Ever since humanity invented flatbread, we’ve wanted to embellish it with savoury sauces and tasty toppings. When students tire of eating overpriced wraps from La Prep, waiting in long lines at Dispatch, and digging for that elusive toonie at a samosa sale, McGill Pizza is there for them—a welcoming space to indulge in their favourite foods.
McGill Pizza has been a student favourite since it was founded in the 1960s and, although it does not have a formal connection to the university, it is regularly visited by more McGillians than your average 8:30 a.m. elective.
“It was always named McGill Pizza, just because it was close to McGill,” Chef and owner Costa Deligiannis said. “Most of my customers are students, professors, staff of McGill, all sorts of different people.”
Specializing in classic diner comfort foods, McGill Pizza offers a reminder of a home-cooked meal, with a touch of Greek influence passed down through the family over generations.
“[Our menu] comes from the family, they’re original recipes,” Deligiannis said. “All my family works here: My brother, my sister, my dad, my mom, [and] my brother-in-law as well, it’s a family business. My parents are originally from Greece, but everybody else is born here in Montreal, born up the street actually in the Royal Victoria [Hospital].”
The restaurant’s glowing neon tube sign is hard to miss when walking down Milton street—its vintage exterior seemingly packed with memories of McGill students over the years. It’s interior is no different: Vintage McGill faculty crests line the walls, modest metal napkin holders sit atop simple black tables, and paper place settings greet each new customer. According to Deligiannis, the restaurant’s old school vibe is intentional.
“I have kids come back, this weekend actually this kid came back, graduated must’ve been 12 years ago, and he came in and McGill Pizza was the exact same way he left it,” Deligiannis said. “And that’s what I try not to change. A lot of restaurants try to renovate and do this and that, yes you paint, but you keep the same idea. The customer that graduated 10 years ago is going to come in here and is going to say it brings him back memories.”
But McGill Pizza’s connection to alumni extends far beyond the past decade; Deligiannis has formed an iconic bond with students from long before.
“[I remember when somebody’s] grandfather came back to McGill, he had gone to McGill in the ‘70s and he remembered McGill Pizza,” Deligiannis said. “He was here for his grandson’s graduation. So they were both basically two different eras, sitting at the same table, enjoying the same food which was made back then. That’s pretty cool. It’s very special.”
Part of the restaurant’s popularity, of course, comes from Deligiannis’ own gregarious character. On most days of the week you can find him near the register, ready to take orders and banter cheerfully with customers.
“When you’re talking about the smile, being happy, it’s your business, it’s something we take dearly,” Deligiannis said. “It comes naturally, someone comes into your home you’re going to be happy, no matter what happens you serve with a smile and try to give the best service you can. And that’s it, that’s how it’s done.”
In fact, the eatery’s hours more or less follow the average student’s schedule. Deligiannis enjoys taking his vacation over the summer break (and, presumably, would enjoy time off over a fall reading week as well.)
“The [business] season is about from the end of August to the end of May, with the summer obviously being quieter,” Deligiannis said. “We go with the McGill schedule, so during the holidays when McGill is closed we get to enjoy our holidays as well [….] So that’s another cool thing, a lot of restaurants don’t have […] that freedom.”
Highlighting his favourite recipes from the restaurant’s vast menu, Deligiannis is particularly proud of his father’s tzatziki recipe and his Greek-inspired spaghetti sauce. But like many chefs, Deligiannis will never be satisfied: He hopes to one day serve ice cream and smoothies at the restaurant. Yet, above all, his favourite item to both eat and make is, appropriately, pizza.
“The pizza sauce [and] the dough, this is something my uncle originally came up with, it’s always been in the family,” Deligiannis said. “It’s more of a deep-dish pizza, it’s a pan pizza, lots of cheese. A lot of people say Chicago is known for the deep dish but I’d say Montreal, in fact, [popularized it] in the ‘50s, ‘60s.”
And this style of pizza—along with the rest of the diner’s menu—certainly goes over well with students. In researching students’ opinions of the restaurant, The McGill Tribune did a quick informal call for testimonials on Facebook, and was met with a flood of positive responses.
“McGill Pizza… I don’t even know where to begin… It really is a second-home for me,” Hannah Rapaglia, U2 Arts, wrote. “It is the all-day breakfast we deserve and need. McGill Pizza can be TRUSTED on all fronts: The breakfast, the pizza, and the gyro are all of the highest caliber. Also, the service is so friendly?? There is a waitress there who I really want to befriend!!! TENS ACROSS THE BOARD.”
Amid the tiring cycle of university life and the stress of maintaining a respectable GPA, some students praised McGill Pizza’s reliability.
“At our lowest lows and our highest highs, McGill Pizza, there for us without compromise,” Nikolas Dolmat, U2 Arts, wrote.