First Look: Za Pizzeria opens in the Annex


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The new addition to the Bloor strip in the Annex, Za Pizzeria

Image: Jason Finestone

The new addition to the Bloor strip in the Annex, Za Pizzeria has championed a unique new style of pizza preparation, which they hope to scale out in speedy fashion. 

Forget the overhead of $15,000 for a Bakers Pride industrial pizza oven. $30,000 on a wood-fired Moretti Forni would be a waste. How about retrofitting a conventional restaurant grill with a custom top, tossing a couple pizza stones into the mix, some fire bricks, and opening up your own pizzeria for around two grand? Sounds like the price is right. 

 
Jason and Lisa Costantini have created a unique pizza grill at Za Pizzeria

 

The genius behind this inventive new way of cooking a classic is Jason Costantini. He and his wife, Lisa, started experimenting with grilled pizza up at her Lake Joseph cottage. Originally, the two contemplated opening a food truck, but bylaws and tricky logistics got in the way. With their families’ encouragement they took the time to develop the business plan and open a bricks-and-mortar shop.

Jason credited the financial savvy of his investment banker parents with his ability to conceptualize the approach, while Lisa’s experience expanding her father’s successful Venezuelan fast food chain, Arturos, into multiple new markets gave her the management chops the duo required. 

The menu at Za is broken into three parts — classics, signatures and specials — and all options come in three sizes — whole (14’’), half (7’’) and slices (1/4 of a pie). Slices range from $3 to $4.50 and whole pies from $9 to $15. Nearly everything is made fresh to order, even if you’re ordering just a slice, they’ll prep a whole pizza just for you, and they’ll only keep extra slices in the window for up to 30 minutes. 

 
Za's pepperoni pizza ($10) is made using pepperoni from Woodbridge's Dolce Lucano.

 

“Most of the time, when someone wants a slice, if I know I can’t immediately move the rest of it, I’ll just top the other 3/4 of the pizza with straight sauce and toss the remains,” Jason admits. “It costs me virtually nothing to do that, and I’d rather make sure someone gets the freshest product possible.” 

Having worked as a pizza maker at both Queen Margherita and Pizzeria Libretto, Jason is no stranger to the craft. And while Za does pump out the classic Margherita, Pepperoni, and Funghi, et al, he builds his pizza recipes in the same way as he would a dish. Signatures like the Za-flaki and the Meatball and specials like the Blue Bison, the Duck and Grapes, and French Onion Soup take all the components of what those dishes would require and build them onto a pizza crust. 

Meats are cooked sous vide prior to topping. Veggies are sautéed, caramelized and confit. Sauces are prepared in house. Given that Jason’s three custom pizza grills fit under a conventional restaurant hood, he still has space left over for an oven and a gas range to prep his mise en place. It’s a luxury that the average pizzeria doesn’t have, unless they require them for a more diverse menu. 

 
The BLT pizza ($15) is made with bacon and mozzarella, topped with arugula, tomatoes and house aioli. 

 

For now, a takeout counter and some bar seating by the window are all that will serve Za’s clientele, but the steady streams of customers don’t seem to complain. The grills are stoked with a blend of alder, hickory, apple and cherry wood. The alder and hickory impart a subtle smoke to the crust, while the apple and cherry give off a fruity aroma. It’s different than the common hardwood blends used in wood ovens. 

Daring to be different, Jason is also unconcerned with earning the VPN certification. He uses a Canadian version of pizza flour made by Robin Hood. Interestingly enough, it comes from the same Manitoba wheat used to make the doppio zero Caputo four, except it doesn’t get exported to Italy and then imported back to Canada. It costs under half the price. He and Lisa also brought in a UV water filtration system from Italy which helps produce an airy, crisp crust.

 
Executive chef and owner Jason Costantini uses Canadian flour and a special UV water filtration system to create the consistency of his dough,

 

“Don’t get me wrong, if I couldn’t produce the same quality product with these ingredients I wouldn’t do it,” Jason says. “But I’m actually happier with the end result, and when I can source a more local ingredient at a better cost, I’m all for it.”

And while his barbeque ovens only hit around 650 to 750°F, his pizzas still cook in under three minutes. The configuration of pizza stone on bottom helps to create a firm, crunchy base while the fire bricks on top reflect heat for a golden, blistered surface. He’s also fixed another stone on top of the fire bricks in a couple of his ovens to quick fire slices that have been sitting for a couple minutes. 

The husband-and-wife duo already have plans for a much larger sit down location, and their food truck idea hasn’t died either. They’re also working on patenting their grills to scale into new markets and supply to other restaurants. Whether Za Pizzeria is your preferred slice or not, Jason and Lisa Costantini have created the building blocks for a process that could revolutionize how you procure your pizza pie. 

Za Pizzeria, 402 Bloor St. W., 647-345-9292

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Jason is a freelance food and travel writer and the Chief Experience Officer at U-Feast, a website to discover unique, off-menu dining experiences. A lover of dumplings, noodle soups and schmaltz, his ethnically inclined palate is constantly searching for the next flavour wave in Toronto and beyond. Find him on Instagram @finest_one and on Twitter @j_finestone.

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