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Aug 11, 2008 10:06 PM

Downtown, St. Clair West and Woodbridge for picky Italian in-laws??

Here's the challenge - While I am an adventurous eater who could spend the rest of my days eating at restaurants and markets and food stands in Toronto, this weekend I am taking my in-laws to Toronto and they are much more cautious with foods that go beyond their delicious but relatively narrow cuisine from their hill town in Southern Italy (from where they moved to the culinary wasteland better known as London, Ontario)

Including my two kids (one who has food allergies) and my wife, there will be six of us, so this visit will not be for sampling the likes of George or Splendido.

I'm looking for places to eat in three areas: downtown or close to it (where we will be staying), St. Clair west of Dufferin, where my in-laws like to shop in mostly-Italian owned stores and Woodbridge. I do have a car and some mobility too.

Price-wise, I'm looking for inexpensive to moderately-cost meals. In terms of atmosphere, I'm looking for places that are fun and informal -- going out to eat at a restaurant is a foreign experience for anyone who grew up in a small Southern Italian town, where a home-cooked meal reigns supreme (and deservedly so -- but that's another post) And the quality of the food is paramount.

One place that I think foots the bill is Jamie Kennedy's Wine Bar - informal, fun, solid food and the pleasure of being able to share and sample a lot of tastes. But I am looking for others too. What would my fellow chowhounds suggest?

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  1. Would Italian be too risky, since they are from Italy? If not, then Terroni on Adelaide would be great. It can get loud, but it has a great buzz and the food is very good (it is ostensibly 'authentic' Southern Italian, but I have no personal comparison to judge). They accept a limited number of reservations if you are willing to be seated early (6).

    What kind of allergies does your child have? Terroni has a rather draconian no substitutions rule, so you may want to check out the menu online beforehand to make sure that there is something he/she can safely eat.

    Torito would be a more casual alternative to JK Wine Bar. Tapas served in a bustling Kensington Market atmosphere. A bit more fun (and less "adult") than JKWB.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TorontoJo

      I think they would be fine with Italian so long as it was good --I've been to Terroni (with my kids) and we were considering that again. It may not be a match for my mother-in-laws' pizza or the best from NY city (where I'm from originally) but it's quite good, has a nice buzz to it and is a good walk or short cab ride away from our hotel.

      I haven't been to Torito but have heard good things -- anything that you tried there that you especially enjoyed?

    2. I think I have your place. Marcello's on St. Clair just east of Dufferin. Great family friendly place with amazing pizza from the wood oven.

      6 Replies
      1. re: acd123

        Marcello's was the first thing that popped into my mind too! You can then head down to La Paloma at St Clair/Lansdowne for some gelato! Note that Marcello's doesn't take reservations, and if you show up during peak hours you may have to wait for a short time at the door.

        How old are your children CookathomeinLondon? Do you plan on bringing them to JKWB? If you want to have some of JK's wonderful food with kids in tote, you can head to his new place (in Cabbagetown) for a casual lunch. (Except that I totally forget what it's called at the moment!).

        1. re: littlegreenpea

          We've been to La Paloma - we like it too! My kids are eight and five - would that work at JKWB? My son loves bread, my daughter loves cheese and they both love fries, so I thought that would keep them happy; as for lunch,I've heard of the new place too but I don't know if we'll be in the neighbourhood mid-day.

          1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

            I'm not sure if JKWB would work with kids actually. I've never seen children there, and it strikes me that it's more of an adult environment. Since they bill themselves as a wine bar, they may have a 19+ policy. Can anyone else weigh in on this?

            JK at the Gardiner could be a better bet. It's more of a restaurant setting (rather than bar), and you've still got some great JK dishes and a wonderful wine list (by the glass too). The kids might also enjoy watching all the activity going on below (large, panoramic windows). They're only open for dinner on Fridays (prix fixe); lunch during the week.


            1. re: littlegreenpea

              yes, I've seen families with smallish kids at lunch at JK Gardiner -

              and you're right across the street from the very kid-pleasing dinosaur exhibit at the ROM -

              (not the chef


              Jamie Kennedy Gardiner
              111 Queens Park, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

              1. re: JamieK

                Thanks, that's exactly what I was thinking - esp with the ROM across the street. I think the Gardiner might be a better choice than JKWB in this case. And really, it's at least just as good (imho).

