Annex 53: Pizza IL Focolaio | Mr. Lew's Great Burger Search

1223 Phillips Square
Montreal, Quebec

Metro:  McGill
Bus:  STM  15, 61, 168, 420

Visit:  December 12, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a non-burger restaurant.  So, I decided that this opportunity would be as good as any to try something that I’ve been waiting nearly 15 years to try, a calzone.

My introduction to the calzone came from the Seinfeld episode where George introduces it to his boss, George Steinbrenner.  For those of you who know me well enough, you’ll know that I’m a fan of anything Seinfeld and anything vaguely Larry David related.  This episode made me wonder what the calzone was all about.

I came to find this restaurant around the time I started the Burger Search.  I put out a general question asking people where I could find a good calzone in Montreal.  Someone replied with a restaurant near Phillips Square.  I never really followed up because I was never given a name to go on.  Even though I pass by this area quite a bit, I never really stopped to scour the many businesses in the area.  Last week, I finally took the time to take a close look to confirm what I was waiting so long to try.  There are other places in Montreal that probably do the calzone, but this is the place I wanted to try it first.

For this instance, I decided to step in around 1 p.m., right after the heavy part of lunch rush.  If anything thought me a lesson in the past, it’s that downtown Montreal’s lunch rush never really ends until later than 1 p.m.  I was a little surprised to see the place so packed when I entered.  Normally, you can gauge what kind of crowd you’ll have by looking through the window.  I had a little trouble doing that because I could only see the immediate tables.  But, the one thing I did fortunately see was that they served cans of my favorite iced tea.  That was the first really good sign of the visit.

As I’m waiting in the entrance way, there are literally a half dozen individuals trying to settle their bills.  There were about 2-3 servers there, occupied, trying to keep up with the litany of full customers.  However, I was just standing there, waiting.  It wasn’t until all those people settled their debts that I was tended to.  I was then told that I could take any vacant table.  So, basically, I stood around for nothing.  That’s the one thing I dread about restaurant dining, having to figure out the various procedures for the many different kinds of restaurants.  It’s understandable here because there were so many people and it was my first time here, so I didn’t know how things worked.
The decor of the restaurant really tells you that you are in a pizza place.  You’ll easily spot the giant flag of Italy right above the bar.  You’ll see the various screens showing you scenic spots to visit in Italy.  Probably the best feature was the fact that you could see the pizza kitchen from wherever you were sitting.  You could easily see the three or so cooks putting together their latest pizza type creations.

As I mentioned earlier, the place was jam packed when I got there.  The place stayed rather full while I was there.  The turnover rate was pretty good as people came in rather regularly.  It’s been a recurring theme in my latest posts when I mention anything about great locations.  With this restaurant being in the heart of downtown, I don’t think there’s much of an excuse.  The fact that there were so many here after the late stages of lunch rush is always a positive sign.

The service was quite interesting.  At first, I wasn’t too keen with the distant reception that the server gave me.  It didn’t help when they came back and asked me to repeat my order, citing something about computers as the reason I had to recite #44 and an iced tea.  As the meal progressed, I felt things start to settle down in the customer-server relation.  It also helped that this server’s workload lessened a bit.  By the end, I felt a little more at ease with it all.

Menu - Front

Menu - Back

The last note of interest is the extreme vastness of the menu.  The menu is printed up on your place mat and items can be found on both sides.  I took a quick count of the menu and found over 70 pizza combinations to be tried.  While I was waiting for my food, I took a few good minutes to peruse the long list of choices.  I can only imagine what a person who can’t ever decide what they want would do if they were faced with this menu.  I’m so glad I didn’t go there for pizza on this occasion.  By the way, I think I only found 2 pizzas with Italian bacon, known as pancetta.  Whenever I see such large menus, I wonder how many times some of items are made.  I even wondered when the last time they made a calzone was.

Volcano Calzone

This calzone contains sauce, pepperoni, spicy Italian sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella, peppers, and pancetta.

For those of you who don’t know what a calzone, let me try to explain it to you.  A calzone is a semi-circle filled with your normal pizza fixings.  It’s more or less a folded over pizza.  It’s not to be confused with a stromboli because the sauce in a calzone is supposed to be outside the pocket.  The stromboli’s sauce is found on the inside.  I learned most of that from my many viewings of Travel Channel’s Man V. Food.  I needed to make the distinction between calzone and stromboli because it came up while I was eating this calzone.

This being my first ever calzone experience, I have no real point of reference.  I cannot tell you the fine points of what makes a good calzone like I try to do with burgers.  What I can do is tell you what I thought of it and compare that to all the pizzas I devoured over the years.

With all the warnings and disclaimers out of the way, I need to get back to the real reason why I mentioned the distinction between calzone and stromboli.  The simple fact was that I was never given any side sauce.  Now, I’m probably going to get a lot of people telling me something or another.  I then started to think that the sauce was inside the calzone, which wouldn’t have bothered me if it was.  That was the point where I was wondering if was eating a stromboli instead.  Then again, potatoe or potato.  The confusion only heightened when I felt the sauce wasn’t strong enough.  Now, that’s if there was any sauce to begin with.

When eating this calzone, I had to employ a certain strategy.  Since this was the first time, I cut a smaller piece at the end to simply try it.  Then, once having been satisfied with what I was eating, I then moved on to cut a larger piece, leaving half the calzone left.  I didn’t want to eat the thing with a fork and knife, because I’m somewhat against that method of pizza type eating.  So, I did what felt right in my heart and ate most of the calzone with the tools given to me at birth, my hands.  There was no real leakage, so the manual eating was quite easy, though napkin use was necessary.

The dough was something quite nice to me.  It wasn’t too overdone or crispy, which made it so much easier to conquer the pocket of meaty cheese.  It reminded me of some of the recent pizzas I had in 2011.  It was so nice, but it didn’t overpower the filings, which was a really good thing.

Speaking of fillings, it was really interesting to see how the calzone was topped.  I wasn’t expecting to see all the various meats on top of the calzone.  The meats themselves were fine, though they didn’t really stand out as much as I would’ve liked.  The only meat that really left any impact was the sausages.  I was a little disappointed because I was expecting a little more.

Even though I was a little let down by the impact that the fillings didn’t leave, I did enjoy the whole calzone experience.  The taste, though not as powerful as I would’ve liked, was still quite good, which made things so much easier to finish.  I was dreaded having to go into the restaurant and completely hate the thing.  Luckily, I did enjoy my first calzone experience.

Final Verdict

Overall, if you’re looking for a vast variety of pizza selections in Montreal, I think you now have a place that is centrally located and delivering on taste.  There are combinations for all your whims and I’m sure that anyone can find something to please them.  Now, that I’ve tried one calzone, I think I’ll be ready to see what else is out there.

Il Focolaio Pizza Resto on Urbanspoon

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