Forget about a greasy slice from Pizza Corner for lunch—if you need a really good pie to set you up …
The Piatto experienceBy Laura Fader | Oct 3, 2012
Restaurateur Brian Vallis reaches across the Atlantic and back through the centuries to offer pizza lovers something different.
While much of the dining world focuses on the newest trends and gadgets, restaurateur Brian Vallis is reaching back a few centuries for his inspiration. He’s the owner of Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca on Hollis Street in Halifax.
While studying and cooking in Naples, Vallis was shocked to taste the difference that history and true quality can have on food. Ever since, he’s wanted to bring the history of Italy to the restaurant industry in Canada. This dedication has culminated in a successful Newfoundland-based restaurant, and most recently a second location in Halifax. When envisioning his perfect restaurant, Vallis reflected on all of his travels—he wanted to combine the laid-back vibe of a British pub, the style of a French café and the passion of an Italian pizzeria: “that’s the atmosphere we’re looking for.” The antiquity of his vision juxtaposes with the industrialized modernity of Piatto’s newest venue.
The door, propped open with a bag of Italian flour, gives way to a large, cool, grey room. Exposed electrical and industrial pipes zig-zag throughout the ceiling, quotes are splashed onto the walls, and vespa scooters are sprinkled sporadically throughout the restaurant. This makes Vallis’s daughter and restaurant manager Jay Vallis laugh.
“Two of those drove to my apartment in Toronto,” she recalls, before she moved to Halifax. Jay was working in Toronto when her sister, Kate, and Vallis—who opened the first restaurant together in Newfoundland in 2010—tinkered with the idea of opening a second location. This piqued Jay’s interest, and after some deliberation, she made the move to Halifax to open the new Piatto with her dad.
As one in only six restaurants in Canada to be Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified, Piatto has to adhere to strict pizza guidelines. The tomato sauce must be hand-made daily and only from San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius; the dough has to be hand-stretched and made with fresh yeast (“which nobody uses,” says Vallis, reflecting how difficult it was to find); the dough can only be stretched on marble; each pizza must be made with exactly one scoop of tomato sauce, applied in a clockwise motion, and topped with fresh mozzarella and ingredients.
“We want to preserve the ancient tradition of how pizzas were first made,” Vallis says. Although his VPN certification gives Vallis very little wiggle room for variation, he does his best to support the local community. “We do as much as we can,” he says, citing his wine rack, pizza paddle and uniquely developed Italian sausage are all from Nova Scotia. This blend of old and new worlds gives Piatto a flavour as unique as its pizzas are to Halifax.
If tomato sauce is the blood that enlivens and pumps through Piatto, the oven is the heart of the VPN certification. It is visually striking—its wood-burning fire can be seen from the street. Weighing 1,800 kilograms before it was beautifully tiled by local Italians, Vallis keeps it running at a toasty 480 degrees Celsius, creating the black blisters that give the pizzas character and authenticity. The most endearing aspect of the oven is an ode to a very special woman: “every Italian oven is dedicated to a woman,” says Jay, “it’s good luck. The first oven is for [Vallis’s] mom, the second is for [my sister’s and my other] grandmother,” she smiles as she refers to Josephine and Florence, respectively. Florence’s picture adorns the Halifax oven.
Although only open for a short time, Piatto already has a steady stream of regulars coming in the door. Yelp Elitist Adam Sterling visited the Halifax location because of a fantastic experience at the original, and wasn’t disappointed. His review cites the restaurant as being well worth the money, and the atmosphere as “an amped up Italian pizza place executed very, very well.”
As Jay peers around the restaurant, anxiously twitching to get back to work, Vallis talks of his plans to introduce a wine and pizza tasting throughout the fall (“enoteca” is an Italian word meaning “wine repository”), and his plans to expand his brand even further into other cities.
His passion and ambition is palpable—but as he bounces back and forth between his provinces and pizzerias, he stays firm on what is important to him. “It’s staff, consistent product, and a unique atmosphere,” he says.