Toronto, ON M6H 1N7
Conzo’s is a casual pizzeria and eatery from the team behind Bloor West's popular Italian-American restaurant Sugo. The new spot is serving wood-fired pizzas, pasta, meats, and classic cocktails with a philosophy of simple recipes made with high-quality ingredients.
Following the success of Sugo, which opened its doors in 2016, partners Conor Joerin, Lamine Martindale, and Alex Wallen ventured to open Conzo’s this February.
“I grew up down the street from here,” explains chef and co-owner Conor Joerin. “Conzo was a nickname that was initially used to bully me as the only Irish kid in an Italian neighbourhood. It became my nickname, and when we were kicking around restaurant names it just seemed right to take some of that negativity and put it back out there with a positive spin.”
Joerin and his partners travelled across Canada and the U.S. to taste pizzas and develop their own recipe for the perfect pie, and it paid off. With seven choices for wood-fired pizzas made fresh in a hand laid brick oven, the inspiration behind each option work to defy traditional categories.
“The first time I ate Napoli pie was when Libretto opened on Ossington,” recounts Joerin. “So if I was going to sell you a story of ‘authentic’ Italian food, it would be fake. It’s not my story, and I didn’t want to do it. My story is: I grew up down the street, eating Italian-American food, and so we tried pizzas everywhere from Detroit to California to Ontario and found our own narrative.”
Executive chef Ivan Kuuts works closely with pizzaiolo Fusako Shimada to craft each pizza to order.
The zucchini pizza ($28) has a white sauce base, and is accompanied by basil pesto, fior de latte, and thin rounds of zucchini topped with dollops of whipped ricotta. It’s finished with black pepper, basil, and olive oil.
The pepperoni pizza ($28) has the perfect amount of kick with small flavourful cuts of meat, onion, chili, and basil.
The Sicilian-style skirt steak ($18) is grilled and finished with olive oil, salt, and fish sauce. Having worked in Vietnam, Joerin has a particular affinity for kicking meat dishes up a notch with a quality umami-inducing fish sauce.
The fettucine ($18) is freshly made by Famiglia Baldassarre and topped with Sugo’s recipe for a rich tomato sauce, Padano cheese, olive oil, and scallions.
Though the popular Bar Ape doesn’t usually make their gelato available in the winter, you’ll be able to find a few of their delicious gelato bars at Conzo’s year-round.
“When you come to Sugo or Conzo’s,” says Joerin, “we’re cooking our story for you. My business partner Lamine and I grew up in Little Italy: one kid of Irish descent and one of West African descent. We were called nasty things and told we couldn’t cook Italian food. But it’s really something to welcome those people back in, give them a bit of love, and show them that we grew up in the same places, eating the same foods.”
Mixologist Drew Dinsmore is behind the bar, pouring classic cocktails like the amaretto sour ($11).
The showstopper on this cocktail menu is the espresso martini ($11), which is silky, packed with complementary flavours, and mixed with vodka and Kahlua.
When you walk into Conzo’s there are a series of small tables with checkered white and red tablecloths. The bar comes up on your left, and high-top tables stretch out on the right. The pasta and meats are prepared further down to the left, flanked by a bar with stool seating. The place is casual and bright, and your eye is drawn down to the kitchens beautiful brick wood-fired oven.
“We realized all the pizzas we loved on our tasting tour were coming out of wood ovens,” says Joerin. “So even though it delayed construction, we had to do it. The high school Lamine and I went to was being torn down, so I hopped the fence and took a few bricks from it, and we put them in the façade of the oven.”
“It’s things like that,” Joerin continues, “doing this when I was told I couldn’t, having Conzo’s as the name, that mean so much to me now. We just want to show people that you can take some of that negative stuff and use it to build community. Toronto is the perfect place for that narrative.”
By: Saliha Chattoo, Posted: Mar. 6, 2020