How to Eat like an Italian in Woodbridge
Toronto Star, July 28, 2012
If the long lineups at the Cataldi Fresh Market in downtown Woodbridge occurred in downtown Toronto, customers would leave in disgust.
Instead, it feels like a party at Cataldi. Everyone knows everyone and the owners are ready to help. There’s even an espresso bar beside the produce department, which sells tractor-trailer-loads of local roma tomatoes every summer for making sauce.
“Woodbridge is its own little world,” says manager Tony Cataldi, who lives at Keele and 401 and commutes daily to the year-old store, the family’s second location.
“It’s more European here, more relaxed and stress-free,” he says. “People want good food and a good life.”
To an outsider, Woodbridge is a collection of industrial plazas north of Toronto, each uglier than the last. It’s hard to find authentic Italian food when you’re zooming along endless highways.
After a few frustrating forays up the 400, I began to discover the little shops hidden in those plazas. The welcome is warm, in English or Italian, and the food — and prices — make the drive worthwhile.
Here’s a taste of my discoveries, so far.
Once you’ve tasted the Borgo brothers’ soft, sweet, ricotta cheese, you’ll never again buy bland, pasty ricotta from the supermarket.
You’ll also understand why Italians from far and wide arrive at 8:30 a.m. from Monday to Friday to buy tubs of hot, milky ricotta curds scooped fresh from the vat.
Beginning this month, Borgo says Quality Cheese will also sell ricotta made from the milk of Ontario water buffalo.
The company’s Bella Casara line includes rounds of tender fior di latte mozzarella from whole cow’s milk. Sliced, it makes a beautiful caprese salad, alternating with fresh tomato slices and basil leaves, and it’s a treat on pizza.
Then there’s Albert’s Leap, bringing the best of Europe to Ontario. The first cheese in the new line is a “gently pasteurized” brie that gains in flavour as it ripens, just like a traditional raw milk Brie de Meaux from France. And there’s much more to come, Borgo promises.
• 500 g tub fresh ricotta, $7
• 300 g cup buffalo milk ricotta, $7.99
• 250 g tub fior di latte, $3.99
Quality Cheese, 111 Jevlan Dr., Vaughan, 905-265-9991, qualitycheese.com
Domenic Pede has his secrets. His wild mushroom agnolotti appears on fancy downtown menus, and if he had a loonie for every Italian mamma who vowed never to divulge where her creamy lasagna, smothered in fresh-tasting tomato sauce came from, he’d be a millionaire.
“All you need is a bottle of wine and a salad and you can have a healthy dinner in 15 minutes,” says Pede, who eats pasta every night for dinner.
Through a window in his family’s sunny yellow Only Pasta shop, you can watch staff mixing and cutting about 6,000 lbs. (3,000 kg) of fresh pasta a week for retail and food service customers.
There’s square “chitarra” — spaghetti made from durum semolina, eggs and water — lemon-pepper fettuccine, ravioli made with spelt pasta, whole wheat pasta and much, much more.
Pede, whose great uncle manufactured and sold dried pasta in cotton sacks back home in Molise, has just installed new freezers to showcase his growing line of long, short and stuffed pasta. Check out his whole wheat and kamut pasta, too!
Fresh pasta not only freezes beautifully, it cooks quickly from frozen and there’s absolutely no difference in taste, notes Pede.
• 454 g package wild mushroom agnolotti, $11.99
• 500 mL jar creamy tomato sauce, $6.99
• 2 lb. tray lasagna, $12.99 (serves 3 to 4)
Only Pasta, 457 Jevlan Dr., Unit 1, Woodbridge, 905-856-4499, onlypasta.ca
This chic little spot is a magnet for dessert lovers, who drop by for trays of pastries and cookies, beautifully wrapped.
Sweet Boutique owner and pastry chef Anthony Macri apprenticed here for four years before heading to Italy to learn traditional recipes from real “nonnas.” On his return, he bought the shop.
There are no shortcuts and no preservatives, just loads of butter, cream, chocolate and nuts shaped into delectable nibbles by a small army of women. Macri imports Italian cannoli shells, delicate phyllo leaves and sfoglia shaped like lobster tails, filling them with ricotta or pastry cream at the store.
