Montreal’s all-star, six-year-old Italian eatery Nora Gray has a brand-new companion in the form of a pizza and wine bar. Nestled into an unassuming corner venue on Notre Dame Street West in Montreal’s St-Henri neighbourhood, Elena, by Marley Sniatowsky and Nora Gray’s Emma Cardarelli and Ryan Gray, offers an inviting escape as soon as you walk through its doors.
“The inspiration is Italian modernism,” says Gray of the 3,000-square-foot space, which was designed by Kyle Adams Goforth. “It is meant to be chic and bold but still very playful. Our building has such great bones, there was a great vibe and energy in the space before and throughout even the darkest points of the massive renovations,” says Gray of the building, which previously sat abandoned for nearly 15 years. “These bones allowed us to play with textures and match new, clean, and fresh design elements with the old floors, brick wall, and ceiling, so even though it’s modern it feels warm.”
To the left of the restaurant’s warm, 50-person dining room, a swirling marble bar snakes its way right from the front door all the way to the open kitchen, where a custom-built wood-burning pizza oven enjoys pride of place. The effect is modern, quirky, and comfortable.
While pizza reigns supreme, homemade pasta and salad fill out Elena’s small but mighty menu, along with a few culinary surprises.
Food-wise, the focus here is on coffee, pizza, and wine—so much so that the restaurant’s web address is comprised of those three words rather than the pizzeria’s true name. Gray and Cardarelli elevate everyone’s favourite late night staple with naturally leavened pizza dough, some of the lightest west of Napoli for certain, which is made to be easily digestible, but conveniently also gives a crisp, light feeling to the pie itself thanks to the dash of spelt and whole wheat. “Emma and I travelled across Italy in the spring of 2016 and found pizza mecca at Gio Sorbillo in Naples and had a religious experience,” says Gray of their culinary inspiration.
While pizza reigns supreme, homemade pasta and salad fill out Elena’s small but mighty menu, along with a few culinary surprises and modern additions, such as the half-rabbit cooked in the wood-burning oven, or the vegan-friendly smoked carrots with almond-based cheese. “Emma has always been very forward thinking about people’s dietary restrictions,” notes Gray. “We’ve always designed our menus to have dishes that can accommodate vegan, celiac, lactose, and shellfish-free diets without having to make modifications.”
And then comes the wine. Packed with private Italian imports, Elena’s natural wine list will delight everyone from connoisseurs to patrons looking to simply pair their pie with a nice glass. Try their flavour-packed orange wines.
What’s next for Elena? A bonus coffee/takeout shop is in the works. Located just behind the dining room, Café P.S. is set to open this spring.
Elena, 5090 Notre Dame O. Montreal, Quebec H4C 1T1.
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