Colonnade Pizza – The sweet smell of cheese…
Watching it rain from the safe confines of cheese. Pizza. Comfort. Home.
From the moment I arrived, I was a part of the family, perhaps a long lost cousin from Detroit. Welcomed with open arms. Mona Dahdouh, my host, greets me at the door.
“How’s the pizza?” I ask.
“It’s the best pizza in town!” and she wasn’t lying.
Months later, my local pizza joint has replaced my local Starbucks/Bridgehead. If they had WIFI I’d be a fixture. It’s likely that soon I may be expected to get my own coffee (I’d love that…) Hemingway had La Bodeguita, I have Colonnade Pizza.
I come for the cheese. The smell of it… cheese at 650* degrees cheese!
Colonnade Pizza has been feeding Ottawa for 43 years – same location. It’s a family business, built with sweat and perseverance. General Manger Peter Dahdouh is second generation, he was just 6 months old when he entered the business in 1967. Now, his is the pizza kitchen. His father, Kalil holds court in the cafe kitchen… cannelloni, lasagna, house specialties and one of the best bolognese sauces I’ve tasted.
More than pizza - the Cannaloni is sublime. Ground veal, perfectly seasoned, in a pasta shell accompanied by that great meat sauce and… cheese.
Everything at Cafe Colonnade is based on great ingredients… Italian delivery trucks double-park during the day, lights flashing, unloading pallet after pallet of deliciousness.
The cheese is a different story and a different truck. A skid of cheese a week. That’s 52 cases. 15 kilograms a box. If you’re doing the math that’s 780 kilograms a week. (for those who require the imperial conversion, allow me, that`s 1,719.61 pounds of cheese. A week.)
Down to ‘the dungeon of cheese’ (as I like to call it) it goes – the basement of the restaurant doubles as storage and prep kitchen, where cheese is grated and sent up to the two kitchens above in a dumb waiter.
The rhythm of the place is hypnotic. The phone rings. Peter answers, it’s the same conversation;
“Colonnade…” the order is tapped on to the screen… verbal confirmation...
“Large Santa Fe (Chicken, black olives and hot peppers) with onions”… same response, every time… “20 minutes…”.
Yup, 20 minutes. Pick up only. There is no delivery at Colonnade (unless you’re in Kanata).
Their’s is an wicked conspiracy. In fine weather I sit on the roof top patio of my new Ottawa digs and smell… pizza. Colonnade pumps the aroma of pizza through the neighbourhood, if you weren’t carving pizza before you sure are now. PURE EVIL.
I’m not the only one. Regulars file through the door, doing their happy dance, it`s Colonnade Pizza Night!
As I write, I sit beside two Members of Parliament. In general, I take issue to dining with politicians, I jokingly mention this noting a distinct predisposition to indigestion due to my current discontent with my government and its policies. Luckily these are not members of the Conservative party.
“I don’t know if I like eating beside politicians ” jokes Gypsy.
“I’m fairly certain it’s not fatal…” replies sassy MP, who shall remain off the record. (The fun of being in our nation’s capitol!)
He can’t be all bad, he loves Colonnade Pizza too.
12,000 pizzas a month, yes, you read that right. TWELVE THOUSAND pizzas a month fly out of the 500 square foot kitchen of their flagship location in downtown Ottawa.
Three locations in Ottawa and one in Kanta, Colonnade is something of an institution. The one that started it all, at Metcalfe & Gilmore in downtown Ottawa, is home to this Gypsy most Thursday nights. Lisa brings me my “usual” wine. Sam smiles from the pizza kitchen and Peter floats between customers… the kitchen… the staff.
Is it fancy? No. It’s a place for blue jeans and cheese resistant shirts. Is it fabulous? YES.
Is Colonnade’s pizza perfect? Yes. The pizza is… perfection.
Balanced. Even crust, not too doughy, ripe sweet sauce, the toppings even and… that cheese… the edge, where it meets the dough meets the baked cheese… that crisp, tight seam… it is the true mark of genius in a pizza. It should spring back… have tension… there should be a light response to the teeth… a crisp tap when touched.
The steam that rises is pure ambrosia.
Fresh; the cheese slides off the pie, it is stringy and the sauce makes it slide, just slightly.
I have a favourite “Gypsy Pizza”, if you will, it’s my test of a pizzeria; ham and feta with fresh, cold tomatoes on top. For a change, I go Mediterranean (red pepper, artichoke hearts, and black olives) and fresh tomatoes, or recently inspired by Lisa - the Santa Fey (banana peppers, black olives and chicken).
Caveat; the mark of a truly great pizza is not just how it taste fresh, it’s how it looks, feels and tastes… cold… the next morning. It should be better, the flavors intensified, the cheese congealed. Cold pizza should take over the fridge, it should call you from slumber and make you think, just for a moment…
“Coffee and pizza… great idea!”
It might surprise you to know despite spending his entire life elbow deep in pizza; Peter Dahdouh has never eaten cold pizza. Then again, why would he?
Colonnade - hot or cold – among the my favorite ”American” style pizzas ever.
Tell them Gypsy sent you – it won’t get you anything - but tell them anyway.
280 Metcalfe Street at Gilmour 613-237-3179
1463 Merivale Road (Food Basic Mall) 613-727-8686
1500 Bank Street (Blue Heron Mall) 613-737-1107
461 Hazeldean Road,Farm Boy Plaza 613-831-5599 (Delivery)