Cantina Mercatto outpost brings Italian classics to downtown Toronto

The airy restaurant is the new go-to spot for dinner and après work drinks


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The guaniciale pizza ($18) is topped with fennel and fior di latte

Cantina Mercatto is the newest addition to the Mercatto family of restaurants (Taverna, Locale, Trattoria and College) that started some 20 years ago on Toronto Street.

Close to both the St. Lawrence Market and the Financial District, the new space is meant to be a one-stop shop for lunch meetings, special occasions as well as après work drinks. “[It’s] that kind of convivial space that allows you to drink and be merry,” says the Mercatto restaurant group’s executive chef Doug Neigel.  


One of two murals by Toronto textile designer Candice Kaye
 

The chef’s table and bar face each other, which Neigel likens to being at the centre of the bustling Grand Central Station. That’s the kind of energy and vibe the team hopes to create with the help of Studio Munge, who has designed all of the group’s restaurants.


The open kitchen is located in the middle of the restaurant
 

The walls are adorned with two murals by Toronto textile designer Candice Kaye (whose work is featured in​ Planta and Maman). One is of a vineyard with bright, yellow lemons and sea creatures thrown into the mix and the other is a sprawling mural depicting an octopus.

As for the food, you’ll still find Mercatto classics, such as the margherita pizza, fried calamari, roast diavola chicken and antipasti boards with meat and salumi, but the other half of the menu is where chef Neigel and capo di cucina Kevin Mark (a.k.a. chef de cuisine) get to be creative.


The fried calamari served with a fennel crema ($14)
 

For example, the eggplant involtini ($13) is a dressed-up eggplant parmesan that sees thin slices of eggplant, salted and par-fried. It’s then rolled with a bit of béchamel and smoky cheese, dipped in a panade and deep fried to achieve crispiness, then served with tomato sauce and sprouts. It’s still an eggplant parmesan at its core, but one that requires a more deft hand and is a testament to confidence and skill of the culinary team.


A lemon vinaigrette is drizzled over the arctic char ($27) 

 

Another star dish is the cavatelli ($22), housemade with smoked rabbit and housemade broth.  

The guanciale pizza ($18) is a chance to showcase that more playful side of the culinary team. “We’re a pizza and pasta joint and we’ll never want to reinvent that, but in that world, there’s still some stuff that’s kind of fun and a little more challenging, even to us,” says Neigel.


Cantina Mercatto's tartare ($18) is served with a side of russet chips
 

Bar manager Sean Smith has created a list of cocktails he calls “downtown Toronto with an Italian flair.” The menu runs the gamut from a light spritzer to the classic old fashioned.  

The spicy pear fresca ($12), which S​mith describes as a “seasonal margarita,” is made with tequila, cointreau lime and spicy pear. The blackbird old fashioned ($14) is named after Toronto’s industry shot (a shot given to restaurant industry professionals when they visit other restaurants). It’s made with bourbon, blood orange bitters and burnt rosemary.


The blackbird old fashioned ($14) with burnt rosemary
 

The wine list includes more than 100 bottles highlighting the traditional wine regions of Italy, but the beer list is largely Canadian.

Should you be wise enough to save room for dessert, there’s a tiramisu for the traditionalists or the lemon roll, a delightful concoction made from lemon curd, genoise, mascarpone cream and lemon marmalata.


The lemon roll with raspberry makes for a bittersweet end to the meal 
 

The downtown location is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with weekend brunch from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays.

Cantina Mercatto, 20 Wellington St. E. #1, 416-304-0781

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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