The Gist: Husband-and-wife Max and Amara Mancuso own The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar next door, which has an uber popular gathering spot in The Junction with fantastic coffee for the past five years. When the Italian restaurant next door closed, it just seemed a natural fit. Max’s family was and is in the industry (his sister’s Sottto Voce is at College and Clinton and his brother-in-law is a partner in Rock Lobster Food Co.). And "I’m Italian," Max says. "Food was always important. Mom always cooked, Dad is a fantastic cook and butcher as well. I grew up with those flavours." Here the food has a "more modern approach."
Grub: Some of the best Italian food in the city also happens to be affordable and unpretentious. And while there are stellar pizzas and pastas on the menu, AFM is much more than just that. The wood-fired oven was inherited, and heats to 1,000 degrees, so a lot of braising happens in addition to cooking the homemade pizzas, made with many ingredients imported from Italy including cheese and tomatoes. Tapas-style dishes are not small by any means. They are practically full portions at a fraction of the price – nothing is priced over $16!
Libations: Max is working on his sommelier papers, so the wine list is unbelievable. It includes almost exclusively from small producers (with only 1 or 2 bottles available at the LCBO), so "when they’re gone, they’re gone." And he broke down the wine in a similar way to the menu, making it very easy to navigate for those not quiet oenophiles yet. Wines are listed on blackboards along the dining room wall so that they can be changed upon availability.
Cocktails are insanely good, such as the Lemon Lavender Pimms Cup ($10) with lemon lavender simple syrup, cucumber and ginger beer, so leave the car/bicycle home tonight. Or, for the kids/moms-to-be/non-drinkers, mocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices done in house every morning.
Beers are available on tap – all European-style and all served from one of the latest installed line technologies, as Max "wants to treat our beers like our wines."
Deets: With just 40 seats, the space is fun, friendly and intimate all at once. The seating is "an extension of the restaurant," Max says. He says the bar is his favourite place to sit, in front of the open kitchen.
Many of the clientele are locals from the neighbourhood (and next door) so for some it’s date night, for others they come early with the kids and then come back later for a nightcap and others simply pick up a pizza on the way home.
Fixtures & Fittings: This hidden gem had a family grocery store next to it for 40 years. Very famous in the neighbourhood, the Mancuso’s reimagined that feel by calling this a food market, with the menu written as if you’re traveling through a supermarket – salad, vegetable, pizza, pasta, meat & cheese, fish, and dessert.
Amara says, "We’ve kept that feeling going throughout the whole place." The new private dining room’s back wall is papered in a large black-and-white photo of an old fruit market in the area and features a large barnboard table lit by dangling Edison bulbs of various shapes and sizes above.
Other points of interest include old tin ceiling tiles and a salvages grate as wall hanging near the back of the main room.
Off the Menu:The perfect summer starter - Octopus Carpaccio with Orange, Fennel, Salsa Verde ($13) – bursts with fresh vibrancy.
Roasted Beets, Burrata and Chestnut Purée ($12) is a fantastic twist on the usual beet and cheese salad. The depth of the chestnuts doesn’t overwhelm the superb burrata, instead heightening it.
Fresh Porcini Mushroom Ravioli with pears in a butter sage sauce ($11) is rich with mushroom earthiness and completely unique with the addition of pear.
Braised Short Rib with Cipollini Onion ($12) is one of the best you’ll ever have, and never will you get it for this cheap either . The portion is insane – dinner size for sure, especially when accompanied by a side such as Rapini with garlic, shallots, sun dried tomato, pecorino ($7). Cooked at 250 degrees for seven hours sous vide so that it doesn’t dry out, it’s seared and served with a tender, yet massive cipollini. You’ll come back the next day just to have it again.
Chef Sitsoruban has been making stellar pizzas for decades. Here, with the Tomato, Basil, Fiore Di Latte ($12), he makes an insanely addictive crust (aged for three days, the dough is chewy and crunchy with depth without being heavy) that highlights the fresh flavours on top. Flour, yeast, water and salt have never tasted so good. And it’s ready in less than a minute.
Make sure to save room for dessert – the Chocolate Raspberry Bar ($7) served with a piping hot bodum of coffee, topped with toasted hazelnuts, fresh fruit and cream, is exquisite.
How Cool is This?! They’ve got the ability to preserve champagne by the glass, so ordering bubbly is a whole new experience here. And their new summer menu is about to drop any day now.
FOH: Max and Amara Mancuso, Meaghan Murray
Head Honchos: Max and Amara Mancuso
Visiting Hours: Tue – Sat 5:00pm - 12:00pm
Map It: 240 Annette St. (right in between Jane and Keele)
Phone It In: (647) 792-6963
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