                1. re: littlegreenpea

                  LGP and JamieK - thanks for the suggestion - that may work, especially if we can work in a visit to the dinosaurs,

      2. I would go to The Big Ragu at Lansdowne and St Clair...great food and ambiance...check out their web site is small so rez suggested Miranda

        1. Marcello's and Ragu are good options at St Clair and Dufferin. If I had to pick one, I'd take the kids to Marcellos. Reservations not required. It's cheap and cheerful, the pizzas are good as is the pasta, although the wine list is spartan. Desserts Plus is in Woodbridge is similar to Marcello's--which has a resto in Woodbridge that I've yet to visit. You must reserve at DP on weekends

          7 Replies
          1. re: mikeb

            Marcellos has a few recs so we may try that. I actually took my in-laws to Desserts Plus a couple of years ago and we quite enjoyed it - pizza was decent, we had a pasta dish with rappini and sausage that was excellent, service was quick and the prices very reasonable. We would definitely consider going a second time.

            1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

              If you like rapini and sausage you could always grab the rapini from one of the nearby gardens while you are in St Clair and Dufferin. I think it, tomatoes and zucchini are close to mandatory for vegetable gardiners in the area. Diana Grocery has the sausages (and the rapini if you still need it).

              1. re: mikeb

                My in-laws make sausage (my father--in-law even makes perforated metal discs for a London butcher through which to exude the sausage meat) but local rapini would be great. Where exactly is Diana Grocery and where else might we turn for rapini?

                1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

                  I make my own sausages as well, albeit on a kitchenaid and never enough. Diana is on the strip between Lansdowne and Dufferin, closer to Lansdowne. You can miss it. They put a big map of Italy above the awning when it stood in for a place NY in some 9/11 movie.

                  You can pretty well buy rapini in any grocery or fruit and veg store where there's Italian customers--St Clair & Dufferin, Woodbridge etc. Whether it's local I am not so sure. Sometimes yes, often no. Maybe someone has seen local stuff at the SLM or other markets. I haven't noticed it.

                  As I say many people just grow it in their gardens. Earlier in the season I got 40 day seeds from the the garden centre on Rogers, just west of Dufferin. I've seen 40 and 60 day seeds in Fiesta Farms grocery on Christie and many other hardware stores and garden centres in the areas I mentioned.

            2. re: mikeb

              The Marcello's in Woodbridge is quite nice; their linguine pescatore are delicious. Their forte is pasta and not try the risotto as I believe you will be disappointed like my fiancee was. The mains are rather boring. But the atmosphere is boisterous. They don't accept reservations on weekends, so if you are planning on going on a Friday or Saturday evening, arrive really early or expect to wait at least 45 minutes for a table.

              1. re: icey

                Thanks for the very helpful suggestions. Do you know if they are open for lunch as well? As an aside, it's so easy to make great risotto at home but it's not easy to replicate a wood-burning oven for pizza.

                1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

                  Yes they are open for lunch, and they have a very nice patio!

            3. Try 7 numbers on Danforth at Bowden, just E of Broadview on the S side. Excellent, homemade Italian food with a good vibe and child friendly.

              5 Replies
              1. re: thenurse

                Let's get real. You've got kids and, to put it politely, two unsophisticated older adults from the south of Italy. Calabreze maybe? JKWB, you have to be out of your mind; take them there and your inlaws will think that Canadians are out of their mind. (You know., its amazing how rubossos can be so astute. As for Marcello's, they aren't secret Toronto Jews by any chance? Big Ragu is way downhill since Marco went to Windsor. My suggestion: Get some Italian deli stuff , meats , cheeses, good luck on getting decent Italian bread, try Portuguese. Then get some fruit from a local store, go to a park to eat and finish with coffee and ice cream and a pastry from an Italian or Portuguese. This they might even enjoy.

                You probably won't take my advice out of a misguided desire to please you inlaws. Try Gianni e Maria on St Clair West. Gianni is good , but from the north. Are your in laws sufficiently open minded?

