Review of Morris East

October 24, 2007 Comments Off on Review of Morris East

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5212 Morris Street, Halifax
phone: 902 444 7663

Morris East received a lot of press since it opened in early August at the intersection of Morris and Barrington. During the last week of September, the restaurant critics from both The Daily News and The Chronicle-Herald visited the spot in the same week, and both offered positive reviews. It’s fair to say Morris East is a hotspot.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, owner Jennie Dobbs is a restauranteur who takes pizza seriously, so of course she imported an Italian wood-burning pizza oven directly from the old country. And it makes all the difference.

Wood smoke lends the pizza crust a smoky flavor, obviously, but it also reveals fantastic sweet and savory notes hidden in the dough, proving that we sometimes sacrifice flavor when adopting modern conveniences. Wood loved wheat in a way that propane doesn’t— even in a brick oven.

But that marvelous oven is only part of what Morris East does right.

On the cool evening we stopped by, a weeknight, we were surprised to see that the place was packed. We were met at the door by a friendly waitress who took our outerwear and showed us to the only open table, along the side. A banquette runs along one side of the room. The space is cozy, maybe a dozen tables, and the walls show weathered, exposed brick. The kitchen is visible, and the oven’s back end pokes into the dining room like the hull of a battleship. If they keep that baby blazing, Morris East won’t have to use much heating oil this winter! The wine list and dessert menu are on chalkboards above the counter. The effect is a modern, minimalist European bistro.

We started by splitting the Artichoke Dip; their dip-of-the-day. I was expecting the usual hot, parmesan-y artichoke dip, but instead our waitress delivered a generous portion of a smooth, lemony celadon paste served cold. Rather than crackers or toasts, a fresh flatbread was the delivery method, giving us our first taste of that oven. The preparation was different and delicious; unlike any artichoke dip I’ve ever had.

While the menu offers some delightfully exotic choices (peach, proscuitto, and goat cheese; caramelized pineapple and Canadian bacon were two pizzas featured in September), we choose the more traditional The Pork Shop and Roasted Vegetable Pizzas.

The Pork Shop is topped with hot Italian Sausage from Denmark, Colchester County, as well as caramelized red onion and roasted red pepper. The combination is perfectly balanced, sweet onions and ripe peppers contrasting with the spicy sausage. Absolutely fantastic.

The Roasted Vegetable Pizza was a terrific rendition. Unlike so many waterlogged, pasty “roasted vegetables” at Halifax restaurants, the vegetables here— peppers, zucchini and tomatoes— were firm, distinct and flavorful. The pie was topped with a generous crumbling of goat cheese, and contrary to another reviewer’s complaint, we found no problem with the crust becoming soggy. Even twenty minutes after we’d been served, the crust remained crisp and chewy, with some tasty blackened bits.

And make no mistake. Morris East is all about the great crust. We fell in love with the sweet, smoky complexity imparted by that traditional oven, and only wish we could recreate those flavors at home. I also appreciate the restaurant’s focus. You won’t find a salmon special or a Thai chicken salad to start. They do one thing, pizza, and they do it very, very well.

Clearly, Dobbs cares about wines, too. Morris East offers its wines by the glass, half-liter, and bottle, and the short, smart list was carefully chosen by sommelier Jamie Urqhart. Urqhart has chosen some unusual bottlings here, like the Cuma Torrontes 2006, an organic Chilean wine with a bright floral nose and hints of peach and lemon. If you’re looking for something local, two bottlings from Jost are on offer, as well. We hope the wine list will continue to grow as the restaurant matures.

All desserts are made in-house, with homey choices like s’mores and chocolate hazelnut torte. They’re simple and rich, and all the better for it.

The pricing here is more than fair, and the service was fun and affable. We felt very well cared, and appreciated how everyone on the floor made us feel welcome and appreciated.

In fact, my only quibble is with the vegetarian options: a pizza margherita and the roasted vegetable were the vegetarian options for both September and October, surprising in a restaurant that changes its menu every month. Why should carnivores have all the fun? How about roasted garlic, potato, and Jerusalem artichoke pie with sage and ricotta; or roasted butternut squash, caramelized onion, thyme and goat cheese? Winter lends itself lots of hearty vegetarian options.

It’s a wonderful new neighborhood restaurant in a well-served neighborhood, but we’re sure Morris East will make a go of it. Honestly, we loved it.

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