DOWNTOWN MONTREAL | Montreal's Gems- Review of Fugazzi
Updated: Apr 12
With the rebirth of Griffintown and the settling of its new inhabitants, some of whom never knew the Point-St-Charles of the recent past I am sure it all seems very quaint and lively to walk across the canal from Des Seigneurs down to Center street and soak it all in. It’s a community with strong roots and an identity that stretches back centuries depending on what side street you choose to go down. But like everywhere else in the city there is a renewal happening here, and like it or not, it is bringing with it change and creativity.
I worked at an internet provider in the Northern Electric building (that giant warehouse you can spot from the Wellington Bridge) roughly a quarter century ago. Back then it was the beginning of the dotcom era, and a bunch of start ups were renting up the loft style offices in the building. Around the area there were lofts and other apartments being renovated and repackaged for habitation but nothing like the scale and construction you see today.
The warehouse was being renovated to cater to the new wave of information entrepreneurs and if you had the chance to work there it felt like being in something larger than life. The scale of the place was just gigantic. Nowadays it is being turned into lofts and condos just as many of the other buildings in the area are.
Now what does all this have to do with food? Not much really, but the experience of going back to the Point to eat at a trendy restaurant all felt a bit surreal. I remember walking to work from Charlevoix metro with my big old Sony headphones on slightly worried about getting mugged or worse, so to walk around that area again brought back that feeling of fight or flight and looking over my shoulder. But when I looked around all I could see was one refreshed storefront after another and the sound of people out for the night. The dive bars, depanneurs, and long standing family run restaurants that I remember were all gone.
The restaurant we were heading to was nondescript from the exterior, it was dark and I don’t recall seeing a sign, which given the tremendous amount of branding inside the restaurant comes as a surprise to me as I think back about it.
Walking into Fugazzi, my companion observed, was like walking off the beach and into some hip Californian surfer joint. The vibe is decidedly retro punk and rock 'n' roll, from the decor right down to the playlist. The restaurant is the brainchild of the Barroco group famous for their old Montreal locale of the same name and other trendy restaurants populated around the city (Foiegwa, Bocata, Milky Way, and the Atwater Cocktail Club). They partnered with the Gauley Brothers to design the place. The Gauley’s have designed a few of the Barroco group locations among many other places, but walking into each joint you would be hard pressed to find commonality. Too often restaurants are clones of each other because the same designers are used. I appreciate having a palette to draw from when you do good work, but it is even harder to make something fresh and unique with each new project and the Gauley’s deserve full marks for this one and many others.
However I can’t help but that feel that in some ways Fugazzi felt a little bit like they ripped a page out of the Belle et Boeuf playbook for interior design, but with more style and passion and not looking to franchise an identity. There cold be no relation at all, but it all felt a little familiar in some respects. Although, you will leave the place remembering full well the name Fugazzi considering there are stickers and branding everywhere, from the plates and glasses all the way to the tiles in the bathroom. Along with no shortage of merch to buy.
I could very easily have spent the evening taking pictures of all the odds and ends and kitschy late twentieth century pop culture strewn throughout the place. The Barroco group really does have a good eye for style, hiring the right people and being current. All their venues are both beautifully designed and full of character that have their own identities. My issue with them in the past has been the quality of food and what I felt was a bit of pretentiousness in some of the menu choices versus what you would get on your plate. So heading into it I was prepared to be wowed by the space and mehd by the food.
We arrived and were warmly greeted by a server who checked us in and showed us to our table. The place looks bigger than it is, but can seat groups of multiple sizes. The space is blended with what looked like two very comfy semi circle banquets in front of the windows that could easily seat a party of four to six, picnic table style seating that seats about six to eight, tables for two and more along the back wall and a large bar in front of an open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. The bar had a psychedelic sixties beach vibe diner feel to it, with very short bar-stools facing a well stocked bar. In the back facing the kitchen there also was a chef’s table for two if memory serves me well. The place was clean, well organized and efficient. Service was attentive and professional. The playlist was wholeheartedly rock 'n' roll from the seventies and eighties, veering more towards punk which suited me just fine.
