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Mar 24, 2012 08:23 PM

Old school Italian

We are looking for an old school Italian restaurant in mid to west Toronto or Etobicoke. Not looking for anything fancy, simply a meal that you would find on your Nonna's table on a Sunday afternoon.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Hey Kellz,

    I presume by Old School you mean in the style of Italian restos from Toronto's past and not the current trend of La Cucina de Nona--an approximation of casalinga or Italo-Canadian home cooking. If this is the case i can heartily recommend the following;
    La Traviata--this Wilson Avenue institution specializes in uncomplicated traditional Italian fare. do not miss the made from scratch Pasta e Fagioli, Spinach Ravioli and Veal Pizzaiola. At lunchtime the room is filled with local Italian business people lost in the nuances of food that reminds them of their mother's kitchen. Ask for owner Joe.
    Boccaccio at the Columbus Centre--nestled in the Italian Cultural Institute, Chef Gino Marchetti interprets regional dishes with modest charm. Some things are hit or miss whereas Antipasti and Gnocchi rock. But the best kept secret is the daily lunch special: For 18.00 you get a soup or pasta starter followed by such mains as Osso Bucco, Roasted Veal tenderloin or fresh fish from City Fish down the street. the room is a cosy throwback to another era. Ask for Vittorio.

    Finally, a personal favorite-Rossini's on Avenue road near Wilson. Current owner Sergio Zanetti has worked in some of the city's most Italo-centric kitchens over the years yet manages to keep that Old School zeitgeist going. He has gone to great lengths to leave the menu the way it was over twenty years ago yet upgrade to food terminal and local ingredients standards. i defy anyone to show me a better Minestrone! The nicest waiters on the planet and free parking doesn't hurt either.

    Hope this helps!

    5 Replies
    1. re: DarthRiesling

      +1 Rossini's

      Tomasso's on Eastern Avenue

      1. re: millygirl

        Which dishes do you recommend most at Rossini's? I haven't been for 6 or 7 years. Thanks for any suggestions. :-)

        1. re: prima

          Hi Prima,
          As a returning customer, I would try the most simple expressions; Minestrone, Lasagna, Antipasto Di Mare--really great--Why not even throw one of their pizzas in the middle of the table? And most importantly: dialogue with the servers. Some of them have been there for decades and know how to customize your experience.

          1. re: DarthRiesling

            Thanks for the recs. Nice to know the servers add to the experience.

        2. re: millygirl

          +1 for Rossini's as well. One item that is not on the menu but that my family always orders and they are usually able to make is the Lobster Gnocchi dish which comes in a rose sauce. It has appeared as a special many times but even when its not, they are usually able to accomodate.
          I really like their mains such as the veal chop. And their Zabaglione with berries is a properly made, very boozy rendition that I love.

        1. re: justsayn

          Mastro's, old school to the 9.... sunday can be busy with all the old sunday church patrons walking over for lunch after mass.

          1. re: plug

            No offence Plug. I would sooner frequent The Olive Garden then venture into the once great Mastro's. Have you been recently, the All You Can Eat Buffet looks like an elongated petrie dish!

            1. re: DarthRiesling

              i haven't had a sit down dinner there in a few years to be honest.
              I wasn't even aware they had all you can eat buffet?
              But i've gotten lasagna trays and a whole porchetta from them a few times last year and those were still good.

        2. Marcello's and La Bruschetta on St. Clair West, and Regina Trattoria on College Street are fairly old school in terms of the dishes offered. Haven't heard anyone mention much about The Big Ragu lately- but it also offers old school dishes. I haven't been to any of these places recently. Maybe some Chowhounds could mention the dishes they like the best at Marcello's, La Bruschetta, The Big Ragu and Regina Trattoria.

          If you don't mind a cafeteria-style setting, I like the hot table at the back of the Centro Trattoria Formaggi at 1224 St Clair W. Not quite Nonna-quality food, but hits the spot for old school dishes like stuffed peppers, etc.

          For a classic, old school, fancy Italian restaurant (I realize the OP is not looking for anything fancy), I recommend Carisma on King. Nice veal dishes.

          5 Replies
          1. re: prima

            Thanks for the recs. I've never actually had this kind of food but have always imagined it (I love mobster movies). Will try some out but would appreciate some recommended dishes. Would prefer those who use fresh pasta and emphasis on fresh and made from scratch ingredients.

            1. re: szw

              I wouldn't hold it against a resto if they use dried pasta. The good quality dried pastas from Italy are often better quality than made-in-Canada fresh pastas. The texture of cooked, dried pasta is more suitable than the texture of cooked fresh pasta for some dishes. Most Toronto restaurants serving old school menus rely on dried pastas. ;-)

              Here are some dishes you might want to order (other Chowhounds, please feel free to mention where to get what, and mention other old school Italian dishes you like to seek out).

