already had a hit restaurant on his hands before opening his latest spot earlier this month. He’s a co-owner of Sugo, the wildly popular Bloordale neighbourhood Italian joint known for its heaping plates of hearty pasta. But a visit to the Big Apple had him dreaming of dough. “Sitting in a Brooklyn pizzeria, I was watching the fire in a brick oven,” he says. He had two thoughts: Why was it so good? And could he get the same results in Toronto?
Joerin wanted to find out, and he didn’t have to venture far for the perfect spot. He’d been part-owner in the restaurants that inhabited the space next to Sugo for more than a decade, like The Emerson. “It’s the neighbourhood we grew up in,” he says. “So this seemed to be the natural direction.”
Joerin, alongside co-owners Alexander Wallen and Michelle Pennock, opened up Bar Sugo right next door to Sugo, to try and create the perfect pie, and follow in the footsteps of old-school, decidedly unfussy Toronto pizzamakers like Fresca and Bitondo. The secret behind Bar Sugo’s own mouth-watering options? According to Joerin, it’s organic flour, local buffalo mozzarella, and a wood-fire oven. Joerin also honours tradition, with a pizza oven made with bricks from Joerin’s old high school; framed pages from vintage boxing magazines serve as decoration. They also prioritize using GTA-made ingredients, sourcing local cheese, wine, pasta and flour. “It’s important for us to use high-quality ingredients,” he says, “and the local market offers all of these.”
For Joerin, one of the best parts about opening a pizzeria is what pizza represents. “Pizza is a good time,” he says, “and I like having a good time.” The low-key ease Sugo’s beloved for manifests in Bar Sugo as well with a curated selection of pies. Standouts include the Little Manila, with pineapple, jalepeno and basil, and the Bitondo, a meat-forward pie porked out with pepperoni, bacon, crumbled meatball and smoked mozzarella.
Above all else, the sauce is holy. They offer traditional red sauce, along with white sauce and pink sauce. Hankering for something alongside your slice of ‘za? They also serve Italian comfort classics like pasta, parmesan of various varieties and homemade tiramisu.
Now, Bar Sugo hopes to join Toronto’s packed list of world-class pizzerias and help families create a few memories of their own. “It’s fun to get together with friends and family and enjoy all the great pizzerias with each other,” Joerin says. “Everyone has a favourite pizza!”
Here, the pizza proprietor shares his own preferred pizza crawl for when he’s craving a slice.
Fresca Pizza & Pasta, 302 College St.
“As a kid, I attended Lord Lansdowne Junior Public School just up the street from Vinny Massimo Pizza and Pasta, which is now Fresca Pizza & Pasta. It was my go-to lunch option. One of my first food memories was buying a slice of pepperoni pizza from them and brushing their signature basil and garlic oil on it.”
Bitondo Pizzeria, 11 Clinton St.
“Another Neighborhood institution. I always grab a pepperoni slice and a cheese panzo — and dine in is a must. I love sitting inside and watching them make pies while I eat. It hasn’t changed a bit since I was a kid, which I love. I recommend getting some sauce on the side to put under the panzo and I love the meatball. It definitely inspired the one we make at Sugo.”
Pizzeria Badiali, 181 Dovercourt Rd.
“Probably the best slice in town right now. The rosé slice is my favourite and the weekly specials are always really creative and a nice change of toppings. Co-owner Ryan Baddeley and team have singlehandedly brought the slice shop back to the hood!”
Descendent Detroit Style Pizza, 1168 Queen St. E.
“Detroit-style pizza at its highest level without getting on the 401. They pay great attention to the balance of ingredients, dough, toppings, consistency. It sells out for a reason. I am always happy to make the drive across town and enjoy such good pizza in Toronto.”
The Sovereign Café, 1359 Davenport Rd.
“A really solid Roman-style slice. The owner is a perfectionist and the pizza has been something he’s been developing for quite some time. I really enjoyed the mushroom slice the last time I ate there. It’s on display next to the best scones in the city and makes a perfect quick lunch or snack. Don’t miss the coffee here: it’s the best cappuccino in town.”
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