Beloved Hydrostone pizzeria keeps it simple—and affordable

Olive oil, mozzarella, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and parmesan, and a rich Sicilian tomato sauce that’s been kept a secret for generations — that’s the inimitable “Original” Salvatore’s pizza.

Opened in the Hydrostone Market in 1994, one of the first restaurants to revitalize the area, Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria and its thin-crust pizza pies have become famous for simplicity.

“The whole principle of Italian cooking is to get the best ingredients, the freshest ingredients, and keep it simple,” says owner Chris Cuddihy, who learned the trade as a chef under Salvatore Rinaldo at the first Salvatore’s New York Pizza on South Street in the 1980s. When Cuddihy bought the joint and the take-it-to-the-grave Italian recipes, few restaurants in the city at the time deviated from greasy thick pizzas with cartoonishly heavy cheese and floppy deli meats.

“When we first opened, people called us gourmet . . . but we don’t feel gourmet. We feel like a traditional New York Italian place. And I think we feel more like a family pizzeria,” says Cuddihy.

Over the last decade, even with the growth of the Hydrostone area and shops like Mother’s Pizza, Salvatore’s has held its own — so much so that you’ll often encounter a short lineup for a table under the charming Italian-villa interior façade. But Salvatore’s is always worth the wait.

Along with the Original pizza, with its enforced maximum of only three additional toppings, Salvatore’s offers five recommended pizzas that have been crafted to enhance every the flavour of each ingredient. There are also the specialty “Bianco” pizzas which use mozzarella or Romano cheese as the base instead of tomato sauce. The Clam Pie Marinato is covered with olive oil-marinated baby claims which are complemented by the subtle cheese, and the Pizza Miguel has the hints of basil and roasted garlic.

Owner, Chris Cuddihy

At Salvatore’s, it’s all about understatement. While the pizzas keep customers coming back for more, the real unsung heroes of the Salvatore’s menu are the nine noble toasted or oven-baked sandwiches: the pepperoni, the meatball, the tuna melt, the roasted ham, the veggie, the Portobello melt and more. All are served open-face on Sal’s famous garlic baguettes with mayo.

“They’re definitely underrated,” says Cuddihy of the sandwiches. “And they’ve always been there! But for a long time they were only available for lunch, for logistical purposes, but then we were able to add them to the full menu and again, like the pizza, they’re so simple. People ask what’s on them, and we try to describe it, and they say, ‘Oh, that’s it?’ But then you try one and they just work.”

Still, there is a special off-menu item that loads it on thick. The Coney Island Hero, Cuddihy’s original invention, is a tower of a toasted sandwich and a unique combination of inspirations.

“I really like Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, a lot, and I grew up in Montreal, and always liked the Michigan Red Hots, which is a meat dog with red sauce. So we were experimenting with sandwiches and realized the Coney Island Hero is somewhat French-Canadian inspired, with the Coney Island and New York kind of twist because that’s where Nathan’s Hotdogs are from.”

Served toasted on fresh garlic bread, the Nathan’s dog is sliced down the middle for optimal sandwiching, then dressed in Sal’s Italian meat sauce, mozzarella, onion, pickle, mustard and mayo. The best part? It’s only $4.95. The price points are another reason why people love Sal’s.

Like the Coney Island, the heroes range from $4.95 for a small to $8.95 for a large, and both sizes are filling. Large pizzas hover in the low $20 range, and the garlic bread is just three bucks.

“We didn’t realize how affordable we are,” says Cuddihy, who heard criticisms back in the early days that Sal’s was pricey. “But now restaurants are so expensive, so when you see a family here look at their bill at the end and they’re surprised, we know that the price has been right.”

And while Sal’s has stayed true to its original vision, they’ve adopted new items as the demand has increased. “We have fun with little changes,” he says. “Lately we’re adding more individual ingredients like vegan cheeses, ricotta and parmesan, and the Portobello mushroom sandwich. There aren’t that many vegan options in pizza, and there’s definitely a market for it.” Similarly, the wine list, which includes unassuming wines that complement the rich tomato-based sauce, was designed to pair with the herbs and spices on the menu. And they’ve been happy to add local craft beers.

At the end of the meal, house-made cheesecakes with rotating selections or the crisp Sicilian cannoli, a pastry stuffed with sweetened cheese and chocolate, are the perfect sweet finish.

“We’re going to keep making pizzas and having fun. We like what we do,” he says. It shows.