We also love the bigne or cream puffs, filled with zabaione or mocha, and the rum-soaked baba. Buy a few and enjoy them on the spot with an espresso.
Macri recently opened a nut-free facility a few doors away called Fifth St. Cakes.
• Pastries, $14/lb., especially chocolate or zabaione (custard) bigne or a lobster tail filled with lemon cream
• Cookies, $20/lb., especially amaretti Nero (great with coffee) and the walnut-shaped nice
Sweet Boutique, 471 Jevlan Dr., Unit #2, Woodbridge, 905-851-8388, sweetboutique.ca
Loconte Meat Market
Summer barbecues begin at this family-run butcher shop, a fixture for 26 years.
Owner and head butcher, Vito Loconte, buys his meat live at auction and is fiercely proud of his Mennonite-raised beef, a cross between Black Angus and Limousin. In fact, all the meat and poultry in this busy shop comes from farms less than 100 kilometres away.
While some cuts may be unfamiliar, including strips of asado short ribs and steakettes — thin marinated steaks carved from “the other side” of the rib eye — Loconte’s son, Ambrogio, who’s following in his dad’s footsteps, is happy to tell you how to cook them.
Pick up cheese, olives and taralli biscuits, imported from Apulia, and you’ve got dinner. Find fresh fruit and vegetables near the cash where Vito’s wife Cecilia greets customers.
• Marinated lamb chops $29.99/kg
• Marinated Cornish hens, $14.99/kg
• Steakettes, $13.21/kg
Loconte Meat Market, 200 Marycroft Ave. (off Hwy. 7), Unit 25-26, Woodbridge, 905-856-0024
There’s more “Plus” than desserts in this beloved restaurant, hidden behind frosted windows in a sprawling grey plaza. In fact, the portions are so huge you won’t have room for dessert. But families in-the-know regularly make the trek here for the homestyle Italian food at reasonable prices.
The Piselli family inherited the name when they took over the business 20 years ago and never looked back, says manager Bruno De Simone.
A family of four can eat well for $40, he says. You don’t need a menu, just order whatever you like.
If you’re not Italian, order one bowl of pasta for four people as an appetizer, or order meat for one, say veal parmigiana, with pasta on the side.
Several regulars recommended the wood-burning pizza.
Even with 100 seats downstairs and another 150 in the banquet hall upstairs, dinner reservations are a must.
• Frittura Mista seafood, $15.95
• Gnocchi Piemontese, $12.95
• Spicy Rovinata pizza, $13.95
Desserts Plus, 8611 Weston Rd., north of Langstaff, Vaughan, 905-265-1090
Vicentina Fine Foods
Porchetta may be the hot new pig downtown, but butcher Mike Mannara has been seasoning and roasting whole pigs for more than 20 years at his Vicentina Fine Foods in Vaughan.
People of all stripes start lining up at his palatial shop at 9 a.m. for a chewy bun loaded with half-a-pound of rich, succulent chunks of porchetta to eat in or take out.
It’s better than any we’ve tasted in Italy.
“When you make beautiful food, everyone wants to try it,” says Mannara, 62, who arrived in Canada in 1969 from Salerno, in Campania. Though his engineer father disapproved, his love of meat led him to the art of butchery.
He debones corn-fed Ontario pigs, weighing 15 to 50 pounds, cuts off the head and feet so as not to offend younger customers, and fills the cavity with lean leg and loin meat. He seasons with just salt and pepper, believing herbs will change the pork’s flavour. Then he trusses the pig, blesses each one in the name of St. Michael (the patron saint of grocers, among other things), and roasts it for four to six hours in a special oven.
At the counter in front, a burnished pig glistens behind glass, waiting to be carved to order. All summer long, people stop in to buy a few pounds of porchetta for parties and picnics under Mannara’s watchful eye.
“I want every customer to go home happy,” he says.
• Porchetta sandwich, $5.69
• Sliced porchetta, $10/lb or $20/kg
Vicentina Meats, 109 Edilcan Dr. (near Langstaff and Jane), Concord, 905-738-9998, vicentina.ca