Baby girl you're so fine.Montreal has had like, two days of warm weather recently. The rest of 2013 has been dickered with cold and rainy weeks that have kept everybody indoors. I know what you're thinking—this is amazing. The crappy weather gives us all more time to work on our bikini bodies, to sculpt ourselves for inevitable on-the-beach Instagram photos. No filter or blurring effect can save me from my weird lumps, so I've done my part by taking up running. Those four mornings out of the entire year that I dragged myself out of bed, jogged for one minute and then walked and heaved for ten have really done my body good. I deserve a treat, one with an estimated calorie count of ten trillion. I know I shouldn’t be stuffing any sort of junk into my mouth but this is Quebec, the comfort food province. I can’t resist. Enter: pizzaghetti.
Pizzaghetti has been around here longer than I have. It's the Quebecer Calzone, the Carbohyplate. It's actually neither of those things… but I didn't lie about its prevalence. To me, pizzaghetti has always been as Québecois as poutine, the pet de soeur or the oreilles de crisse. I'm not even reaching. Pasta and pizza may be two distinctly Italian dishes, but we’re the ones who thought of serving them side-by-side, forever solidifying their place in steamie culture. By ‘we’ I likely mean the Greek owners of a Belle Province franchise, but the combo’s history seems undocumented.Growing up, I remember visiting my maternal grandparents in Hochelaga. They raised five kids in a two-bedroom apartment. It never even occurred to me that most Italian immigrants settled in other, more prosperous areas. I took the neighborhood in. I liked it. Dépanneurs, casse-croûtes and bars with big foamy mugs painted on the windows surrounded their old duplex. But as soon as you walked through their front door, you forgot where you were. My grandfather never learned French or English. He was often dressed in suit pants and a canottiera, stained from gardening all day. Slightly more noticeable was the distinct smell. Pork legs would hang from the basement ceiling for months, eventually becoming prosciutto. Homemade cheeses and sausages tempted you. My grandparents' fresh pizza and pasta were something I didn't know I was supposed to cherish. Then they died. “Fuck, all food sucks,” I soon realized. I had to learn to cook. I had to wander the city streets and eat up everything I could. The pizzaghetti combos I’d find were admittedly never even close to being as delicious as my grandparents’ cooking but they were cheap, tasty and available enough to keep me coming back for more.
It’s become such a staple here that Kraft Dinner, the number one selling product in Canadian grocery stores, once offered an “extreme pizza” flavoured version of their macaroni. More recently, Couche-Tard dépanneurs started selling pizzaghetti slushies. When I first heard about this I shrugged and dismissed it. To my surprise the rest of the world got totally grossed out. I guess I never fully realized that pizzaghetti was limited to Quebec. I figured they at least had it throughout Canada, like the all-dressed chip. Americans, did you know there are all-dressed chips? They’re amazing.As a general rule, the farther out you go from the centre of Montreal, the better the pizzaghetti gets. Pathetic areas have really perfected the recipe. That makes sense, as this meal is not a gourmet thing. It’s not hip. It’s not fashionable. It’s disgusting, almost guaranteed to give you a gros caca. No one has dared sprinkle foie gras over it (yet). No one has served it to Habs players at their staple St-Laurent supper clubs. I’m almost positive I ate it inside an arena once. Oh, and at these places, too:
MIAMI DELI, 3090 Rue Sherbrooke Est, Montreal
This 24h mega diner is usually crowded with elderly peeps from the many nearby old folks homes. The cooks must use steamrollers and hoses to produce enough dough and sauce to satisfy all those elderly and salivating mouths. Though service is quick, you’ll find yourself spending time gazing at the décor. Fake palm trees, sharks and crocodiles all blend together to try and nail an authentic Floridian vibe. It’s an always pleasant, always filling experience.
SALONICA, 5621 Rue St-Denis, Montreal
I’ve scarfed down countless late-night gyro poutines on Salonica’s banquettes, swatting its resident flies away, sweating out the Johnny Bootleggers I just drank. The same waitress is always there, forever complaining. It’s got an inexplicable charm that draws you in. But then you remember they put cinnamon in their tomato sauce. No.
MARCONI, 2224 Rue Beaubien Est, Montreal
Marconi does it right. Their pizzaghetti is unreasonably expensive and they don’t give you a free 2L of Pepsi with it—but every once in a while, it’s worth it. See, they don’t serve pizza with a side of spaghetti. They serve spaghetti on pizza. That’s right. Tucked below a thick, greasy fortress of melted mozzarella and all-dressed toppings rests a perfectly portioned serving of spaghetti. The slices are noticeably heavy.
RESTAURANT DE LA PLACE, 75 Boulevard St-Jean Baptiste, Châteauguay
Off the highway and in the middle of nowhere rests one of countless “Let’s just eat anywhere… Here… Stop… Let’s just eat at this fucking place” restaurants. You’re not sure what’s good so you ask the waitress and she coughs out, “Moi j’aime la peetza getzi.” Boom. Moi aussi je l’aime.No matter where you are in Quebec, in some deserted farm town or piss-poor city neighborhood, everyone orders the pizzaghetti because everyone loves it. Feel free to contact me with restaurant recommendations or if you’d like more suggestions. Until then, I will be here, sitting at my computer, eating pizzaghetti attentively.Follow Melissa on Twitter: @pizzaghetti (yes that is seriously her Twitter handle).More on food in Montreal over here:Montreal’s Food Truck Plan Is a Symbolic “Fuck You” to Poor People and ImmigrantsMunchies: Joe Beef