Review: Joe Tomato’s

August 25, 2009

Joe Tomato's

Address: 1020 10th Street West, Owen Sound

Alana had: A panzerotti with olives, feta, and tomatoes, and a beer.

Rich had: Cheese tortellini in a rose sauce, with garlic bread and a Caesar.

Plus: Tasty Caesars. Decent panzerotti.

Minus: Weak pasta. Generic atmosphere.

Rating: 6 trivia cards out of 10

Alana sez: While in cottage country to celebrate our 1-year anniversary, Rich and I decided to boost the romance by taking in some haute cinema: G.I. Joe. We had some time to kill before the film, so we headed across the parking lot toward the nearest restaurant, Joe Tomato’s, to grab some lunch.

The inside of the place is decorated like your typical chain family-style restaurant — it actually reminded me a lot of Jawny Bakers, which is to say it had a very generic feel about it. The lunch menu covered your usual pub grub, pasta, and pizza selections. We quickly decided on pasta (Rich) and a panzerotti (Alana) and placed our order, lest we miss the beginning of our movie. Because that would have been a tragedy. And by “tragedy,” I mean “blessing” — G.I. Joe was brutal.

Rich sipped on his Caesar and I on my beer while we waited. Our food took no time at all, and I was soon digging into my panzerotti. I had asked the kitchen to stuff mine with feta, fresh tomato, and black olives — the result was a gigantic and super-flavourful Pizza Pop, with the perfect dough-to-filling ratio. I was somewhat impressed. The only real downside was the small bowl of cold marinara dipping sauce on the side, which had obviously gone straight from jar to plate.

Considering it’s the only restaurant in the area, we could have done a lot worse than Joe Tomato’s. That said, our lunches were really nothing special. Joe Tomato’s turned out to be a great precursor to G.I. Joe — the perfect pairing for those days when you want to celebrate mediocrity. Like your 1-year anniversary. Blerg.

Rich sez: Before you read this, keep in mind that I was just getting over food poisoning or some sort of stomach flu when we ate at Joe Tomato’s, so my judgement might be altered. And here we go…

The cheese tortellini in rose sauce … I am all for cheese, love it, can’t live a day without it, but there was more shredded Cracker Barrel marble cheese melted on top of my dish than there were tortellinis in my bowl. And what was up with the giant chunks of green onions?! The garlic bread tasted like frozen garbage, and the tortellini was definitely pre-packaged. I honestly think they just gave me one of those pasta dishes from Pizza Hut — you know the commercial with the family who is blind-folded, driven around the block a few times, sat down at their own dining room table thinking they’re at a fancy restaurant, fed some Pizza Hut pasta, and when the blind-folds come off they are shocked to find that they could get such high quality pasta by delivery? If you pay close attention to the disclaimer at the end of the commercial, it says “You can also enjoy this dish at your local Joe Tomato’s.”

Much better than the pasta was their Caesar. It was really tasty — for the rimmer they used hot sauce , and for more flavour they squeezed lime and lemon wedges into my drink. It was also served in a mason jar style glass. GOOD ONE, Joe.

JT FUN FACT: They have trivia cards at every table from various board games, so if you are out on a romantic 1st date(or in our case, 1 year anniversary … LOL. Sad.), and you need an ice-breaking conversation starter, look no further than Joe Tomato’s.

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pizza libretto

 Address: 221 Ossington Ave, Toronto

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: The Locally-Inspired 4-Course $25 Prix Fixe Menu

Plus: Excellent value. Local ingredients. Fresh and tasty eats. Amazing olive oil!

Minus: Impersonal service. Hipster vibe may have been taken a little too far.

Rating: 8 ironic t-shirts out of 10

Alana sez: When I heard that Pizzeria Libretto was doing a prix fixe menu featuring local ingredients, I couldn’t wait to check it out. I was already a big fan of their Neapolitan pizza, but I was curious to see how they would work Ontario-sourced food into a wider menu. Rich and I, along with our pals Steve and Lisa, headed down to Ossington this past weekend to give it a go.

We decided to head down to the area early, because Pizzeria Libretto tends to get busy. Like, lineups-out-the-door busy. We hunkered down across the street at the Crooked Star so that we could sip on some unique Caesars while we waited for the restaurant to open. As I was enjoying my spicy and delicious Jerk Caesar, we started to notice a small group of people gathering outside of Pizzeria Libretto. At 3:30 PM. On a Sunday. Clearly, there is a lot of hype around this little joint — we were hoping the prix fixe menu would live up to the reputation.

When we finished our cocktails, we crossed the street and headed into Pizzeria Libretto. The space is decorated largely in stainless steel and wood and, despite the rope lights over the bar and the communal table at the back, has a somewhat cold and unfriendly feel to it. As we were led to our table by one of the many young and hipster-fashionable wait staff, I couldn’t help but feel that Pizzeria Libretto is too cool for me — like that friend in high school who would make you feel like an idiot for not knowing about that hall in the next small town that throws rave parties on the weekends.

