First Look: Bugigattolo brings Calabrian cuisine to Liberty Village
At Toronto’ s latest Italian joint, chef Quin Josey cooks up Calabrian food.
Image: Ola Mazzuca
Growing up with southern Italian roots, I couldn’t understand why people had never tried a fried zucchini flower or eggplant stuffed with ground veal and spices. A trip to Nonna and Nonno’ s house in North York meant a dinner heavy on the food and light on the hunger. For this, I am grateful.
To discover that Toronto’s latest Italian joint in Liberty Village is inspired by Calabria - my father’ s birthplace - is highly refreshing. Elements of southern Italy resonate on many menus within the city, but direct heritage is rarely mentioned, aside from bakeries and mom and pop shops. Which is why Bugigattolo is more than just a “hole in the wall” (the translation of its name) and a stopping point for residents and all those passing through.
Insalata di Radicchio ($8.95).
Located on Fraser Avenue, just south of Liberty Street in a small brick unit, Bugigattolo opens up. The space is small, with a capacity of 25 diners inside to a total of 50 with their extended outdoor patio. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with frequent orders for takeout and catering, it’ s a round-the-clock spot. From the simple, clean branding to the colour and detailed ac-cents of its interior, the staff is warm and the restaurant is inviting. Led by Executive Chef Quin Owen Fiore Josey, who holds a CV credit from Bar Buca, it’s a tight-knit unit dedicated to serving both nostalgic and contemporary dishes.
Bugigattolo's chef Quin Owen Fiore Josey
Josey has never been to Italy, but reflects on childhood memories in Rexdale, where he spent quality time with his Nonna each day. “She would teach me how to cook. She was my babysitter, my mentor, my everything.” The chef praises his grandmother’ s influence, adding some staple dishes to the Bugigattolo menu. “Pastina is in our Pasta alla Pomodoro. It’ s just a light tomato sauce with couscous, or a similar pasta like Acini di Pepe - that’ s what we had every day for lunch at my Nonna’ s. We also do an eggplant parmigiana [inspired by her].”
Stepping inside Bugigattolo is similar to walking into Nonna’s house. Briskly working in a modest open-concept kitchen, Josey also credits his skills to the Buca team, who encouraged him to craft his own menu and make Bugigattolo come to fruition. “I’m really experimental and love trying new things,”he adds. “My butternut squash soup has a little curry in it. Since Calabria is in the southern part of Italy, it’ s close to North Africa and the Middle East, so they use similar spices like cinnamon and clove.”
House charcuterie board (varies)
The meal commences with a charcuterie board teeming with a variety of cured meats (proscuitto, hot salami) and cheeses (aged blue cheese, parmigiano reggiano), thin sliced pear, onion jam and standard plates of pickled eggplant, Josey’ s house-made giardiniera and mushrooms.
Hearty lasagna alla Bolognese ($14.95)
The primi dishes are hearty. Josey’s Lasagna alla Bolognese is a deck of homemade pasta sheets layered with oozing besciamella and mozzarella cheese, and a rich veal ragout sauce topped with grated reggiano. The cheese pours over the edges and creates a perfectly crisp exterior. Easy to dig into. Sharing is encouraged.
Rigatoni swaps the Pomodoro for an al Formaggio fondue-like cheese sauce that has been slow-cooked with Guinness beer. The malty flavour of the stout is prominent, adding a smoke-y flavour and consistency to the cheese.
Take a break from the carbs with Insalata di Radicchio (parmigiana reggiano, pepperonio, onion). An acquired taste for some, Radicchio is a deep red leafy green that adds a contrasting bitter taste and aesthetic to many salad dishes.
The all-day breakfast favourite: Uova Affogato ($8.95)
Breakfast is served all day at Bugigattolo, where fresh flaky cornetti, frittatas and sandwiches are regular orders. Perhaps this is why Josey is partial to making one of his favourite dishes — Uova Affogato. The chef takes a slice of fresh toasted ciabatta bread, topping it with fluffy ricotta complimented by spicy ‘Nduja (pork sausage spread) — its heat alone is enough for a wake up call.
Bugigattolo's Margherita pizza ($12.95)
In addition to serving up a variety of sandwiches (including a PLT - proscuitto, provolone, tomato), salads and a daily selection of frittatas, Bugigattolo can be praised for their piping hot pizza. The homemade dough is light, its crust the right thickness. Margherita is straightforward, but always a winning choice, with homemade sugo, fior di latte, basilico and EVOO.
Apperol Sprits, a traditional Italian aperitif cocktail made with Aperol and sparkling wine or prosecco.
Bugigattolo is also licensed, where the bartender slings standards of Campari and Aperol-based Spritz’ , prosecco, moscato and house red and white wines.
For Josey and the team at Bugigattolo, it’ s evident that you don’ t need to have lived, visited orbeen born in Italy to understand the heart of regional cuisine. All it takes is a little bit of time in the kitchen with Nonna. Just make sure to take notes while you stir the tomato sauce.
Bugigattolo Kitchen, 54 Fraser Ave., 416-583-3895