The year 2013 saw the founding of a restaurant empire when seasoned chef Michele Forgione joined forces with TV's Stefano Faita, introducing Little Italy's acclaimed Impasto. The duo's flagship ristorante was shortly followed by GEMA across the street, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria that also garnered rave reviews. Our party of nine converged here for a birthday celebration; marking our first visit of this two-year-old pie slinger.
The small, low-key, bareboned space was full-ish without feeling busy on this mild autumn night. Although the crowd leaned on the young side, we still discerned that quaint, welcoming neighborhood feel we have come to associate with la Petite-Italie.
Due to the size of our group, a fixed tasting menu was imposed on the whole table; a restrictive – yet common and understandable – restaurant policy. In retrospect, we would not have had it any different. We got to sample the vast majority of the seasonal, local-driven menu; and at $35 a person, this was an easy steal.
Starters, served family-style, were erratic: the calamari and market salad were ordinary while the veal meat balls were pure delight. The octopus salad satisfied but went thrifty with the mollusc, while the GEMA salad tomatoes were too cold on the teeth. Moving on to the feature presentation, the pizza – featuring beautifully thin/puffy crust and fresh toppings – was exquisite. Lastly, desserts were rich and stellar; which comes as no surprise given chef Forgione's training as a pastry chef.
"veal meat balls"
"heirloom tomatoes, QC mozzarella di bufala"
"tomato sauce, QC mozzarella di bufala, basil"
"tomato sauce, mushrooms, red onions, marinated artichokes, QC mozzarella di bufala"
"spinach, capers, olives, pecorino, onions, QC mozzarella di bufala"
Named after the founding duet's four children (Giovanni, Emilia, Anna, Massimo), GEMA's family spirit transposes itself to the staff and service. Retaining personnel is an obvious priority here, as we recognized several faces from Impasto – and even Michele's prior ventures. All of this translates into an accommodating experience: our party didn't have to wait until everyone showed up before being seated and a couple substitutions were allowed on the fixed menu.
tagged: WE AIM TO PLEASE
By joining the ranks of solid nearby pizzerias such as Bottega – still our favorite – and Napoletana, GEMA has turned the two-block radius surrounding it into the city's official pizza capital. The inviting atmosphere and group menu's zipper-popping generosity make it an ideal spot for a casual gathering of starved friends. Take our advice and drop in for some serious pie; just make sure you've got the numbers!
Price per person: $35
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.