This vibe continued as we sat down and were given menus by our waiter, who seemed like he would rather be somewhere else — somewhere more ironic and, thereby, more awesome. Throughout our meal the service, although extremely efficient and responsive, was also distracted and impersonal. I don’t need my waiter to be my best friend — just don’t make me feel like less of a person because I don’t have a unicorn/kitten/howling wolf on my shirt.

We started by picking a red wine from the Ontario wine list, which was quickly dismissed by our waiter as being inferior. He suggested a different, similarly-priced one from their regular list, the 2006 Brigaldara Valpolicella, and quickly brought the bottle over to our table. His suggestion was a good one — this was a very tasty wine. As we enjoyed it, we chose the items we would like from the prix fixe menu. I settled on the Ontario pea soup to start, the rapini pizza featuring Ontario Fiore Di Latte mozzarella, and the Ontario strawberries for dessert.

The first course brought to our table was the “chef’s choice” bruschetta. We had specified vegetarian, so the six slices of toasty baguette placed in front of us were topped with combinations like baby tomatoes and basil or roasted tomatoes with a mild white cheese. We shared and sampled all the options, and agreed that they all tasted fantastic — fresh, bold flavours. Along with the bruschetta, we were given some italian bread and olive oil for dipping. This olive oil was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s flavour was as vibrant as its bright yellow colour, and I could have dipped bread in that oil all day. It’s a good thing our starters came out soon after.

Placed in front of me was a bowl of bright green soup, drizzled with some of that delicious olive oil. I dived in to find that the mild sweetness of the Ontario peas and the smooth mouthfeel of the pureed soup made for an ethereal eating experience. I wanted that bowl to last forever, and as I scooped up the last few bites, I felt a profound sense of loss. Luckily, my pizza was on the move towards our table.

My pizza was about 11-inches in diameter, and topped with bright green rapini, black olives, dollops of goat cheese, and the Ontario mozarella. I couldn’t wait to dig in. The crust at Pizzeria Libretto is very thin and cooked in an extremely hot oven, giving it a crispy, slightly charred taste and texture in the style of Neapolitan pizza. In fact, as of July 22nd, Pizzeria Libretto is the first restaurant in Canada  to be VPN certified to make authentic Neapolitan pizzas. Kudos to them! You can taste the difference — my pizza was very flavourful, and I loved dipping the crust into the chile-infused olive oil that was brought to our table. That stuff is like crack.

We were pretty stuffed after our pizzas, but there was still some room for dessert. My Ontario strawberries were served with Zabaglione, a sweet and very light custard. I could tell that the strawberries were locally grown — they had a sweetness and juicyness that no supermarket strawberries can ever achieve. The bitterness of my excellent espresso matched perfectly with the dessert and, with the end of my meal, I was completely sated. As we poured out onto the street to head to Steve and Lisa’s place for Taboo and more wine, we all agreed that our dinners had been fabulous, but we could have done with a little less hipness on the side.

 Rich sez:   The Crooked Star — Easily by far the best place in Toronto, with the best variety, for a Caesar lover. I ordered the Tandoori, Alana had a Jerk, and our friend Steve decided to experiment with the Mustard and Capers Caesar. I sampled all three and found the Tandoori still to be my favorite. The Jerk was very light and spicy. The Mustard and Capers …  people who hate Caesars usually say they don’t like drinking a meal. Well, that was exactly the way I felt with the Mustard and Capers. It tasted fine, but it was like drinking a Clamato milkshake. I do not, NOT, recommend trying this Caesar — you just might have no room for dinner after you’re finished. After a couple of rounds of Caesars I felt like we were  living in a Mott’s Clamato commercial — I swear that, once we got a Caesar, everybody that was in the bar with us (1 guy) ordered Caesars.

 Oh yeah we are reviewing Pizzeria Libretto

On to Pizzeria Libretto –- For my appetizer I had … Where does the word appetizer come from anyway? Did waiters just get tired of asking “How can we fill your appetite, Sir?”, and to add a cool factor they threw in a Z??? Sorry, I am watching  Seinfeld as I write this, LOL.  So for my appetite, sir, I had the Caprese Salad concoction that was bright, fresh, and lightly dressed. Mouth watering. For my pizza, I was in the mood for some craziness that night so I decided to hop on board the WILD mushroom ride. It was a good thin crust pizza with fresh mushrooms and tarragon, but it wasn’t waiting-in-line-out-the-door-for-an-hour worthy. Luckily we did go in a little early to avoid the crowd, but if we were to go there again and there was a line, I would just keep walking to the next joint.

I don’t mind Pizzeria Libretto; I just don’t get the hype.  Yes, they have fresh ingredients and a certain style of pizza, Neapolitan I think, for which I guess now they’ve been awarded something called a VPN certificate.  I’m just not the biggest fan of that type of pizza. I just had a cheese pizza from Vesuvios in the Junction a few weeks prior, and that was fantastic. And if it is the thin crust you crave, try out Terroni’s for their southern Italian style. Don’t get me wrong — I would recommend trying out Pizzeria Libretto. I loved the appetizers and desserts. When it comes to pizza, however, I would just rather stay at home and make my own with Alana, which is just what we did a few days later.