Just to make you hungry, we’ve reviewed 14 Italian dishes at restaurants all over the city! Enjoy.
The Place: Anchor and Ore
2240 Sleeping Giant Parkway
The Price: $21
The Basics: Mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, shaved fennel, baby kale, and red pepper tossed in Riesling and fennel-infused butter
The Lowdown: If you think vegetarian dishes are boring and lacking in oomph, try this one. Executive chef Winni Tsang’s take on pasta primavera brings incredibly bright, fresh, and vibrant flavours to this modern classic. The abundance and variety of vegetables make each bite unique and delicious, and a slightly spicy aftertaste ties it all together. The ruffled edges of the campanelle pasta (shaped like little handbells) are perfect for savouring the Riesling and fennel-infused butter. For the gluten-intolerant, there is a gluten-free version available, with penne.
-Review by Ayano Hodouchi Dempsey, Photo by Kevin Dempsey
The Place: Bar Italia
168 South Court Street
The Price: $17 for a 13” pizza
The Basics: Pepperoni, mushrooms, green olives, green peppers, provolone cheese, mozzarella cheese
The Lowdown: Named after Bar Italia’s founder, the late Nazzareno Tozzo, the Naz is a classic deluxe pizza that features fresh toppings and a light and crispy crust that doesn’t get left on the plate. The pepperoni is thinly sliced and the green peppers have just the right amount of crunch. The sweet and tangy sauce pairs perfectly with the fresh, salty green olives that are generously sliced and the provolone is a nice touch because it is a little tastier than mozzarella. Pizza perfection, just the way Naz liked it.
-Review and photo by Darren McChristie
Shrimp & Lobster Pasta
The Place: Bight Restaurant
2201 Sleeping Giant Parkway
The Price: $30
The Basics: Fresh linguine, plum tomatoes, shrimp, lobster, white wine, cream, arugula.
The Lowdown: A signature creation of Bight’s Chef Allan Rebelo, this variation on the classic creamy seafood pasta is absolutely delicious. It certainly helps to start with stellar base ingredients, and Bight’s loaded this dish with fresh linguine from Big Lake Pasta, San Marzano plum tomatoes, chunks of lobster knuckle meat, and Argentinian pink shrimp. Those components are perfectly balanced with a white wine cream sauce that lightly heightens the flavours and textures instead of being a dour and logy coating. For example, in one rich mouthful you can taste the sweetness of the tomatoes at the same time as a hint of nuttiness from the arugula, and that’s even before you bite into the hearty seafood or the al dente noodles! Is this how you spell “harmony” in Italian?
-Review by Justin Allec, photo by Kevin Dempsey
The Place: Caesar’s Place
507 South Syndicate Avenue
Price: $8–$20 (depending on size)
The Basics: Dough, mozzarella cheese, signature marinara sauce, pepperoni, garlic, mushrooms, black olives (or your choice of four fillings)
The Lowdown: Looking for a meal under $20 that will leave you feeling full and satisfied? Look no further! Caesar’s Place has been providing Thunder Bay with its famous panzerotti for over 40 years, using the same vegan-friendly dough and marinara sauce recipes that many are dying to get their hands on. Perfectly crisp on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside, and stuffed with your favourite fillings, these savoury Italian turnovers will have you wanting to come back for more. Just be sure to bring an appetite!
Review and photo by Jacey-Lynne Graham
The Place: Caribou Restaurant + Wine Bar
727 Hewitson Street
The Price: $15
The Basics: Tomatoes, shallots, bocconcini cheese, basil, and extra virgin olive oil
The Lowdown: This simple and delicious salad looks and tastes like summer. Caribou takes three varieties of tomatoes—red beefsteak, yellow tomato-on-the-vine, and red and yellow cherry tomatoes—and mixes them with sweet shallots, buttery bocconcini cheese, fresh basil, a light dressing of red wine vinegar, and fruity, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, and just the right amount of sea salt and black pepper. The tomatoes and basil are perfectly ripe and bursting with flavour, thanks to local suppliers DeBruin’s Greenhouses. In the words of Chef Craig Vieira, they “let the tomatoes do the talking” and while we couldn’t hear what they were saying, they definitely commanded our attention.
