Here’s the deal: If you ordered in advance, you’ll show up at a back door ‘round the corner of a paint shop in Lachine, where a paper plate’s stuck to an apartment door reading one thing: ‘Pizza’.
Get buzzed in, take the stairs up to the second floor, and you’ll find a former butchery space just shy of 200 square feet decorated with Expos and Ascoli Calcio 1898 F.C. pennants and scarves.
That’s Forno Pizza Frankie’s, a smaller-than-small pizza operation where two Italo-Montrealer brothers are pushing a spiral mixer and custom-made Italian deck oven with steam injection to the limit, producing some of the best pizza in the city to date.
Frankie’s is a passion project/man cave hideaway from Daniele Mellozzi and Donato “Donny” Mellozzi, both second-generation Italians and first-generation Canadians, and members of the time-honored Italian butcher shop and grocer Marchigiani in Lasalle that’s been in operation since 1959.
“This was fifteen years of dreaming and one year of practice,” Donny says, explaining that the pizza began as a home project.
“I’ve been buying all these (gear) over the years. At my house, I’d have 12, 15 orders on a Saturday, friends and family asking me to make a pizza and making it in a gas oven, and I had a dough room in the back of my basement. My wife says ‘you gotta get this outta here, people are coming over to the house. Complete strangers. Just go find somewhere.”
“My brother (Daniele) is very good in kitchens, a great chef. Likes to cook. He works at (Marchigiani) as well, a great sandwich maker,” Donny explains.
“I said, why don’t we start a little project where we start making the pizza we want to do?”
They launched through social media, and the rest is just the beginning.
In many ways, Frankie’s keeps things simple, firing off ‘limited edition’ pies that come filled with cheese, spinach and Marchigiani’s fatty slices of porchettone, light and airy Roman-style pies topped classically with potato or as a Margherita, or an 18-inch thin-crust Neo-New York style that Montrealers will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
They’ll usually sell about 20 to 30 pies pre-ordered through Instagram for pick-up on Thursdays.
It all lies in the dough: It’s a three-day process starting with an osmotolerant yeast and Frankie’s own blend of imported Napolitano flour to create a pre-fermented biga, a technique used in Italian styles of baking which adds complexity to the bread's flavor and give it a light texture filled with holes. That’s just the first night.
Placed into the mixer with more flour, more water, salt, olive oil, it’s a formula left to ferment for another 24 hours before being finished off in the fridge for the last day.
“It’s a very long, prolonged cold ferment that we do, so the dough has a lot of time to capture flavours and eat away at the sugars to be very airy,” explains Donny, whose fans swear the pizza gets even better when it’s been reheated in the concentrated heat of a countertop Black and Decker.
Having Frankie’s as a home base is a step up for Donny, who previously woke up at 3am on Sundays to take out dough from his basement’s fridge to bake by 9am.
“The life of a baker? I understand now. These guys work at night because the dough waits for nobody.”
The result is two-fold: It’s super light and continues to ferment in your stomach, filling you up, and it’s a long process—hence the pre-orders. “It’s going to be done around our lives for now,” Donny says.
Those Neo-New York pies can range from Margherita and Cosacca to more loaded ones: Think stretched dough topped first with low-moisture mozzarella and Rosso Gargano tomatoes from Puglia for sauce (“Ferrari red,” says Donny) for the base, then fior di latte, slices of a secret cup ‘n’ char pepperoni sourced from Ontario, pecorino, and finished off with Grana Padano and/or shredded basil. Maybe some hot honey. Marone.
“I think a lot of the great places in Montreal are places that do it their own way. They push the barrier of rules,” says Donny. “The ones that are renegades are the ones that are successful.”
While Donny and Daniele aren’t thinking of themselves as renegades, “we’re doing it our own way,” Donny says.
“My dad always said ‘don’t look at other people. Do what you do best, and go forward with that.’ This is what we do. If one day we want to do sausage sandwiches, we will. We’ll do whatever we want to do. We believe and have the confidence in our background and our product.”
“To do this type of business—to do pizza, to be a butcher—if you’re not doing it with passion, then don’t do it at all,” says Donny.
“At the end of the day, that’s what drives a person. You make enough money to raise a family, you live a very honest living, and it’s fun. You put your best foot forward every time you do something, every time you make something. It’s consistency.”
The Mellozzis’ skill in the kitchen is one of their great inheritances. Their father and creator of Marchigiani’s porchetta recipe—also the namesake of Frankie’s—Francesco Mellozzi and their mother hail from Marche and Abruzzo respectively, both central Italian regions with rich culinary heritage.
“I was next to my grandmother when she was 70 years old, learning the trades. My brother (and I), we were just always around the kitchen,” Donny says. “You’re born with the food.”
“September, it’s tomato season. Then we make wine, and then we slaughter the pig in January. Then we make sausages, and it just goes on and on and on; then there’s lamb in April. We all have gardens… I’m a farmer at heart. My grandfather had his own farm in Mercier growing potatoes and peppers.”
“It’s just in our DNA.”
Grabbing a pie here’s like stepping into the pizza underground of Montreal. You’ll pop a Paoletti soda, talk up the Brothers Mellozzi, and they’ll espouse deep knowledge of both the great pizza cities of the world and great pizzaiolos of Montreal in equal measure.
Are they going to take a slice of Montreal’s pizza scene beyond this spot?
“If God wants, we think of health first, but we’ll see what happens in the future. I don’t know, I have no answers,” says Donny.
“We don’t know what can happen, but as long as we’re happy, we’re healthy, everyone is taken care of, that’s how we move forward. There’s no plan to our madness, we’re just making the best pizzas we can.”
Find out for yourself by ordering up at Forno Pizza Frankie’s—they’ll let you know where to pick up.
Photos by Philip Tabah.