              Dishes I consider to usually be old school Italian Canadian/ Italian American dishes:
              Lasagna (the North American type, that uses lots of tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta)
              Baked ziti
              Veal parmesan/chicken parmesan
              Sausage + peppers/ sausage + rapini (sometimes on pasta, sometimes as a main)
              Pasta + fagioli soup
              Minestrone (Rossini's)
              Spaghetti Bolognese (there's an old Bolognese thread if you search- the Cdn bolognese is often just beef + tomato, but a more classic Italian version will often include veal and pork- the fancier the restaurant, the more likely it is to include veal and/or pork)
              Veal sandwiches with peppers + onions (several threads devoted to these sandwiches)
              Linguine with clam sauce (vongole) (on the menu at La Bruschetta , upscale version at il Posto in Yorkville)
              Pasta with arabbiatta sauce (spicy tomato) (on the menu at La Bruschetta, but a fairly common dish you'll see on other menus
              Pasta alla Puttanesca (anchovies, capers, olives, tomatoes, garlic, crushed chillies
              )Pasta with marinara sauce
              Shrimp fra diavolo

              Dishes I consider to be classic Italian dishes (for a fancier old school experience):
              Veal in lemon sauce (vitello al limone) Good version at Carisma on King
              Veal milanese (Italy's answer to veal schnitzel)
              Veal saltimbocca
              Veal in marsala (on the menu at La Bruschetta, but haven't tried it)
              Osso bucco
              Pasta alla Norma (I had a nice classic version at Campagnolo last summer, but the menu changes frequently)
              Spaghetti carbonara (the type made with egg and guanciale, and no cream)
              Lasagna (the Italian version, made with bechamel, and usually less tomato sauce)

              Dishes that became more popular in the 70s, 80s and/or 90s that now seem Old School relative to what is popular today.
              Penne in vodka sauce
              Fettucine alfredo
              Pasta primavera
              Spaghetti carbonara (the North American type made with cream and bacon)

              Sometimes the Big Ragu has hosted Big Night dinners, and other festive multi-course Italian dinners. Might be worth calling the Big Ragu to see if they'll be hosting any in the near future.

              Hopefully some more of the Italian food afficionados will post their 2 cents!

              1. re: prima

                It's hard to find a pasta puttanesca on many Italian menus (old school or new school) nowadays - the anchovies in the sauce scare too many diners away, I suppose - but there's a pretty good rendition available at Coppi, on Yonge St. south of York Mills, at $19, though the portion size could stand to be a little larger. Coppi used to be old school, but since a recent light overhaul of both its dining room and its menu, it probably now falls somewhere in between the two schools. Neither quite Rossini's, nor quite Enoteca Sociale. Not cheap there (it never is on that high-rent stretch of Yonge St.), but quality is reliably consistent, and the wine list now offers some more affordable choices.

                1. re: juno

                  juno, thought you might like to know that Coppi is now on For a $10 reservation fee, you get 30% off your entire bill, including alcohol. That should take a bit of the bite off their price point.

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    Much obliged for the tip about Coppi's participation on diningdatenight, TorontoJo. It's particularly useful when we're pondering where to take a nearby couple out for a celebratory dinner, in which case my saving can be $50 or more - even after the $10 initiation fee has been extracted.

          2. Wow! Thanks very much for all of your input! I checked out some of the restaurants mentioned and we are definitely looking forward to visiting them! I must mention that some of the photos left me craving Italian food! :)

            6 Replies
            1. re: Kellz

              What about Roberto's on Yonge? I see that it is still around. Does anyone ever go?

              I would avoid Coppi at all costs. We had a terrible meal there about 4 years ago and it used to be one of our regular spots but it has really slipped.

              1. re: millygirl

                Given your Coppi experience, it's understandable that you'd be down on it. But I've never had a bad experience at Coppi in all the years I've been going - two or three times yearly - though some times have been more memorable than others. Mainly, however, I was responding to prima's request for nominations as to which resto does which specific old-school Italian dishes the best, and I've yet to find one to top Coppi's spaghetti puttanesca. I'd be intrigued to learn of a spot that does it better, because a pasta puttanesca is a dish I'll travel across the city for.

                Note to millygirl: I've often found, when a restaurant meal is lousy above and beyond the call of duty, I'll quietly pay the bill and, only then, call over the management to politely express my dissatisfaction. Then I'll leave it to management to decide what action to take. Some come through nicely, some get all crankily defensive. Mind, it has been quite a while since I've had to do such a thing. At worst nowadays, it's rarely bad - it's just, well, drearily forgettable.

                1. re: juno

                  Juno, I have no problem voicing concern over a particular dish or issue with service or whatever the case may be but with Coppi I saw no point.

                  Fausto, the owner himself had been serving us and to tell the truth nothing went well that evening. We were disappointed with the service and food. The place felt tired to us and we were just happy to leave. In a situation like that, I feel what would be the point really to add insult to injury? There was no action on his part that I was looking for so I kept quiet.

                  Having said that, I would not return nor would I refer others hence my comment. Although I believe Faustau has since retired if I'm not mistaken so perhaps things have improved I don't know.

                  1. re: millygirl

                    If you ate at Coppi 4 years back and you think even the owner has retired, don't you think it may be OK by now? After all, I doubt anyone who works there now was there four years ago! I may even try Tomasso's again if he retires, along with everyone else who was there when we ate there! Maybe in 2020 :-)

                    1. re: foodyDudey

                      AHAHAH Please let me know when he retires and I too will return to Tomasso's!

                      1. re: JennaBean

                        In regards to Coppi, Fausto has been retired and living in Italy for some time now. The current owners are Alex (a former server for years) and Chef Michelangelo. the food and service have never been better (Yes, I've heard all the Fausto stories as well!). i agree with the Putanesca appraisal. it is truly excellent. the boys also currently renovated--the space is now much more contemporary and especially beautiful at night.

            2. The original comment has been removed