Just a year after launching on Augusta Avenue, owner Romolo Salvati set up shop downtown on picturesque Elm Street, and this past summer, opened the largest location to date on Gerrard at Coxwell, with a whopping 179 seats. Via Mercanti North also debuted in Woodbridge last year.
The secret to the runaway success? Authenticity.
Just like home
Salvati was born in Salerno, Italy, where food is still done like the old days – simply, using the best ingredients – and he’s stuck to that maxim.
Named after a well-known street in Salerno – Via dei Mercanti – the restaurants keep to the true, simple lifestyle of the town, serving espresso, pizza and pasta. In fact, back in Salvati’s hometown, the best pizza is found right in the market, which is why he chose Kensington for his first location.
80 per cent of the ingredients are imported from Italy, including canned peeled tomatoes and Caputo “00” flour from Salvati’s hometown. “I don’t care about money,” he says. “It’s the product.”
Antonello Romano, head chef for all locations, grew up with Salvati “back home” (they’ve been friends since the age of three), and all of the kitchen guys were brought over from Italy.
Everything is made in house – from pizza dough to pasta, bread and gelato. Romano makes the sauces to ensure consistency across all locations. Each eatery features an open kitchen with a custom-made pizza oven so you can watch the pizziaolos at work. Fun fact: it took an entire day and a very large crane to transport one into the newest location on Gerrard.
The menu features classic dishes of antipasti, salads, panini, pizzas, pastas, two meat mains, and desserts, with vegetarian and vegan selections available. Wines are kept to only Italian selections. Salvati calls it “good wine from back home.”
In good hands
While other Neapolitan pizzerias may add pineapple and other “modern” ingredients, to their dishes, Salvati keeps his “100 per cent Neapolitan.”
Salvati is very proud of his food, especially the pizzas, which “are not easy to make,” he says.
The very light, springy dough is kept authentic to the 200-year-old recipe: water, sea salt, “00” flour, and the tiniest amount of yeast.
“I don’t change anything,” he says.
Made two to three days ahead of time, and leaving eight hours for it to rise, the result is a remarkably light and soft dough that never weighs you down or adds bloat. The secret is using as little yeast as possible (though this makes it extremely difficult for the pizziaolos, as the dough tears easily) and using hands instead of rolling pins to shape the crusts.
The 800-degree Fahrenheit oven cooks ‘za in just 60 to 90 seconds. The soft dough gets crisped up just enough to deliver a good chew but remains softer than you might be used to. Your stomach however, will thank you.
Pizzas are offered in two categories: white (olive oil base) and red (tomato sauce). Can’t decide between the two? Romolo’s Pizza ($18) has got you covered – tomato sauce on one side, olive oil on the other, and topped with fior di latte, prosciutto cotto and mixed mushrooms.
Two other selections offer a fun twist on the classics:
- Cimabella Ripiena ($19) A Margherita pizza with a stuffed crust of hot soppressata, ricotta and black pepper
- Via Mercanti ($20), a two-layer pizza that will satisfy the meat lovers at the table. A base pizza boasting ricotta, prosciutto cotto, mixed mushrooms and hot soppressata is topped by an entire margherita pizza. Double the pizza, double the fun!
Another element to add to the authentic experience here: the bar has no seating or TV, just like in Italy. It’s stocked with only gelato and coffee, whereby in Salerno, you stand and sip your espresso at the bar or grab a seat at a nearby table. Note: There are TVs displayed in other areas of the dining room that feature local news most days and whatever soccer games are on during the season.
You’ll notice a soccer theme throughout the restaurants. In fact, Salvati is often found head-to-toe in soccer gear. “Soccer and pizza is what we do,” he says. It’s also where he learned the craft. As a little boy, he agreed to play soccer only if he could learn to make pizza.
The newest location on Gerrard was created from two stores – a former hair salon and grocery store – gutted to make way for the new pizzeria. A completely new kitchen was built with new equipment from Italy. It accommodates up to 179 guests, but Salvati is looking to expand it further, with the addition of a quieter bar on the west side with a Roman arch entrance.
Soon to come – a possible location in Mississauga or Etobicoke, as well as Brooklyn, NYC where Salvati’s brother lives.
The expansion might continue, but what will remain is the simple Italian fare of Romolo Salvati’s hometown of Salerno, and his passion to share it with others.
All Pizzeria Via Mercanti locations offer dine-in and take-out, with delivery available at Elm, Gerrard and North Pizza:
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