Pizzeria Libretto
By Darcy Streitenfeld

King West's Chance at Pizza Glory

The word “libretto,” meaning “booklet” in Italian, is used colloquially to describe the act of folding pizza, which allows you to eat even the gooiest, cheesiest slice with your hands. Pizzeria Libretto, the immensely popular Toronto pizza restaurant group, has been producing that same style of delightfully soft pizza since 2008.

“We don’t aim to be number one, but we do aim to be everyone’s favourite,” says Gary Quinto, managing partner for the company. Libretto credits the stringent quality control of their food with their high level of approval among Torontonians. When you sit down at King West's Pizzeria Libretto location, you're eating handmade pizza dough and gelato made from scratch right in their kitchen.

We take great pride in keeping the integrity of the food, we make as much in house as possible. - Gary Quinto, managing partner
Executive chef, Rocco Agostino, is proud of Libretto's newest location.
Executive chef, Rocco Agostino, is proud of Libretto's newest location. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld
A meat lovers' dream perfectly spiced 'nduja sausage, creamy fior di latte and fresh basil. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld

Three Guys, a Plan and a Pizza Parlour

Max Rimaldi, Pizzeria Libretto’s founding partner, had long toyed with the possibility of setting up a proper Italian pizzeria on Ossignton Avenue. In 2008 he roped in Rocco Agostino, Libretto’s executive chef, whom he worked with at noted classic Italian eatery, Ciao Bella. “People gravitate to pizza,” says Gary. “The smell alone hits childhood memories.” So when Max, Gary and Rocco realized that no one was doing authentic Neapolitan style pizza, they jumped on the opportunity. Max sent for an epic wood-burning oven made from volcanic rock from Naples, and the rest was pizza-making history.

When Ossington’s Libretto opened its doors, the hesitant partners had no idea what to expect. You see, 2008 was long before the hipster invasion of the now painfully fashionable strip. The street was still awash with Portuguese bakeries, auto shops and dive bars. But they soon found out there was no reason to worry. “We ran out of dough in the first week,” says Rocco. “Toronto immediately embraced the concept.” Now the renowned restaurant group has five locations, with eight ovens between them and no signs of slowing any time soon.

Who can say no to a plate of saucy, pan seared gnocchi? Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld
Don't forget a glass of expertly selected Italian vino to wash down those delicious carbs. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld

A Sacred Process

Both Gary and Rocco agree that making pizza is about an adherence to a time-old process that connects both the old and the new world of Italian gourmet culture. Pizza basics are finite. Local ingredients add freshness and flavour but some elements should never be tampered with. Sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes, and dough is made from Italian Caputo flour. Period.

During a semester in Rome, chef Rocco mastered the art of Italian cooking. “It comes down to three key factors: simplicity, seasonality and quality of ingredients. All you need is a few items per dish,” he explains. That's why Pizzeria Libretto's menu rotates and remains seasonal – with reoccurring crowd favourites, of course. Desirable dishes like the Caprese salad are only available in the summer months when local tomatoes are at their juiciest, but you can get the same salad in the winter with beets swapped in for tomatoes, adding an earthy sweet goodness to the classic Italian salad.

The gnocchi is pan seared to perfection and served with a hearty tomato and nduja sausage ragu that is sure to provide warmth on even the coldest day. On the pizza front, there is of course a perfect Margherita D.O.P. with San Marzano tomatoes, basil and an impossibly creamy fior di latte (fresh mozzarella). Libretto won’t leave meat lovers in the lurch either; they offer everything from the classics like nduja sausage and prosciutto to a playful take on a duck confit, which takes a white pizza and adds mozzarella and bosc pear.  For the dolce (sweet) course, try the handmade vanilla bean gelato or, even better, enjoy it in the form of an affogato (with a shot of their expertly pulled Italian style espresso).

Functional caged storage, raw wood, red steel and smooth leather combine to create a warm, yet minimalist industrial vibe. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld
Libretto offers enough seating to suit any occasion. Feel the realness of those original exposed ceiling beams. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld

Libretto Means Community

Every Libretto looks similar to help customers feel a sense of home upon entering, but at the same time, each location maintains its own special flair. The King West location is nestled down a dark alley just east of Portland Street in a partial basement with giant windows and great industrial bones. The team at Libretto kept the warm wooden beams, exposed brick and concrete floors to harness the building’s natural beauty. Irfan Bukhari of Bukhari Design created a cool and comfortable vibe with cool neutrals, natural fibres and a splash of eye-catching red for panache. The whole effect is cool and comfortable, modern yet approachable.

Five locations strong and still drawing new clientele and loyal regulars through the doors every day of the week, Pizzeria Libretto has become a Toronto staple. King West is drawing the young professionals native to the area in droves, and the people are loving what they get. “Though, there’s still a few neighbourhoods in Toronto that could use a Libretto,” teases Gary.

Libretto is as much as community as it is about pizza, donating 200 pizzas every Wednesday in the summer months to Evergreen Brickworks’ Evergreen Pizza night, feeding 300 to 400 hungry folks. They also provide a sizeable stack of savoury pies to Home Grown Pizzas in the Park, a monthly fundraiser for the David Suzuki foundation in Christie Pitts Park. Pizzeria Libretto: now feeding souls and bellies on King West.

Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld
Pizzeria Libretto's King West location presents an unassuming alley way entrance. Photo by Darcy Streitenfeld
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