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“When you’re talking about the world’s best pizza cities, Windsor belongs on that list”: A Q&A with a Toronto man on a mission to put his hometown’s pizza on the map

“When you’re talking about the world’s best pizza cities, Windsor belongs on that list”: A Q&A with a Toronto man on a mission to put his hometown’s pizza on the map
Photo by @almostguilty

There’s no such thing as Toronto-style pizza—not yet, anyway. Our city is more of a melting pot of popular pies from iconic pizza cities the world over—Naples, Rome, New York, even Detroit. But Toronto-based music executive and filmmaker George Kalivas believes there’s another great pizza city just four hours west of us—his hometown of Windsor. Kalivas is so evangelical about Windsor pizza’s greatness that he produced a documentary about it as a pandemic-time passion project. We caught up with Kalivas to find out what Windsor-style pizza even is, how he became documentary-level obsessed with it, how it stacks up with other pizzas, and where to find the good stuff in Toronto.

First off, maybe you could explain how this project came to be. I mean, I love the nachos at Sneaky Dee’s but I’ve never thought of making a doc about them. The idea came to me when I was 18. After high school, I moved to New York. “I was like yo, we should go to T.G.I. Fridays,” and people looked at me like I was insane. Instead, I was introduced to all of these mom-and-pop restaurants and diners, and so much great pizza at legendary places—Di Fara, John’s of Bleecker Street, Prince Street. Everything was amazing, but every time I thought, “the pizza from my hometown is just as good.” I’m not saying it’s better. Just that when you’re talking about the world’s best pizza cities, Windsor belongs on that list.

I guess a lot of people have never heard of the Windsor pizza. That’s exactly it. If you’re not from the midwest, and if you didn’t cross the U.S. border to celebrate your 19th birthday here, you’ve probably never heard of Windsor pizza. That’s why we called the doc The Pizza City You’ve Never Heard Of. “We” is me and my co-creator Tristan Laughton. We both work at Warner Music in Toronto and we make a lot of content for developing artists. We were on a roll in 2020, but then Covid brought everything to a halt and we suddenly had all of this extra time. I said to him, “Look, this has been an idea I’ve been dreaming about forever. I think there’s a real story to tell.” He looked at me like I was crazy, but being in lockdown, we didn’t have anything else to do, so I was able to convince him.

Can you describe what makes the Windsor pie so good? Of course! The first thing is the crust, which is between thin and thick—not as thin as a New York slice, not as thick as Sicilian. We use a bread baking technique and flour mixed with corn meal. The second thing is our sauce, which has a slightly sweeter taste but also a kick. It’s not that mild, middle of the road sauce that you find in other cities. The third thing is a local cheese called Galati, which is a high-fat mozzarella from a local creamery. When I say high fat, I mean like high fat. You can only find it in southwestern Ontario. If places don’t use Galati, Windsorites will spit it out.

Seriously? It’s definitely something that gets taken very seriously. These recipes go all the way back to the 1950s. Windsor-style pizza was first created at Volcano Pizzeria. It’s not around anymore, but a lot of the people who now run some of Windsor’s best pizza places worked there when they were younger and the recipe has come from there like a family tree. That’s where they first invented the shredded pepperoni strips, which is the fourth thing that makes it unique. In Windsor we don’t do the grease cups: we shred our pepperoni so that you can get a bit in every bite. And then there are our mushrooms, which are canned rather than fresh, so they maintain their moisture in a 700-degree oven. I know it sounds weird, but it works.

Obama reps for Chicago deep dish. Does Windsor pizza need a celebrity spokesperson? We don’t really have any blockbuster stars that we can tie back to our city.

What about Shania Twain. Isn’t she from Windsor? She was born here. We claim her, but I’m not sure she claims us. She belongs to Timmins.

There’s no Timmins pizza though. Hey, I’d love to put a Windsor pie in front of Shania.

If the Windsor pizza is the most underrated, which one is the most overrated? Oh man, that’s tough. I mean, I love the Neapolitan style as much as everyone else in Toronto, but I am looking for the next thing. It’s time for something else to get some shine.

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Favourite pizza memory? Oh, there are so many. It’s part of daily life, whether it’s your little sister’s birthday or a Wednesday night watching Kristi Yamaguchi nail the triple axel with your parents. It’s funny, when we decided to make the doc, we started looking through old photos and the amount of family photos I had where there was a pizza box present was just like—wow.

People are very passionate about their pizza allegiances. Have you ever gotten in to a scrap over yours? Not a scrap, but my colleagues at Warner will laugh. I’m like the one guy in the group who still has a Blackberry when everyone else has an iPhone. You become like the brand ambassador and you defend it to the death. That’s me since I was 18. When someone mentions pizza, I pop out of nowhere and I give an earful about Windsor.

When and why did you move to Toronto? Obviously not for the pizza. Ha! No, I moved here after I got married. My wife is from Toronto.

Is there anywhere here to get a Windsor pie? Yes, actually. Ambassador Pizza Co. at Bloor and Delaware. It’s two Windsorites who have been in Toronto for years, and they opened the city’s first Windsor style place. I’m not involved at all, but I definitely cosign them. They’re in the documentary.

Where can we see the doc? We’ve had preliminary discussions with multiple streaming services, which is great. We submitted to 32 film festivals and we’re waiting on responses to find out—knock on wood—where we got in.

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What about TIFF? Unfortunately, TIFF is the one that we have gotten. I think our doc is a light-hearted, fun watch. But there’s no broader social justice narrative or anything like that, which is what I think TIFF is looking for. This is the kind of doc where you and your friends or significant other can order a pizza, grab a couple of Cokes or whatever, and have a fun night.

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