The menus at Monza and Melfi’s are outwardly similar, but co-owner Brooks Reitz says his team has worked hard to make sure pizza and pasta don’t block customers’ view of the differences between the King Street restaurants.
Reitz’s restaurant group, Neighbourhood (Melfi’s, Leon’s, Little Jack’s Tavern), last fall announced plans to shut down Closed for Business and expand Monza into the adjoining restaurant space. After a brief closure for wall demolition and interior design overhaul, the 12-year-old restaurant is set to reopen next week.
“The fun challenge on the heels of opening Melfi’s was making sure it was complementary,” Reitz says, adding that he wanted to avoid a situation in which diners would equivocate between Monza and Melfi’s on a Friday night. “People should be like, ‘It’s a Monza night for this reason.’”
Among the reasons they might cite are a family-friendly atmosphere; drinkable Chianti in straw-wrapped bottles and pizza dough upgraded with Anson Mills Red Fife flour.
“The menu is like 80 percent the same, except we tore up the recipes,” Reitz says.
Since announcing the restaurant redo, Reitz says he’s heard his share of odes to Monza’s chicken Milanese and butterbean salad. He told chef Reid Henninger that eighty-sixing such beloved items wasn’t a good strategy, but encouraged him to experiment with ingredients and techniques.
Henninger and chef de cuisine Emily Hahn have also created a few new dishes, although with an eye to the clientele expected at a restaurant on the same block as Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale and JohnKing Grill. Amaro, which is in heavy rotation at Melfi’s, barely figures into the cocktail list, for example.
“Maybe we love boquerones, but maybe we don’t need to put them on top of the Caesar,” Reitz says. “Maybe we make it an option.”
As for the dining room’s design, Neighbourhood has stuck with the restaurant’s original Italian race car theme, albeit interpreted more liberally as license to install mushroom table lamps and other Euro Mod touches, such as a zebra-striped tile floor and orange bar stools at the pizza bar. There’s also a Ferrari engine block hanging over a storefront table for eight, the lone exception to Monza’s no-reservations policy: Guests who book the table can ask the restaurant to pull a dividing curtain, creating a semi-private pizza party.
Another sectioned-off space at the back of the restaurant is furnished with giant TV mirrors on either wall. The TVs will be used solely to display muted soccer matches. A back patio is still under construction.
“It’s been really fun,” Reitz says of the transformation process, which resulted in a restaurant that’s bigger than Leon’s by 15 seats — and much bigger than Melfi’s, eight blocks north.
Monza, 451 King St., will open for dinner on Monday and transition to its standard lunch and dinner schedule the following week. For more information, go to monzapizza.com.