                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                  Second Vinnie's recommendation of Da Gianni e Maria. Their gnocchi are unbelievably good.

                  1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                    Hey Vinnie, thanks for the suggestion about Gianni e Maria. While I definitely planned on eating outside in the manner you mentioned, we are going to be in Toronto for three days, so we will be looking for restaurants too. And while my in-laws are a lot less adventurous than I am when it come to food, they are more adventurous than most Canadians I know -- anyone who grows up eating tripe and wild greens from the side of the road are light years ahead of the meat and potato crowd. I haven't been to JKWB, but from their menu and the review of fellow chowhounds, the food is is hardly outlandish -- if anything, critics on this board (and in this thread) find it too basic and unadventurous. It seems to me that is great fit for someone who loves Italian cuisine, which at its heart, is simple preparations made stellar by the quality of the raw ingredients. Others have suggested JK place at the Gardiner would be an easier fit for our kids, and they may very well be right, but it doesn't seem to me the food is any more sophisticated than what I sometimes cook for my in-laws.

                    What exactly is a secret Italian Jew? I know of Italian Jews and their important contributions to the cuisine of Rome (and before that Sicily). But I'm not sure what you're talking abut it.

                    1. re: CookatHomeinLondon

                      Don't go to any of the Nova Eras in Toronto. I suggest a Caldense instead . An interesting one is at Ossington and Dundas, west side.

                      My problem with JKWB is: far too much "attitude", not nearly enough to eat and the food is only OK and of course too expensive for the package, unless the large bill is essential to the performance art. Nowhere else that I have been would JKWB succeed,or at least so I would like to believe.

                      Secret Jews. During the Inquisition some Jews converted but went underground- literally. Their secret practices have been handed down through the generations. This phenomenon exists particularly in northern Portugal to this day. So women go down to the basement and light candles for Friday night. They have no idea why other than this is what their mothers did. Families marry only with certain other families. In Toronto I have seen on Geary St. (very Portuguese on the wall in the kitchen a blue Star of David. I asked why and what it meant, I was told with an embarassed smile that they didn't know , it was put up for luck. The Star of David has been associated with Jews only relatively recently. But I was once went into the very Catholic cemetery across from LaPaloma on St.Clair and Oakwood and not to far in saw a headstone, Medeiros, decorated with a large menorah (candelabrum) , which is the traditional Jewish symbol. It was not stylized at all, and looked like the candelabrum depicted in Titus's Arch in Rome being carried off as booty, the Arch celebrating the conquest and sack of Jerusalem and the Temple in which the candelabrum had been situate.

                      Now to Marcello's. Many of the customers are Jewish and the menu suits. It has such authentic regional specialties as steak and salmon. (No,not on the same plate,this is forbidden.) Salmon is the quintessential Jewish fish in Toronto. Fillet please. I don't object to these dishes, and they are essential to please customers. But there is very little if anything more interesting on the menu.

                      My favourite Italian place is Zucca even though the chef came to things Italian only later in life. Prices are reasonably reasonable as things go here, but portions are small and you have to be a light eater.
                      But I think that it is really good; this is where I would take the Queen for Italian. So far, though, I have not had occasion., so I go only with the Ms. who thinks that it is superb. But caveat, | have better taste than she,look whom we married!

                      If you want a good, nice and quite cheap meal ,much better than the price, go to Bistro Camino, Danforth and Main, There used to be a lot of Sicilians in the area. But the cooking here is Japanese-French. Have the fish; I even recommend the salmon, which is good and interesting , even to me who has been over-salmoned in Toronto. Look , the chef owner is Japanese, he understands fish.

                      Please do report back!

                      1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                        I have to disagree with your reading of Marcello's VVM. Perhaps they do have steak and salmon on the menu (though I've never noticed it). But I don't know of anyone who goes there for steak and/or salmon; like you say, it's likely there just to placate some customers. Marcello's is pretty decent for pizza and pasta. It's a boisterous, informal restaurant that the OP might enjoy with his whole family. Of course, it's maybe not the best place in town, but it's pretty good for a casual, neighbourhood joint (imo). I think it would be a shame for the OP to write it off totally, esp if he's doing some shopping in the area.