Thursday, July 30, 2015
Road Trip: Antica Pizza & Ristorante, Niagara Falls, Ontario
A few weeks ago, to celebrate my birthday, I took a day trip to Niagara Falls, Canada with my family. I could go on at length about Niagara Falls' curious mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly, but let me cut to the important part, for our purposes - the pizza.
After a mile and a half walk from the free parking lot that I had discovered (a bit longer walk than my wife and daughter had anticipated, but I felt smug about it, as we walked past the suckers paying up to $20 for a parking spot), we found ourselves in the Clifton Hill area, which is the heart of Niagara Falls' touristy district.
It was mid-afternoon, we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and the walk had whetted our appetites, so it was time for some sustenance. Having done some research, I had my sights set on Antica Pizza & Ristorante, which was highly rated in online reviews.
Antica is a wood-fired pizzeria, though that's not why I went there. Had I found a nearby, well-regarded Mom & Pop slice joint that opened 50 years ago, I'd likely have gone there. But while we did walk by some places offering slices, they didn't seem especially promising. And while I'm notorious within my family for my capacity for walking long distances without seeming effort or fatigue, I knew my wife and daughter needed to get off their feet for a while, and Antica is a full-service restaurant.
The first thing that struck me was what a big operation it was. The wood-fired oven is huge, with openings for two pizzaioli to work at once. The high ceiling and the stonework on the front of the oven also made for an impressive image.
As visually arresting as it all was, I was beginning to lower my expectations for the pizza. Big place, lots of tourists, get 'em in and get 'em out ... I was prepared to be disappointed.
Maybe those lowered expectations helped, or maybe it was my hunger, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pizza. I ordered a "bianco," topped with mozzarella, garlic, oregano, arugula, roasted red peppers, sweet onions, chicken, and Asiago cheese, and drizzled with olive oil. I don't usually get white pizza, but I thought it would provide some balance to my daughter's "meat lover," with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, bacon, sausage and ham.
Both were quite good. The crusts were charred underneath, in some areas. They weren't what you'd call "leopard spotted" (in other words, small dots of charring) which is generally desirable, as it shows a nice, even charring and slight bubbling of the dough. But they were charred here and there without being burnt, and they were well browned along the edge. The crusts were thin, with a good balance of pliability and crispness.
And both pies were good overall. The toppings were generous, perhaps even a bit too generous given the thinness of the crust, but fresh and flavorful. The meat lover pie had a good tomatoey base, well complemented by chunks of meat scattered across it. And the assortment of vegetables on my bianco provided enough flavor and texture to satisfy me, despite the absence of meat or tomato sauce. The aromatic smattering of garlic didn't hurt either.
Antica has an intriguing pizza menu, which ranges from a simple no-cheese Napoletana, with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil, to a Calabrese, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic, oregano, hot Calabrese salami, mushrooms, kalamata olives, roasted red pepper and Asiago cheese.
But the menu goes well beyond pizza, and extends to pasta, meats, salads and panini. Considering how busy they were, even mid-afternoon, service was efficient but friendly.
In my vision of a perfect world, the area around Niagara Falls would've been left pristine, as a bi-national park, with enough acreage that a visitor's view of the falls would not be tainted by towers, casinos, or other commercial developments. But it's not like that, and we're stuck with what we've got.
Niagara Falls is still an attraction, though, and many of us who live in the Rochester area are going to go there from time to time.When we do, we're going to want something to eat, and if you're like me, you're apt to be looking for pizza. If you want more than a quick, to-go slice, Antica Pizza is well worth a stop.
Antica Pizza & Ristorante,
5735 Niagara Falls, ON Canada
Noon to "close" daily (from what I can tell, typically "close" is about 11 p.m.)