Pizzeria Toro is back. After a fire closed the locally renowned pizza restaurant in November 2013, it has reopened with a fresh new vibe and open layout. Owner Gray Books has somehow managed to keep the original feel of Pizzeria Toro while also imbuing it with new energy and a contemporary ambience.
I arrived there for lunch around noon on a Sunday with two friends. We were greeted and seated quickly and given the plain, yet crisp, menu by our server right away. Before we even took a glance at the menu, though, we couldn’t help but admire the new look of the restaurant. In contrast to the harsh fluorescent lighting of the dorm rooms and fast food restaurants that most of campus is used to, the warm and pleasant glow of Pizzeria Toro is very welcoming.
And not just that, but Toro does not waste its time with any kind of normal lighting. Instead, patrons are greeted with elaborately casual light fixtures. Exposed lightbulbs hang from the ceiling in seemingly unorganized lumps and nearly industrial-looking lights illuminate the tables.
Perhaps because it does feel so open and welcoming, Toro certainly does not have an excess of seating. While there are wide corridors for patrons and staff to move around, the tables are relatively few and far between. One long table dominates the center of the room, with several high booths tucked up against the walls. A separate room hosts a rather quiet and bare bar area, which was only in use by a few customers while we were there.
But this is a relatively minor complaint about a very elegant, wood-paneled restaurant. The extremely exposed kitchen and oven allow for customers to watch their food being prepared. And, for us, that made the wait even more torturous.
The three of us ordered two pizzas between us. One was “white,” meaning without sauce, and the other was “red,” or with sauce. Thankfully, the wait for our food was rather short. Although not cheap by late-night college snacking standards for sure, the two pizzas that we ordered nearly perfectly justified their price with both the presentation and taste.
The dishes arrived on simple, elegant pans. We were all given small plates that, although they fit the aesthetic of Pizzeria Toro, barely fit one slice of pizza. But there was no denying that this place knows how to make pizza. From the first bite to the messy, satisfying end, it was a fantastic ride.
For veterans of acclaimed pizza joints such as Dominos and Papa John’s, the pizza here may feel like it is lacking in sauce and cheese. But, after a moment or two to get used to the different texture and taste, it was clear that the wood-fired oven granted a very particularly smoky and flavorful taste to the dough. The ingredients that topped the pizzas we ordered, whether they were eggs or spicy lamb sausage or arugula, were flavorful and well-seasoned.
Honestly, Pizzeria Toro’s greatest appeal is the reason that most people will find fault with it. This is a pizza restaurant that is willing to take a step above the day-to-day pizza joints. Instead, it presents a simple, elegant, and, for better or worse, streamlined restaurant and menu to its patrons. There is no doubt that Pizzeria Toro is back. And, this time, it is here to stay.
Pizzeria Toro is located at 105 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701.
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