Besides the style palette, the Barroco team does one more thing exceptionally well; cocktails. Fugazzi was no exception to that group as was evidenced by a well crafted and creative cocktail menu. We took our time gazing over the options and finally settled on two distinct drinks. On my side I went with the Péché Mignon and for her she went with the Tropic Thunder. The Péché was a deliciously boozy low ball with a shade of orange sunglow warm enough to erase the rainy day outside, but it was the Tropic Thunder that ultimately won the prize for drink most likely to be finished in the first sip.
Once we got over talking about and pointing out the trinkets that formed our childhoods that were scattered everywhere, we turned our attention to the menu. On first glance it was exciting. It was a good balance of appetizers with distinct pasta and pizza options. In a city that is riddled with high end pizza options the offerings at Fugazzi were noticeably different than the rest due to the plate naming and combinations. We narrowed down our choice of starter to the carrots covered in a tahini dressing with pistachios crumbled on top and the octopus and sobrasada. The octopus came first and was a well put together dish, with the pieces of octopus laid over a bed of sobrasada and potatoes and then covered with some thinly sliced raw onions. The octopus was tender, perhaps a tad too tough but not enough to diminish the flavor and it paired deliciously with the ground up sobrasada it rested on.
The carrots came next and were my favorite dish of the night. It was nothing complicated, just three roasted carrots of varying colors covered in a warm tahini sauce and crushed pistachios. The combination of softened and sweet carrots with the tastiness from the tahini made this simple dish one to be enjoyed with every bite.
There was a bit of a break between the appetizers and the mains. Our waiter made sure to check in on us and we each ordered a glass of gammay that our waiter suggested. It paired well with the rest of the meal but we are not fussy when it comes to our wine.
Our mains came close together, which in thinking about it more I would have asked our waiter to stagger. Since our apps came to the table individually it allowed us to appreciate the dishes more and take our time in eating them. We both are not fans of sharing plates, but I would make an exception for Fugazzi as the dishes are better served to be shared with the table.
Our pasta dish came first. We ordered the forestière fusilli with aged cheddar. The dish itself was a freshly made squid ink pasta made from a basket full of various ground up mushrooms. The pasta came al dente and for my tastes worked very well. The cheddar added a bit of sharpness to the dish and the shaved mushrooms that were blended in and coated in the butter from the sauce were equally scrumptious. This is a rich dish though, so be prepared to take your time with it. And here is where if I could do it over I would have asked the waiter to delay the next dish in order to give us time to fully enjoy the pasta, our pizza came next and we felt a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of food on the table.
The pizza looked very good, so we had no choice but to move on from the pasta and onto the pizza. We went with the Donnie Brasco (mortadella/burrata/ricotta/arugula and extra parm) and it was not something to fuggedabout. Fugazzi definitely went full blown creative in their pizza naming which added an extra dimension to choosing. Do you go with what you are passionate about in pop culture or do you go with something you think you might enjoy eating? I have to admit being torn between the Wu Tang Killer Bees and Rocco pizzas, but ultimately went with what looked like the best way to test out their oven and dough. Prior to this I would rank my top 5 Montreal pizzas as follows:
1) Elena – best pizza dough in town 2) Gigi (Pointe-Claire) – come at me 3) Cugini’s Pizza Café (Beaconsfield) - good enough and pricey enough for Bruce Willis 4) Pizzeria Napoletana - a classic of the neighbourhood 5) Pizzaeria Gemma - not for long…
However, I may have to knock Gemma off the list. The crust at Fugazzi had a nice crispness to it but not overly done. It was soft and sweet and did not fall apart, get soggy or crumble. The ingredients were fresh, the mortadella was good quality, the arugula not too overpowering and the cheeses worked well together.
We were too full for dessert so we finished our wine, paid our bill and went on our way quite full and quite satisfied. Dinner for two, with cocktails, two apps and two mains will run between 90$-110$ not including tip or wine.
FUGAZZI 438-522-PIZZ 1886 rue Centre, Montreal, QC H3K 1H9 Monday to Friday - 11:30AM - 2PM (Lunch) Sunday to Thursday - 5PM - 11PM (Supper) Friday and Saturday - 5PM - 12AM (Supper) Reservations - Yes Menu