When you think of Windsor, it’s likely that some of the first associations to come to mind are its automotive industry or proximity to the U.S. border; but fervent foodies know the Rose City’s greatest claim to fame is its unique pizza.
Windsor has dubbed itself Canada’s pizza capital for inventing a pie so prized, it’s not uncommon for former Windsorites to pay whatever it takes to get a Windsor pizza shipped hundreds of kilometers. So what exactly makes Windsor pizza so special? Here’s what you “knead” to know about Windsor’s signature slice.
What’s the story behind Windsor pizza?
A wave of immigration to Canada following World War II brought Windsor some of its first Italian restaurants in the 1940s. While the finer details of how Windsor-style pizza was born aren’t known, most Windsorites agree that Volcano Pizzeria is where it all began. Opened in 1957 by cousins Gino Manza and Frank Gualtieri, Volcano initially operated as an Italian diner and later started serving pizza in the 1960s.
At the peak of its popularity, Volcano Pizzeria was delivering its pizza via 20 Volkswagen Beetle delivery cars that became a familiar sight throughout Windsor. When Volcano closed its doors in 1986, many of its former employees took the restaurant’s literal recipe for success and launched their own pizzerias. Some Windsor pizza aficionados say that, in this way, every pizzeria in the city has its roots in Volcano.
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What’s on a Windsor pizza?
Today, Windsor pizza is defined by several key characteristics. First, there’s the dough, which is made using flour mixed with corn meal. The resulting crust is crispy with a medium-thickness that’s best compared to New York-style pizza.
Windsor pizza’s classic toppings tend to provoke a raised eyebrow from the uninitiated but lovers of this style will tell you there’s a tasty purpose behind each element. There’s julienne-cut shredded pepperoni, which creates better distribution across the pie than traditional circular pepperoni. It also ensures each bite packs a flavourful pepperoni punch and allows the oil that tends to pool in pepperoni cups to instead spread across the pizza’s surface.
The next essential topping is canned mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms typically shrivel and dry up in a high temperature pizza oven, compromising their texture and flavour. The moisture fresh mushrooms release during cooking can also lead to a mushy crust. By contrast, canned mushrooms hold onto their moisture, retaining their own springiness as well as the integrity of the crust.
The cheese for Windsor pizza is a high-fat mozzarella sourced from Galati Cheese Company, a family-owned and operated cheese manufacturer that’s been operating in Windsor for over 40 years. While every Windsor pizzeria has its own secret sauce recipe, the common denominator is a distinctive spicy-sweet flavour with a generous dash of oregano.
Where can I find a slice of Windsor pizza?
Windsor’s pride in its one-of-a-kind pie has shaped the city’s pizza landscape. Rather than big international franchises, Windsor is dominated by independently-owned pizzerias and local mini-chains. As you might suspect for a food so beloved, every Windsorite has their own favourite place to enjoy the city’s popular pie.
The Windsor Pizza Club, which is compiled by Tourism Windsor Essex, is a good starting point for visitors keen to try Windsor pizza. The self-guided trail features eight pizzerias – including Capri Pizzeria, Antonino’s Original Pizza, Armando’s Pizza, and Arcata Pizzeria, which are often cited as the city’s best spots to discover why this unusual pie inspires so much passion.
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