Review by Michelle McChristie, Photo by Darren McChristie
Italian Peaches (Italian Peach Cookies)
The Place: Club Cappuccino Cafe & Desserts
595 West Arthur Street
The Price: $2.50 each
The Basics: Cookie with vanilla custard filling, rolled in granulated sugar
The Lowdown: Traditionally a favourite at Italian weddings as much because of the simplicity and availability of its ingredients as for its festive appearance, the Italian peach cookie has its origins in Naples. Not too sweet and with a biscotti-like dough, the cookie is served with a variety of fillings, such as peach jam and nuts or chocolate. The Club Cappuccino version uses a cool and creamy vanilla custard to bind the “peach” halves together, and it’s a great combination. Tied with their biscotti as Club Cappuccino’s most popular dessert, the Italian Peach also comes in an adult version with a drizzle of peach liqueur on top.
Review by Pat Forrest, Photo by Laura Paxton
Sicilian Rack of Lamb
The Place: Giorg Cucina é Barra
114 North Syndicate Avenue
The Price: $48
The Basics: New Zealand lamb, smoked eggplant purée, zucchini caponata, fried artichokes with mint and lemon
The Lowdown: The Sicilian rack of lamb is a new Piatto forte item on the menu at Giorg, and it’s a standout. With crispy caramelized edges and a juicy pink centre, the meat is cooked perfectly. But what really gives this dish full marks are the accompanying sides that punctuate it with smoky, sweet, sour, briny, earthy, and herbaceous flavours. Executive chef Nathen Dube trades the traditional eggplant-based caponata for diced zucchini, adding red peppers, fennel, capers, mint, and basil. Eggplant is still represented here, in purée form, after being charred over a flame. Scoop up some fried artichoke and enjoy the best that southern Italy has to offer. Add a glass of robust red wine and you’ll swear you’ve been transported to Palermo. And who doesn’t want that?
Review by Rebekah Skochinski, Photo by Damien Gilbert
The Place: Graziella Pizzeria Napoletana
207 Park Avenue
The Price: $21
The Basics: Tomato sauce, mozzarella, Calabrese salami, hot peppers
The Lowdown: This is a pizza for those who like it hot and authentic. Owner Joe Lombardo’s family is from the town of Siderno in the Calabria region of southern Italy, which is considered to be the birthplace of pizza. A true Napoletana (or “Naples-style”) pizza has only a few toppings, always fresh, on a beautifully light and airy crust that’s hand-stretched and cooked quickly on super-high heat in a wood oven. The diavola is a fiery pick amidst more traditional options like the margherita pizza, and Lombardo is happy to kick up the heat even more for spice lovers.
Review by Kat Lyzun, Photo by Michael McKenzie
Arancini di Riso (Risotto Balls)
The Place: Lot 66
66 South Court Street
The Price: $11.50
The Basics: Risotto with pancetta, sweet peas, onions, marinara sauce.
The Lowdown: Lot 66’s arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) are packed full of flavour and with three generously sized rice balls, they are perfect for splitting with a few friends. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, this mouthwatering appetizer is a must-have on the menu. There is no need for you to go to Sicily to try these out because executive chef Mike Roulston has brought them to you.
