Pizza leads a peculiar double life. It’s an omnipresent convenience food available in various degenerate, often greasy incarnations, but it’s also a fancy-schmancy restaurant item: wood-fired and lavished with novel and/or pricey blandishments. Luckily, esteemed institutions like Ragazzi Bistro Italiano—purveyor of authentic Italian cuisine in this town for close to four decades—exist to furnish a baseline for how real pizza should taste.
It’s probably always a good idea to book ahead with Ragazzi: despite the recent onset of crappy weather, co-diner and I were startled to find the bistro as bustling as if it were a fairer Saturday night. A rather large surprise party-in-waiting encompassed a goodly chunk of Ragazzi’s cavernous antechamber, on the other side of a handsome river-stone archway from where my co-diner and I were seated. Judging from the repartee between staff and patrons, Ragazzi has a lot of repeat visitors. But even with standing-room only, they had our table of two in and out in less than an hour.
Having been to Ragazzi before, I arrived convinced that any of the house pizzas would suffice. All promised a few lovingly-chosen toppings, simple but highly effective tomato sauce, just the right amount of a good cheese or two on a perfectly conceived and executed crust. (They have pasta and other entrées which I’ve never tried, because pizza.) We decided on the capricciosa, which boasted artichoke hearts, pepperoni, mozzarella and a little extra spicy zing. Naturally, we’d need a salad and again I would have been happy with any on offer. We had to settle on one so we ordered the paesano salad with tomato and bocconcini. Our choices left us nothing to regret save that we only had one stomach each and couldn’t order more.
Presumably, I could assemble all the same ingredients the bistro uses in its paesano salad but I fail to see how I could make them taste so good together. The sweet, luscious tomatoes, the creamy slices of soft, unripened cheese falling apart in the careful calibration of olive oil, garlic and onions—there’s some crazy Italian alchemy going on there, which I deeply appreciate but cannot apprehend. Substantial but light, it was a fine dish to prime us for the main event.
Our pie was divvied into eight two-handed wedges and everything about it was just right—the slices of pepperoni, chopped artichoke hearts and mushrooms judiciously strewn, the right amount of mozzarella under the toppings, the fresh, garlicky tomato sauce, and that crust! Crisp yet chewy, thin yet hearty, just a pinch saltier than the usual: it was delicious in the moment and hardly less marvelous out of my oven the next day. Despite our ravenous appetites, we topped out at two-and-a-half pieces each. No matter: these were pretty great leftovers.
The fact that Ragazzi is operated by a father and his four sons gives me hope that the bistro will continue as a family tradition, and provide future generations of Edmontonians a crucial grounding in real pizza. If you haven’t been educated yet, I have to wonder what it is you’re waiting for.
Ragazzi Bistro Italiano
8110 – 82 Avenue