Toronto’s semi-secret, Saturday-night-only pizza place is actually this guy’s back porch
Growing up, I had a mom who loved to cook—and she was a great cook, too. She wanted everything to be delicious, made using quality ingredients and proper techniques. Instead of ordering pizza every Friday night, like many families do, she would make it for us. At first, she used store-bought pizza dough, but after a while, she tried making some in a bread machine—the difference in taste was remarkable, and she never looked back. My mom—and our weekly pizza nights—inspired me to eat well and to learn how to cook. These days, I try to impart my love of food to my three-year-old son, River, even though right now he prefers to survive on little more than peanut butter sandwiches and mac-and-cheese.
I go through phases where I focus on learning how to make one dish in particular, trying to perfect it. One of those phases involved pizza. After having eaten so many amazing pizzas in the States—New York, Portland, Buffalo—I decided I wanted to learn how to make the perfect pie. My first attempts were pretty bad: I didn’t leave enough time for proofing, I used a rolling pin—classic beginner moves. But I kept at it and my interest never waned. Whenever I made a pizza that didn’t turn out right, it just meant another mistake to learn from.
Before Covid-19, my wife, Brianna, and I entertained almost every weekend. As the pizzas got better and better, our dinner parties basically turned into pizza nights. It’s something we became known for, and our friends said that we should open a pizzeria. Brianna and I already have a business. We run a construction and design company called Pollard Skye Design Build, and I’m also a visual artist. I do acrylic paintings and public murals, and I’ve had a studio practice for the last eight years. Launching a restaurant didn’t seem like something a young family should take on, but I did dream about it. I said I would call it One Night Only—it was a joke based on our weekly pizza nights, but I also thought it sounded kinda rock-and-roll. In any case, I started posting shots of my pizzas on Instagram under the @onenightonly handle, just for fun.
When the pandemic hit, we obviously had to stop inviting friends over. Work also dried up for us. I tried to keep going with construction as long as possible, but we had to stop around mid-March when supply chains started being disrupted. We both went on CERB. I was still able to work on a couple of paintings—finishing up a commission and working on a new piece for a show I’m putting together—but River was starting to phase out of his daily naps, and Brianna’s pregnant and was battling crazy morning sickness, so I had to be there for him. It was hard to get anything done.
Amid all this craziness, continuing to make pizza every weekend seemed like a good way to maintain a sense of normalcy. One day towards the end of March, my wife asked me how big my pizzas were. I told her they were 16 inches across. An hour later, she told me that custom-made boxes were coming the next day and that we were going to sell my pizzas from our backyard starting the following weekend. The idea was nerve-wracking at first—suddenly, I was much more aware that my pizzas had to be worthy of a price tag. But I started to look at it like an art project, just another way of being creative. I was excited to have something I could really dive into.
Before our first run on March 28, we put together a list of all the friends we’d had over for pizza throughout the years. We randomly picked 10 of them, sent each person a short menu and let them know we were doing staggered pickup times. All 10 friends responded right away saying they wanted a pizza, so we sold out within minutes. Well, those friends started telling their friends, and pretty soon we were getting Instagram messages from complete strangers who wanted to order pizza. Our list of customers grew from there.
We make and sell 10 pizzas every Saturday—it’s one night only, remember? I start making the dough on Wednesday morning, and that keeps me busy until the early afternoon. After that, the dough gets a 72-hour slow, cold ferment in the fridge, which allows the flavours to develop and draws out the rich, natural notes in the flour. On Saturday, I divide it into little portions, each the size and shape of a softball. I’ve been tweaking my dough for years now and have settled on my current recipe: high hydration dough made with organic Canadian flour from Grain Process in Scarborough, water, salt, olive oil and a pre-ferment called poolish, which is what happens when equal parts flour and water—along with a minute amount of yeast—are left at room temperature for 16 hours. It adds a layer of complexity to the dough.
I drive to an industrial area of Hamilton to get my pepperoni from a place called Venetian Meats—I buy a five-kilo box each time. It’s a cup-and-char pepperoni, which means it forms into little cups when cooked and all the good juices pool in the middle. I grate balls of mozzarella and build my base sauce from Italian tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil and Sicilian oregano. I don’t have a pizza oven, so I crank my old-school oven as high as it will go—about 550°F—and bake the pies for about 10 minutes each. I love the ritual of it all and, ultimately, I’m just making the kind of pizza I like to eat.
It’s classic American-style—thin crust, lots of bubbles, a nice chew and something that can be easily folded—and we offer four varieties: plain cheese; artisanal pepperoni; spicy pepperoni, which is pepperoni and pickled jalapenos; and house mushroom, which has a blend of cremini mushrooms and red onion that’s been cooked down with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. We’ve also had weekly specials, like a white pizza topped with ground lamb, pickled shallots and a mint chimichurri. Each pizza costs $20 and comes with a house-made creamy garlic-and-dill dipping sauce. It pairs well with the flavours of the pizza, and people go crazy for it. And it’s not just the actual pizza I put great care into. Those boxes my wife bought for me? I hand-stencil each one with the One Night Only pizza logo I designed myself.
We’ve hosted pop-up pizza nights for the last 14 Saturdays—and we’ve sold out each time. Because we only make 10 pizzas, not everyone who wants one gets one. We typically have rollovers from previous weeks, so we keep a running list of who’s next in line. We have people from all over the city coming to our Riverdale backyard to pick up a pizza. Most just buy one because of the staggered pickup times—I can only make one at a time—but we’ve had someone wait for three. I kept them warm in a pizza delivery bag I was given as a gag gift one Christmas. We’ve also gotten a ton of positive feedback. Some customers have told me it’s their favourite pizza in the city, and I’ve spoken to a few New York expats who say it’s as good as what they get back home.
With restrictions lifting, our construction business is starting to pick up, but I’ve loved making and selling pizza so much that I just have to keep One Night Only going. By the time we close each Saturday night, I’m exhausted—but I get such a rush out of it.
—As told to Jacob Rutka