Il Focolaio: The Last of the Wood Oven Pizzas
Montreal has a small bastion of restaurants and pizzerias that still concoct pizzas in a traditional wood oven. Il Focolaio is one of them, among the last of a dying breed courtesy of city regulations controlling the proliferation of the admittedly polluting cooking method, a guilty pleasure ridiculously hard to resist considering how divine a pizza crust can be -crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside- when properly baked in the confines of a wood fire.
Il Focolaio: 69 of Montreal's Best Pizzas
Il Focolaio also has the distinction of serving 69 different kinds of pizza. Think about it. You could eat here every week for a year and still not get through the whole list.
Il Focolaio's pizza selection is the best in the city with something for everyone, including vegetarians yearning for a veggie pizza outside of the usual suspects, like Il Focolaio's "Arugula" made with almond pesto, fresh arugula, balsamic glaze, fresh tomatoes, garlic, oregano, basil and soft swiss cheese.
Or you could keep it simple with a tomato sauce/mozzarella/basil Margherita -which by the way, is outstanding at Il Focolaio- or go wild with exotic add-ons like black truffles and fine herb tofu. Also, regular crusts can be replaced with vegan gluten-free and lactose-free organic cheese is available. Just ask.
Il Focolaio Crust: Thin, But Not That Thin
A quick note on the crust: it walks the line between thick and thin, edging on thin, though pizza fans preferring the deep dish variety still get some chewy dough to sink their teeth into. So the crust is thin, no doubt, but it's not too thin, just a tad thinner than what you get in Naples, the birthplace of pizza.
But if you really need more crust, ask for your pizza to be transformed into a calzone, which is made with extra dough and boosted with Italian herbs, olive oil, and parmesan.
Panini, salads, and desserts are also sold on location.
On topic. Location. In downtown Montreal just south of Ste. Catherine Street, Il Focolaio is four blocks away from Place des Festivals, Montreal's outdoor festival hub. And it's across the street from a series of interconnected downtown Montreal shopping centres. It's a great spot to go during summer festival season when you're hungry, want something deliciously à la Montreal but don't want to pay tourist trap prices commonly found inside the outdoor festival hub (with notable exceptions). And hey, the terrasse is cozy.
Let's get one thing straight. You don't go to Il Focolaio for the "scene." Interior decor highlights consist of tables. Chairs. Disposable place mats.
There's no Top 40 house anthem booming from all corners of the room to match an ambiance of surgically enhanced waitresses wearing bodycon dresses two sizes too small. No extremely uber cool bloggers riddled with undisclosed conflicts of interest raving poetic about the best slice ever on the planet made by the most amazing human being this part of the milky way.
And none of the cooking staff are Food Channel super mega stars. I'm not even sure if any of them have sleeve tats. Or biblical beards. But you know what there is in here? KICK ASS PIZZA. And hey, the terrasse is cute.
Crowd? Dress Code?
No pretensions. Come as you are. Families welcomed and accommodated.
Considering what competitors charge for comparable items, prices are fair. It's roughly $13 to $16 for one pizza, which comes in one size, about 10 inches in diameter (source: my old Il Focolaio pizza box). It's not cheap but it's reasonable and competitive for the quality you're getting. These really are among the very best pizzas in Montreal, easily in the top 3. Alcohol prices are also reasonable.
The takeout/delivery special is buy four and get the cheapest one free The special doesn't apply at lunchtime on Thursdays and Fridays between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Always check when ordering that the special applies.
Il Focolaio Business Hours
Open Monday to Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Note that Il Focolaio is closed Sundays in January and February).
Menu items, prices and hours of operation are subject to change without notice.
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Il Focolaio Calzoni
All of Il Focolaio's 69 pizzas can be turned into calzoni on request, a choice option for crust lovers who want more dough with their toppings. Calzoni are made with more crust than pizzas and enhanced with Italian herbs, olive oil and parmesan.
Il Focolaio Desserts
Apart from pizza and calzoni, Il Focolaio also serves wood oven grilled panini, salads, and traditional Italian desserts like tartufo, cannolo, tiramisu, and almond cake.
Getting to Il Focolaio
Il Focolaio is located in downtown Montreal, a quick walk to most of Montreal's downtown shopping centres and Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal's entertainment district host to hundreds of free shows, paid performances, and major festivals. And across the street is Phillip Square, a downtown plaza with a stand selling a slew of maple products.