First Look: Lisa Marie, the new Queen West restaurant from the team behind Fidel Gastro’s
By Caroline Aksich
Pork Belly Cheese Thang ($5): smoked pork belly on a melted havarti crisp (Image: Caroline Aksich)
Toronto’s “rebel without a kitchen,” Matt Basile, who built his popular Fidel Gastro’s brand at the Toronto Underground Market, has graduated from pop-up stall operator to food truck owner to brick-and-mortar restaurateur.
In keeping with his Elvis Presley theme (his food truck is named Priscilla, and an Elvis bust was a regular feature at his pop-up events), Basile has christened his new Queen West headquarters Lisa Marie. Using a wheel analogy, Basile explains that “Fidel Gastro’s is now the parent umbrella company with all these different spokes coming out of it.”
“Cicchetti (chi’ket∙tē) n. kind of like tapas… but not,” reads the text above the bar, but Basile is quick to note that although he’s borrowed the Venetian term for small-plated fare, Lisa Marie — which officially opens tomorrow — isn’t an Italian restaurant. Basile may finally have his own kitchen, but his menu still reflects his street-food origins.
The whimsical, deep fryer–friendly menu is rife with unexpected twists on restaurant standards. Instead of chicken wings, Basile serves turkey wings ($7) that come in one of two styles: smothered in a spicy Buffalo sauce and drizzled with a blue cheese aioli, or dressed in hoisin chili sauce. A revisionist pizza ($8) that no Nonna would acknowledge as Italian also makes an appearance: Basile makes it by frying pizza dough and then dressing it with smoked duck, duck skin chicharrón, hoisin sauce and an enoki-asparagus slaw.
Basile turned the former Prague European Kitchen space around in under three months — installing a roll-up garage door at the front window, darkening the floor and decorating the joint with contemporary wares provided by his Queen West neighbour, Design Republic. Elvis is, of course, present as well. There’s a bust of the King that sits behind the bar and there's also a black-and-white mural — painted by high school art teacher Matt Chapman — of a pre-Vegas Elvis singing his heart out.
At the back of the restaurant is a small room that Basile has nicknamed “The Market,” which has a fridge stocked with soups and sauces as well as a wall displaying a rainbow of pickled produce. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a meat counter where people can order marinated meats, burgers, sausages and dry-aged steaks. The meat can be ordered raw to take home, or you can opt to have it cooked on the spot for immediate consumption.
The expansive 2,200-square-foot dining room, which seats around 60 people, is complemented by an enormous kitchen. Eventually, Basile plans to host a Wednesday night pop-up restaurant at The Market.
Rather than a baptism by fire, Basile plans to start off slowly. For the first few weeks, Lisa Marie will only be doing dinner service, but lunch and brunch services are slated to commence next month. The lunch menu will be an expanded version of the truck menu (for all those who feel like a Sloppy Jose, but aren’t up for chasing after Priscilla).
Lisa Marie, 638 Queen St. W.,