Review by Bradie Butler, Photo by Darren McChristie
The Place: Mama Alfa’s
135 East Frederica Street
The Price: $28.95, including garlic bread and Caesar salad
The Basics: Noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, eggs, Italian cheeses
The Lowdown: If you’ve never had a lasagna that includes hard-boiled eggs, you need to take this one for a test drive. The layer of finely mashed eggs—traditionally used in lasagna in the region outside of Rome where Mama Alfa herself, Alpha St. Pierre, hails from—gives another hit of savoury to a dish that’s already rich and hearty. Chef Rob Walsh of Northern Unique, the new owner who has helmed the kitchen since last fall, makes the semolina noodles from scratch, along with housemade tomato sauce from Italian tomatoes. Italian cheeses, including scamorza (a stretchy southern Italian cheese) and grana padano (akin to parmesan) help keep the eight tender layers of noodles together. Deliziosa!
Review by Bonnie Schiedel, Photo by Keegan Richard
The Place: Nook
271 Bay Street
The Price: $7
The Basics: Shredded beets and carrots, ricotta salata, mint, red wine vinaigrette, and grated parmesan.
The Lowdown: When it comes to antipasti, our minds jump to cured meats and jars of pickled veggies. Nook offers a fresh take on antipasti with their ever-changing vegetable dishes. This particular dish is packed full of colourful, crunchy shredded carrots and beets. A light red wine vinaigrette offers a tart balance to the earthy sweetness of the vegetables. Each bite pops with refreshing mint and delectable little cubes of ricotta salata. Originating in Sicily, ricotta salata is a hard-pressed cheese that takes on a similar texture to feta. Salata means “salted” in Italian, making it the perfect, briny finish to such a zesty dish. The restaurant changes up the vegetable antipasto every couple of weeks, so look forward to different versions over the seasons.
-Review by Melanie Larson, Photo by Kay Lee
Pickerel Alfredo Pasta
The Place: Silver Birch
28 North Cumberland Street
The Price: $25
The Basics: A lemon and thyme panko-crusted pickerel fillet served on pasta
The Lowdown: A cool, citrusy play on traditional fettuccine Alfredo, this sensual dish unites silky linguine with the satisfying crunch of panko on a fresh Lake of the Woods pickerel fillet. The creaminess of the emulsified butter, parmesan cheese, and lemon are sprinkled with juicy oil-roasted cherry tomatoes and scented with woodsy thyme for a distinctive and satisfying dish. A gluten-free option is also available.
Review by Betty Carpick, Photo by Keegan Richard
Homemade Bucatini Noodles
The Place: The Sovereign Room
220 Red River Road
The Price: $18
The Basics: House-made bucatini noodles paired with roasted DeBruin’s tomatoes, Veg-e-tate Market Garden pea shoot pesto, prosciutto from Agostino’s Deli & Bakery, and a Northern Logger-deglazed sauce.
The Lowdown: The best part of this dish is the fusion of so many local ingredients to create layers of flavours and textures that work deliciously together as a whole. The long, hollow, Rome-inspired bucatini noodles, made in-house and tossed in a fresh pea shoot pesto, taste like the days of summer melting into colder evenings—light, yet substantial. The prosciutto, the sauce, and the roasted tomatoes are ideal for pairing with a light, crisp white wine or a chilled glass of Northern Logger. Please note that the pasta special is switched up every week, inspired by seasonal, local ingredients.
Review by Tiffany Jarva, photo by Sarah McPherson
Goat Cheese Polenta Fries
The Place: Tomlin
202 ½ Red River Road
The Price: $12
The Basics: Arrabbiata sauce, pork belly, polenta, goat cheese, pesto, fried rosemary
The Lowdown: Polenta originated in Northern Italy and is said to have a grainy texture, even being referred to as “Italian grits,” but these golden bars were anything but gritty. The five rectangular “fries,” stacked atop a homemade arrabbiata sauce with pork belly bits, had a definite kick but nothing overpowering. Swirled into the sauce was a fresh pesto scented with lemon, and the fries were topped with fried rosemary and lightly microplaned cheese. The first bite was soft and pillowy, warm and rich, and blended perfectly with the marriage of sauces. Cheesy and fluffy, these are melt-in-your-mouth good!
Review by Susan Pretty, Photo by Shannon Lepere