Let’s be honest: Every single one of us has wanted to experience an Eat, Pray, Love moment in our lives.
Sofia Butera had hers about seven years ago while attending a wedding in Italy. The Niagara Falls resident ordered pizza one night on the trip and more than pie, it was a revelation.
The Bologna-style pizza with its thin and uncut crust changed the course of Butera’s life. She returned home to Niagara and opened Il Sorriso on Clark Street just steps from the well-worn tourist path.
Il Sorriso is a slice of la dolce vita. The eatery features 30 stone-oven baked ’zas and locally made house wine. It’s not uncommon for regulars to order favourites that don’t even appear on the menu. Sofia will happily oblige with a home-cooked meal.
Il Sorriso is true to its name as a place makes its diners happy — sorriso is smile in Italian. Even the competition comes here to eat.
Niagara Culinary Tours recently caught up with Sofia to find out the secret for building a dining gem (Psst, she worked nearly three years without a day off, for one).
What is it about pizza that compelled you to build a restaurant dedicated to it?
For me, it was the pizza I had in Italy. I said let’s do something different, let’s do something no one else is doing, which was no cutting, the very thin crust and individually made. People always say ‘Oh, I can’t eat that. It’s too big,’ but then they always do. They’re not Canadian style or American style.
How do you come up with ideas for your pizzas?
My family is Calabrese and our No. 1 pizza is actually the Calabrese. It’s hot salami and gorgonzola. There’s one called Parisienne. That one’s named after Paris. I brought my son there and we walked by this bakery and it had this thick pizza bread in the window. It had oil (for a base) and onions and I thought ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to have a piece of that. Twenty-one days there and on the 21st day I had a piece. I said ‘I love this, I have to make it.’ So when I opened the pizzeria here, I said, ‘We’re having the Parisienne.’ It has the dripping onions on it, it’s on a thin crust, we put gorgonzola cheese on it, so that’s how we came up with that one. And a lot of them are staples like the Napoli with anchovies.
What is most underrated item on the menu?
I would say anything with gorgonzola cheese. People think it smells like stinky feet. It’s delicious on a pizza. And anchovies. People say ‘I don’t want anchovies’ but it’s delicious on a pizza. It’s like it melts.
What’s the best part about doing business in Niagara?
My customers are awesome. They’re my best friends now, they’re like family. It’s nice when you go some place and they see me, they recognize me. They say ‘Sofia!’ if I’m out getting coffee and ask how I am. They care, you know? It’s like having a big family.
Tell us where your inspiration for new dishes comes from?
My family used to own an Italian restaurant next door. My mom cooked. People would see us eating. They’d come in for an espresso out front and see us eating pasta and they’d ask ‘Can you make a bowl for me?’ My mom would… She passed away… but a lot of those people have come back here and say ‘Can you make this as good as your mommy?’ I say I’ll try but it’s never as good. A lot of people have been coming here and they’ll ask for tortellini and it’s not not the menu, and it’s OK, we’ll make it. You want gluten-free? OK, we’ll make it. Your child doesn’t want to eat pizza? What do they want? My servers and chef, after we’re done, we always sit down and eat together. It’s whatever I decide and I make stuff they don’t know because a lot of them aren’t Italian. One time I served burrata. It’s a soft cheese… and I brought it to the table with prosciutto and everyone thought it was so good. So it comes from that. I can try things out with them.
Anything new planned for the restaurant?
We need more room. We’re going to expand to the unit attached to here. It’s ready to go, it just needs a cleanup and new paint job. We’re not going to change what we have but we’re going to do more dessert and coffee. A lot of people when they come here, they come for a glass of wine and start talking to the people next to them. It’s like a gathering place so we want to keep it the same. Bigger but the same.
Written by Tiffany Mayer
You can visit Il Sorriso on Niagara Culinary’s, Beyond the Falls: Niagara Falls food tour. For more information go to www.niagaraculinarytours.com